With characteristic humility 'W O' was constantly amazed by the enthusiasm of later generations for the products of Bentley Motors Limited, and it is a testimony to the soundness of his engineering design skills that so many of his products have survived. From the humblest of beginnings in a mews garage off Baker Street, London in 1919 the Bentley rapidly achieved fame as an exciting fast touring car, well able to compete with the best of European and American sports cars in the tough world of motorsport in the 1920s. Bentley's domination at Le Mans in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930 is legendary, and one can only admire the Herculean efforts of such giants as Woolf Barnato, Jack Dunfee, Tim Birkin and Sammy Davis, consistently wrestling the British Racing Green sports cars to victory.
W O Bentley proudly unveiled the new 3-litre car bearing his name on Stand 126 at the 1919 Olympia Motor Exhibition, the prototype engine having fired up for the first time just a few weeks earlier. Bentley's four-cylinder cross-flow 'fixed head' engine incorporated a single overhead camshaft, four-valves per cylinder, and a bore/stroke of 80x149mm. Twin ML magnetos provided the ignition and power was transmitted via a four-speed gearbox with right-hand change. The pressed-steel chassis started off with a wheelbase of 9' 9½" then adopted dimensions of 10' 10" ('Standard Long') in 1923, the shorter frame being reserved for the TT Replica and subsequent Speed Model. Rear-wheel brakes only were employed up to 1924 when four-wheel Perrot-type brakes were introduced.
In only mildly developed form, this was the model that was to become a legend in motor racing history and which, with its leather-strapped bonnet, classical radiator design and British Racing Green livery, has become the archetypal Vintage sports car.
Early success in the 1922 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, when Bentleys finished second, fourth, and fifth to take the Team Prize, led to the introduction of the TT Replica (later known as the Speed Model) on the existing 9' 9½" wheelbase, short standard chassis. Identified by the Red Label on its radiator, the Speed Model differed by having twin SU 'sloper' carburettors, a higher compression ratio, different camshaft and the close-ratio A-type gearbox, the latter being standard equipment prior to 1927 when the C-type 'box was adopted. These engine changes increased maximum power from the standard 70 to 80bhp and raised the top speed to an impressive 90mph. Other enhancements included the larger (11-gallon) fuel tank and (usually) André Hartford shock absorbers. Bentley made approximately 1,600 3-Litre models, the majority of which was bodied by Vanden Plas with either open tourer or saloon coachwork.
Leading marque authority Clare Hay's definitive work, 'Bentley – The Vintage Years', records that chassis number 'PH1469' was completed in April 1926 and first owned by J W C McLaren. The car left the factory fitted with engine number 'PH1470' (the same as it has today) and was registered as 'GD 2250'. One of 513 Speed Models built, it was erected on the standard 9' 9½" wheelbase chassis and carried a four-seat tourer body by Vanden Plas.
Next owner Lt Col Sir Thomas Bible Robinson acquired the Bentley in 1929. In 1932 the car passed to another military gentleman: Flying Officer John Heber Percy, who was based at RAF Gosport in Hampshire. John Percy was one of the first RAF airmen whose life was saved by a parachute when in 1930 he successfully bailed out of his stricken Armstrong Whitworth Siskin fighter following a mid-air collision. He went on to enjoy an illustrious career in the RAF, culminating in service with the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) in Paris after WW2. John Percy owned four Bentleys between 1932 and the mid-1950s.
Bentley Motors service records (copies on file) show that following an accident in April 1930, 'PH1469' was repaired by the works and fitted with various new front suspension and steering components. The last service entry is dated 1937. The next known custodian, from 1947, was a Major J C Jackson, whose success in the BDC's 1949 Kensington Gardens Rally is commemorated by a plaque on the dashboard. Following Major Jackson's ownership, the car was exported to the USA.
In 1957 the Bentley was purchased in the USA by Parker Snyder of Ohio, who drove the 3-Litre for a couple of summers before consigning it to his newly built garage in 1960. Benefiting from Major Jackson's long-term ownership, the Bentley must have been in excellent condition when stored. The car remained in storage until purchased earlier this year by the current vendor, a long-standing member of the Rolls-Royce and Bentley community with a large collection of pre-war cars. Presented in 'barn find' condition, it represents an exciting opportunity for the dedicated Bentley enthusiast to return one of W O's wonderful creations to the road. Please note that the UK number plate in the photographs will need to be re-applied for.
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