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Lot 534: Bentley 8 Litre Sports Tourer

Grand Palais Sale, Bonhams (7 February 2013)

Only 100 examples of the 8-Litre model had been produced before bankruptcy overtook the original Bentley company, but had they been in a stronger financial position it might well have been a different story. The chassis price of the 8-Litre Bentley at 1,850 was in direct competition with the Rolls-Royce Phantom II, allied with better performance, and the contemporary motoring press was lavish with its praise for the 8-Litre model. The latter had debuted at the 1930 London Motor Show and was the largest-engined car made in the UK at that time and arguably the fastest. Bentley's advertising claimed 100mph without noise and tests bore out that claim, the 8-Litre being fully capable of the ton even when burdened with weighty formal coachwork. As W. O. Bentley once said: I have wanted to produce a dead silent 100mph car, and now I think we have done it. The 8-Litre represents an evolutionary step in the development of the vintage Bentley, combining proven features of the 6-Litre model with the latest engineering advances. Rather than trying to extract more power from the existing 6-Litre engine, W O Bentley followed his long-preferred method of improving performance and simply enlarged it, increasing the bore size from 100 to 110mm. Although the 8-Litre's engine followed conventional Bentley practice, its gearbox - designated F-type - was radically different from its predecessors, the redesign having been necessitated by the greatly increased power and torque it was required to transmit, as well as the quest for silence. The massive chassis frame likewise was entirely new, being of the double drop design that enabled overall height to be reduced and the centre of gravity lowered, these aims also dictating the use of a hypoid-bevel rear axle. Seven tubular cross members resulted in a much stronger and less flexible frame than hitherto, which was available in a choice of wheelbases: 12 or 13ft. Revised suspension incorporating longer road springs, out-rigged at the rear, together with Bentley & Draper shock absorbers made for increased smoothness and stability, both vital considerations when designing a large and weighty vehicle capable of three-figure speeds. The 8-Litre's steering and braking systems also featured numerous detail improvements. 'Motoring in its very highest form', eulogised The Autocar in December 1930, having recorded a top speed of 101.12mph in W O Bentley's own saloon-bodied 8-Litre over the half-mile. Between 1930 and 1939, Britain's foremost motoring magazine bettered that figure only once, while testing an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300. The 8-Litre was destined to remain the fastest production Bentley until the R-Type Continental's arrival in 1953. As new, this particular 8 Litre was supplied from London's famed agency of Jack Barclay Ltd. with formal Sedanca de Ville Coachwork. Given the timing of its purchase by the first recorded owner G. Henscher as mid-1932, it seems likely that perhaps the car was used by Barclay staff as a demonstrator. Michael Hay's book on the model notes that prior to acquisition by Henscher the car had already covered more than 2,400 miles and that when sold it was sold as 'second-hand' and was to receive new glass, and a full structural service of the bodywork by Freestone and Webb, prior to its delivery. The car continued to be maintained by the factory until just before the war. Its known ownership history is relatively uncomplicated, the car being the property of Joseph Perry of Birmingham just before the war and remaining with him until 1947 when acquired by Col. Walton in 1947, at which point it is known to have spent some time in Scotland. In 1962 the car was the property of a Willy P. Dale and later traded through Dan Margulies to Barry Eastick. YX 5109 was restored in the 1970s by Hoffman and Mountford, at which point it was rebodied in the guise of the earlier 4 and Speed Six 'Le Mans' fabric touring bodies, a style which was famously only fitted to one 8 Litre car. James Pearce's eye for a good looking sports tourer was arguably second to none and the bodywork fitted to this car is extremely well designed, in that despite retaining its original 13 ft chassis, the length of the car is hidden in its good proportions. The entire process is understood to have taken 2 years from 1974 to 1976 and cost some 29,000 back in the days when labour was a mere 3 per hour! On its completion it was shown at the Bentley Drivers Club Dorchester House meet in 1978 and later at the Kensington Gardens meet, in the 1980s. Shortly after this the car passed into the American ownership of Bill Chadwick of Dallas, Texas and is known to have been shown at the RROC Regional Meet in Salado, Texas in 1986. In 1988 the 8 Litre was sent to Elmdown Engineering and received a full engine rebuild with new shell bearings, a Phoenix crankshaft and rods and full flow oil filter were fitted. Later, a Laycock heavy duty overdrive was also fitted, to enable even more effortless cruising at high speeds. The 8 Litre was acquired by Charles H. Brown at public auction in 1995. It resided in his coachhouse in the UK ever since, recording modest mileage in the last 18 years and being well maintained, including a thorough service by Elmdown approximately 10 years ago. Given the cosmetic condition of the car it is somewhat difficult to believe that its transformation and restoration was completed nearly 35 years ago, as the car still presents extremely well. Recently re-commissioned for the road, this is an undeniably handsome sports tourer and a represents a fabulous way to appreciate the 8 Litre's legendary performance. Beyond sheer long distance touring, it would of course be welcomed back in to the fold by the Bentley Driver's Club in the U.K. and Rolls-Royce Owners Club in the U.S.

Lot Details
Auction Grand Palais Sale
Bonhams, Paris, France
TypeCar
Lot Number534
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price€420000
Hammer Price (inc premium)€483000
Year1931
Condition rating2
Registration number
Mileage-
Chassis numberYX 5109
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors