Lot 42 (Imperial War Museum Duxford, 18th March 2020)
Sold for £174,375
(including buyers premium)
Registration No: RK 8140
Chassis No: LT1596
A short (9ft 9.5in) wheelbase Speed Model originally clothed with Four-Seater Tourer coachwork by Vanden Plas, chassis LT1596 was supplied new to the prominent London surgeon William John Hunt Montgomery Beattie Esq on 8th November 1925. Fitted with engine number LT1596 and road registered as 'RK 8410', it was used to commute between his Croydon home and St Bartholomew's hospital. Like many W.O. Bentleys, the 3 Litre enjoyed a number of notable owners pre- and post-World War Two such as film maker Bernard 'Beakus' Penrose, Le Mans 24-hours winner and Hawker Hurricane test pilot Johnny Hindmarsh, sculptor John Skeaping, motorcycle racer Bert Fruin and powerboat racer Capt. M.L. Morgan-Giles MBE.
Badly accident damaged in June 1933, chassis LT1596 was repaired by the Carlton Forge & Engineering Co Ltd of Cricklewood seemingly using the back axle assembly from chassis 1071 (a standard 10ft 10in wheelbase car). As well changing the colour from Black to Green, Carlton Forge registered 'RK 8410' in their own name before selling it to Mrs Winifred Phillips who had the chassis frame tested and axle centres checked. Belonging to the Napolitano family, proprietors of the Zenith Motor & Engineering Works Ltd, from 1934-1945, the 3 Litre was allocated fuel rations during wartime and subsequently passed through the hands of various military men including Lt Col V.E.O. Stevenson-Hamilton who took it to his Greshornish home on the Isle of Skye.
Modified for competition during the 1950s, chassis LT1596 had its bulkhead shortened but retained its original bonnet; a picture of the car being driven in anger with then owner P.L. Cyster Esq. behind the wheel appears on p.76 of the June 1959 BDC Review. Acquired by Anthony Samuelson of the Samuelson Film Service hire company thereafter alongside a Hawker Hurricance, Tiger Moth, helicopter and five Spitfires (which constituted the world's seventy-eighth largest airforce at the time), he apparently put the Bentley up for sale in 1974. The subject of an abortive purchase due to a bouncing cheque, 'RK 8410' was left to languish in a shed until being discovered by Mr Samuelson's son some nine years later. Although the family commissioned some minor refurbishment works, the 3 Litre was still very much a project when the vendor acquired it from them via Bonhams September 2001 Beaulieu auction. Stripped down to a bare chassis, one rail of which was found to show signs of the 1933 accident before being properly repaired and crack tested, the Bentley was painstakingly renovated over the next five years.
Still sporting what are believed to be its original Sloper SU carburettors, engine LT1596 was carefully overhauled with new pistons, rings, conrods and thrust pads but keeping the original crankshaft (the unit carries identifying stampings to its crankcase and magneto tower). Other work encompassed: vacuum sealing the sump, new oil pump, new springs and hangers, reconditioning the clutch and cardon shaft, renovating the gearbox including bearings, rejuvenating the rear differential including bearings, reconditioning and replacing springs etc for the brakes, renovating, sealing and replacing the fuel system where appropriate back to stock (it was electric pumps for racing), installing electric wiring and instrumentation as necessary, rewelding the bulkhead and chassis (checked by NDT) as required, rejuvenating steering and bearings as needed, complete overhaul of the Sloper carburetors and bearings, new cross shaft gears set up by marque specialist William Medcalf, checking and reconditioning as appropriate the magnetos, renovating the cooling system and pump, exhaust replaced as necessary and installed, renovating the charging system and repairing the dynamo.
With the fabric-covered Four-Seater Tourer bodywork suitably restored, the British Racing Green paintwork was matched to a sample found under one of the bolts on the chassis and believed to have been applied by Carlton Forge in 1933. Retrimmed with Dark Green leather upholstery and Pale Green carpets, the Bentley also gained new wheels, tyres and brake shoe linings and miscellaneous other equipment etc. Summing-up the refurbishment as follows: 'basically the car was taken down to the last nut and bolt then overhauled using as many of the original components as possible', the vendor tells us that 'RK 8410' has since benefited from the installation of: a William Medcalf through flow oil filter, William Medcalf alternator charging system (the original design did not supply the needed power), speedometer mechanical adjuster, satellite speedo unit, Tracker and William Medcalf ceramic bearings for the coolant system (the original design was not good enough).
The Speed Model is accompanied by a substantial history file containing copies of its factory service record and buff logbooks giving ownership details from November 1926 - August 1947 inclusive not to mention photographs of the Bentley as found in 1983 and during its 'chassis up' renovation. A keen motorist, the seller recalls: 'I used the car after restoration to commute to work around 100 miles per day (when it wasn't raining) ditto after changing jobs it did the same about 50 miles per day. Now she only goes to the golf course most weeks. This is a usable vehicle not a concours one and has been obviously well used but is almost 100 years old so some care required!'
Starting readily during our recent photography visit, the 3 Litre was observed to carry 'LT1596' stampings to its front axle, front dumb iron (inner face), bonnet side panels and engine. Given the chassis rails show no sign of having been cut down from a 10ft 10in wheelbase to a 9ft 9.5in one, we are of the opinion that sub-assemblies from chassis 1071 were used to make chassis LT1596 roadworthy again and not vice versa (the back axle currently fitted to 'RK 8410' is stamped '1071' and the steering box has been overstamped with '1069' or similar visible underneath). We also think it likely that the 3 Litre would have been repaired by the factory rather than Carlton Forge had the heavy accident occurred in 1928 rather than 1933.
A railway engineering apprentice turned aero engine designer, Walter Owen Bentley previewed his first creation, the immortal 3-Litre, at the October 1919 London Motor Show (though, he would not deem it production ready for another two years). Inspired by a 1914 Humber T.T. racer, the newcomer's ladder-frame chassis was equipped with all-round semi-elliptic leaf-sprung suspension and rear-wheel drum brakes (four-wheel brakes becoming the norm from 1924 onwards). The car's heart and most advanced feature was its 2996cc engine. A long-stroke four-cylinder (80mm x 149mm) that prioritized torque over top-end power, it boasted a five-bearing crankshaft, shaft-driven overhead camshaft, monobloc construction, twin ignition, four valves per cylinder and aluminium pistons. Developing between 65bhp and 88bhp, the unit was allied to a separate four-speed gate-change gearbox. Supplied in bare chassis guise only, albeit with a choice of wheelbase lengths and engine tune, the 3-Litre remained in production until 1929 by which time some 1,636 are thought to have been made.
Mindful that his initial offering was among the most expensive cars on the market, W.O. wasted little time in proving its competitive worth. Victorious in the Whitsun Brooklands meeting on May 16th 1921, the design also distinguished itself the following year at the Indianapolis 500 and Tourist Trophy with Bentley netting the Team Prize on the latter event. Justifiably proud of its achievements on the Isle of Man, Bentley not only published a celebratory booklet entitled `The Blue Riband' but also launched a commemorative `T.T. Replica'. Based on the short standard 9ft 9.5in wheelbase chassis, the newcomer boasted a high compression engine, close-ratio gearbox and 90mph top speed. Responsible for giving Bentley its first taste of success at Le Mans when Captain John Duff and Frank Clement drove one to fourth place overall during the inaugural 24-hour race on May 26th-27th 1923, the 'T.T. Replica' evolved into the 'Speed Model' that same year. Achieving two outright Le Mans 24-hour victories and some 513 sales, the latter has long been among the most sought after 3 Litre variants.