20th Sep, 2023 12:00

30th Anniversary Sale at The Imperial War Museum | Duxford, Cambridgeshire

  Lot 477

1928 Bentley 4½ Litre 'Le Mans' Style Tourer

Estimated at £380,000 - £450,000

Lot details

Registration No: UC 8791
Chassis No: KM3083
MOT: Exempt

  • Supplied new to Prince George Imeretinsky of the Georgian Royal Family, one of the ‘Bentley Boys’
  • Extensively restored in the 1990s to a very high standard
  • 1 of just 669 4½ Litre Bentleys manufactured
  • Offered from a private collection in which it has resided since 2011
  • Delightfully charismatic Le Mans style Tourer coachwork
  • Presents in excellent condition and has toured France and the United Kingdom on several occasions

The Bentley 3-Litre’s reputation for performance had been hard won but by 1926 an increasing number of rivals were fielding machines with a similar turn of speed. Eager to reassert its superiority whilst simultaneously conscious that customers were opting for ever heavier and more elaborate coachwork, the Cricklewood marque began work on a more potent four-cylinder design. Christened the 4½-Litre, the incoming model utilised the proven chassis frame, transmission, brakes and sundry other components of the 3-Litre but allied them to a new engine derived from that of the flagship six-cylinder 6½-Litre. Sharing the same bore and stroke dimensions as its larger sibling (100mm x 140mm) but retaining the 3-Litre’s shaft-and-helical camshaft drive not to mention Bentley’s fixed-head architecture and four-valves-per-cylinder layout, the resultant 4½ Litre unit (4398cc) yielded plentiful power and torque plus the wonderful ‘bloody thump’ engine note for which the company’s four-cylinder cars were renowned. Progressively developed over its four-year production run (1927-1931), the model gained a plate (rather than cone) clutch, more efficient front brakes and a heavy crankshaft etc. Of the 669 Bentley 4½ Litre chassis made all but 10 of them reputedly sat on the 10ft 10in wheelbase (the others being special order variants on a shorter 9ft 9½in frame).

According to its accompanying copy factory service record, chassis KM3083 was supplied new via Jack Barclay Ltd to Prince George Imeretinsky of 7 Park Lane, London W1. Godson to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and a prince of the royal Bagrationi dynasty of Imereti, he was educated in England, served with the Grenadier Guards during World War One, joined the RAF during the 1920s and became a bobsleigh champion the following decade. In between times, he was part of the ‘Bentley Boys’ set whose exploits were as likely to feature in Tatler as Motor Sport magazine before going on to race a six-cylinder MG and Alfa Romeo 8C (amongst others) under the nom de course of George Bagratouni. Something of an international playboy, Imeretinsky had the 4½ Litre initially bodied by Martin Walter as a Sports Four-Seater and seemingly configured for use in countries where low octane petrol was the norm (the engine was modified to run with a lower compression ratio and carried a single Smiths carburettor). Rebodied as a Four-Seater Sports Coupe by Wylder & Co of Kew when it was little more than a year old, the 4½ Litre is understood to have remained in the Prince’s possession until July 1932 (latterly sharing its stabling with his Speed Six).

Thereafter, the Bentley is known to have belonged to F. Merall Esq of St Annes on Sea and N. Buckley Esq. of nearby Blackpool prior to fading into obscurity. Reportedly derelict by the time it was rediscovered during the 1960s, chassis KM3083 would have to wait another three decades before returning to the road. Comprehensively restored from the ‘ground up’ using new parts where necessary, the 4½ Litre gained a replacement crankcase converted to shell bearings (which was stamped with the correct number ‘KM3086’) not to mention a new crankshaft, block, Arrow conrods, pistons, steel roller bearing rockers, valves / guides / collets / caps / springs etc, water pump and refurbished co-axial starter motor as part of a thorough engine overhaul. A refurbished BS-type gearbox with D-Type ratios and fresh bearings was sourced for the project and allied to a new clutch. The front axle was rejuvenated with new kingpins, bushes and bearings, while the rear axle received a new Bentley Drivers’ Club 3.53 crown wheel and pinion plus fresh bearings etc. The drum brakes were relined and had a Le Mans-style adjuster added. The leaf springs were reconditioned and cord bound. New shock absorbers were installed and the steering box refreshed with new gears. Replacement wire wheels were purchased and shod with new tyres. The radiator was recored and Zeiss headlamps fitted (the latter being uprated with halogen bulbs). The reborn Bentley’s high-speed cruising / touring capabilities were enhanced via the addition of an overdrive.

Part of a significant private collection since being bought by the vendor from renowned marque specialist Stanley Mann in January 2012, the 4½ Litre pleasingly retains its original, London-issued registration number ‘UC 8791’. Having wanted a ‘Le Mans’ specification WO Bentley for many years, the seller has used it for two sojourns to France (2013 and 2016) plus numerous sorties around the UK. Said to have required nothing beyond regular servicing and maintenance over the past eleven years, the Four-Seater Tourer remains notably smart and presents as a much younger restoration. Starting readily upon inspection and sounding wonderful, ‘UC 8791’ drove well to the photography location and rewards close inspection. With much of its detailing mimicking the Works Team Cars which twice won the Le Mans 24 hours including the placement of the side-mounted spare wheel, various quick-release filler caps, and skimpy three-door, fabric-covered body to name but a few, the 4½ Litre is as imposing as it is handsome.

The 4½ Litre model is considered by many to be the best vintage Bentley for serious road rallying, and examples have competed on the Colorado Grand, California Mille, and even the Peking to Paris. The overall ruggedness of the chassis and ample power output make them a joy to drive and they are much nimbler than the larger 6½ or 8 Litre cars. Perfect for trips to Le Mans and other similarly prestigious and exciting events, this splendid W. O. Bentley is seemingly ready for yet more adventure! Offered for sale with the V5C registration document and copy of factory service records.

For more information, please contact:
Paul Cheetham
07538 667452


Auction: 30th Anniversary Sale at The Imperial War Museum | Duxford, Cambridgeshire, 20th Sep, 2023

Established in 1993, H&H has sold some of the world's most significant motorcars and motorcycles over the past 30 years. Now owned by its employees and trusted by over 75,000 clients worldwide, we are the longest established auction house of our kind in Europe.


Buyers, bidders and attendees will enjoy a special day in the prestigious Imperial War Museum with some fantastic treats including.
Drinks Reception   |   Music   |   Guest Speakers

With each successful bidder receiving a specially selected hamper.

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Tuesday 19th September 2023 from 1pm to 8pm
Wednesday 20th September 2023 from 9am


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