1926 Bentley 3-Litre 'Red Label' Speed Model Tourer
Coachwork by Vanden Plas
Chassis no. LM1342
•One of 513 Speed Models built
•Rare original aluminium body
•Full matching numbers
•Well documented history
•Restored by Graham Moss
•Pebble Beach 2015 Class Award
•Ideal for Bentley's 100th anniversary celebrations in 2019
With characteristic humility 'W O' was constantly amazed by the enthusiasm of later generations for the products of Bentley Motors Limited, and it is 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 motor sport 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 '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" (the 'short standard') 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 top speed to an impressive 90mph. Other enhancements included the larger (11-gallon) fuel tank and (usually) André Hartford shock absorbers. Bentley made 1,613 3-Litre models, the majority of which was bodied by Vanden Plas with either open tourer or saloon coachwork, 513 of which were to Speed Model specification.
Vanden Plas had been founded in Belgium in the 19th Century, gaining a British offshoot when Warwick Wright obtained the UK rights to the name in 1913. After an uncertain start and numerous changes of ownership, the British firm went on to forge its not inconsiderable reputation by a most fortuitous alliance with Bentley, bodying some 700-or-so of the latter's chassis during the 1920s, including the Le Mans team cars.
A 1927-specification Speed Model on the 9' 9½" wheelbase chassis, 'LM1342' is a late example and thus represents the best and most sought-after 3-Litre variant, having the 'big sump' engine with its stronger crankshaft, two-bolt direct-metal con-rods, and Duralumin rockers in separate boxes. Numbered 'LM1348SS', the engine is original to the chassis and would have been built with the Speed Model's high-compression pistons, BM1800 camshaft, and drilled valve caps. When new, these 'SS' engines were said to produce around 86bhp.
'LM1342' was bodied by Vanden Plas with its standard open four-seater sports coachwork (body number '1306', still fitted). This particular body is unusual in being panelled in aluminium (most were fabric-covered), and has an unusually low windscreen (around 1" shorter than normal) giving it more pleasing proportions. The car was ordered new by Gilbert & Sons Ltd of Pelham Street, Lincoln, and given a Lincolnshire registration, 'FE 8689', which it carries to this day. Subsequent owners listed in the Service Record are A C Scott (1928), A Staveley Hill (1929), Major G E L Pardington (1930), and J Shakespeare (1936). The Service Record is continuous through to December 1936, with only minor works carried out (no replacement of major components or accident repairs).
Correspondence on file indicates that by 1945 the Bentley was owned by a Captain M E Webbe, while an old-style continuation logbook lists two subsequent owners: Thomas Walker (from June 1946) and Frank Wood, who purchased the Bentley in January 1967 from a local farmer who wanted to buy a new Ford. There is a charming photograph in the file depicting Mr Wood's two daughters sitting in the car. After Frank Wood's passing, the family offered the Bentley for sale at a UK auction in March 2012 where it was purchased by the present owner.
The Bentley was then despatched to renowned marque specialist Graham Moss for total restoration with no expense spared. Examination revealed the 3-Litre to be exceptionally original - unlike so many of its ilk - retaining the original Supersports engine, A-type gearbox, front axle, steering box, differential casing, the correct number, 'LM1342', being found stamped on all of these components. Graham went to extraordinary lengths to maintain authenticity, even going so far as to reproduce the lead seals for the steering box, magneto turret, and crankcase; these were routinely fitted by Bentley Motors and removing them would void the guarantee.
As the car had been re-upholstered, the owner researched the original colour scheme and leatherwork, enabling the original manufacturer – Connolly – to reproduce the correct material. Many more such instances of this admirably fastidious approach are detailed in the vendor's wonderful illustrated book documenting the history and restoration of 'LM1342'. The car also comes with a copy of Bentley authority Dr Clare Hay's typically thorough - and very favourable - illustrated report on its specification, originality, and 'as purchased' condition, concluding: 'Overall this is a very original chassis with few minor changes from new, with all its original numbered parts and with its original Vanden Plas sports four-seater body'. Perusal of both is highly recommended.
In addition, the car comes with an original owner's instruction manual, a selection of accessory manuals, and a full set of genuine 3-Litre tools. There is also a letter from the first owner, and even a (replica) list of 'Don'ts', which would be hung on the starter switch to help new Bentley owners care for their cars correctly!
The extensive restoration works, carried out over a period of three years, are detailed by Graham's bills totalling some £475,000, while a further £25,000 was spent on obtaining correct parts such as the lights, correct magnetos, etc. Since completion, 'FE 8689' has covered around 2,000 miles and is fully sorted, having recently been serviced by Graham Moss.
Nobody seeing this magnificent Bentley today would question that the cost of its restoration was money well spent. Indeed, if proof were needed, in 2015 'LM1342' received a richly deserved 2nd-in-class award at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance. There can be no better way to enjoy the many celebrations planned for Bentley's 100th anniversary in 2019.
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