15th Mar, 2023 13:00

Imperial War Museum | Duxford, Cambridgeshire

Lot 85

1933 Bentley 3.5 Litre Pillarless Coupe
Coachwork by Gurney Nutting

Lot details

Registration No: AXK 870
Chassis No: B-91-AE
MOT: Exempt

  • The first of just fifteen such Swept Panel Coupes made and subtly different from its successors
  • Further notable as the first Derby Bentley to be bodied by Gurney Nutting
  • Wonderfully elegant, pillarless design penned by A.F. McNeil
  • Restored during the 1990s and still highly presentable
  • A multiple former concours winner

While not quite the fastest nor most technologically advanced sportscar of the mid-1930s, the Bentley 3½ Litre was arguably the most refined and best built. Developed by Rolls-Royce (following their takeover of Walter Owen Bentley's company in 1931), the model was based on a beautifully wrought 'double dropped' chassis frame equipped with nicely damped semi-elliptic leaf-sprung suspension and servo-assisted four-wheel drum brakes. Fed by twin SU carburettors, its 3669cc OHV straight-six engine was allied to a four-speed manual gearbox incorporating synchromesh on 3rd and 4th gears. Exhibiting a commendably low centre of gravity and consequently fine handling, the Derby Bentley also boasted a circa 95mph top speed. However, it was not so much the car's performance but more the way manner in which it was delivered that captivated the contemporary motoring press.

Reputedly the first Derby Bentley to be bodied by Gurney Nutting and only the fifth delivered to a customer, chassis B-91-AE is further notable as the earliest of just fifteen such ‘Swept Panel’ Coupes to emerge from the renowned London coachbuilder. Penned by influential stylist A.F. McNeil, the four-seater’s pillarless, two-door design is a paragon of grace and differs subtly from its successors. Supplied new to newspaper magnate, J. Cowley Esq. who retained it until his death in 1944, the 3½ Litre was fitted with four-door Vanden Plas Saloon coachwork taken from a Bentley MkV (chassis B-40-AW) three years later. The newer body proving more practical and accommodating. Thankfully, the original ‘Swept Panel’ aluminium structure was preserved and put into storage where it lay until, through sheer serendipity, being bought by a subsequent custodian of B-91-AE. The gentleman in question, Frank Brooks, had bought the Derby Bentley during 1984 and been looking for some time to replace the by-then rather tired ex-MkV Vanden Plas body when he spotted a potentially suitable replacement being advertised in Camberley, Surrey. Amazingly, he had no idea about his newly purchased coachwork’s origins until he found the number ‘B-91-AE’ stamped into its bonnet hinges! Sadly, Mr Brooks died before he could progress matters. Thus, it was his successor – R. Hipkiss of High Wycombe – who returned ‘AXK 870’ to its former glory. Spending circa £85,000 (a sum one could probably treble today) between late 1991 and 1993 with the likes of Fiennes Engineering (mechanical work) and Steve Penney (coachwork), the results are still impressive some three decades on.

Chosen to appear in the Bentley Drivers’ Club Review magazine when they re-enacted the initial press launch photos for the Derby Bentley taken outside The Aldenham Club, 1993 also saw the rejuvenated B-91-AE triumph at the Bentley Drivers’ Club Annual Concours winning ‘Best in Class, Derby Saloon’, ‘First Prize, All Derby Bentleys’ and ‘Overall Champion’ during the Derby Bentley’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. More silverware was accrued the following year with the Swept Panel Coupe remaining in Mr Hipkiss’ care until 1999. Thereafter it passed to James Tennant-Eyles, a highly skilled and methodical engineer, who upgraded the clutch and installed an overdrive for more relaxed high-speed cruising (his endeavours being chronicled in the Derby Bentley Technical Scheme magazine). Thrice winner of the Porter Trophy (2015, 2016 and 2018) at the Bugatti Owners’ Club’s Prescott meeting, ‘AXK 870’ has formed part of two private collections during the past eight years. Only reluctantly coming to market due to the vendor’s ill health, he rates ‘Swept Panel’ Coupe’s engine, gearbox, electrical equipment, interior trim, bodywork and paintwork as all being in ‘very good overall’ condition. Pleasingly retaining its factory-fitted engine (number U7BF), the Derby Bentley also boasts a number of pre-production features such as its radiator shell, master switch, steering wheel and air silencer. Arguably, ancestor to the Embiricos, Corniche and R-Type Continental Bentley Coupes, this historically significant is worthy of close inspection and accompanied by a voluminous history file.


All successful bids must be paid in full by midday the day after the auction at the latest.

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Auction: Imperial War Museum | Duxford, Cambridgeshire, 15th Mar, 2023

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

An auction of classic, collector and performance motorcars to be held at the iconic and visually stunning Imperial War Museum, Duxford. Cambridgeshire. 

Bidding will take place live at the venue, online via our website, by telephone and commission. 

Parking and entry into the auction is free for auction attendees with a catalogue, available at the door. 

To enquire about entering your motorcar into the auction please call our sales office on 01925 210035, email sales@HandH.co.uk or click the Valuations For Sale button below. 

All our professional valuations are complimentary and without obligation.

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Tuesday 14th March 2023, from 12pm to 6pm
Wednesday 15th March 2023, from 9am

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