1931 Bentley 8-Litre Sedanca de Ville Coachwork by H J Mulliner Registration no. GT 18 Chassis no. YM 5034 Engine no. YM 5034
Although the prevailing image of Bentley cars during the vintage Cricklewood period of the companys life is that of out-and-out sports cars and fast tourers, it is often overlooked that W O Bentley made a determined bid for the carriage trade, particularly with his larger 4-, 6- and 8-Litre models, and it is largely because of this that Napiers bid for the company in 1931 was thwarted by Rolls-Royce, which doubtless saw that a rejuvenated Bentley company would present strong competition to their own models. As it is, 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. Bentleys 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 himself 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 6½-Litre model with the latest engineering advances. Rather than trying to extract more power from the existing 6½-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-Litres 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 13. 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-Litres 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 Bentleys own saloon-bodied 8-Litre over the half-mile. Between 1930 and 1939, Britains 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 Continentals arrival in 1953. Completed in May 1931 and the 59th of its type produced, Bentley 8-Litre chassis number YM 5034 was built to the 1931 specification, complete with F-type gearbox number 8060, and delivered to H J Mulliner in that same month. The engine (number YM 5034) was made to standard specification with 5:1 compression ratio, while the chassis itself was the long (13) wheelbase version. H J Mulliners body was of the Sedanca de Ville type, a formal town carriage design. The car was ordered new by Lord Brougham and Vaux, who at the same time also ordered a sporting two-seater 8-Litre, chassis number YR 5097 (no longer extant). Passed off final test on 18th August 1931, the Bentley was delivered to Lord Brougham and Vaux and issued with the London registration mark GT 18 in that same month. Coachbuilder H J Mulliner had plenty of experience of bodying the Bentley 8-Litre chassis, being responsible for nearly 25% of the production run. They were adept at producing well balanced designs that succeeded, to a degree, in disguising the actual size of the lengthy chassis, as clearly demonstrated by this car. The Sedanca de Ville coachwork is enhanced by features such as the small helmet style wings, rear mounted trunk and spare wheel, and pram irons adorning the rear quarters, all of which contribute to an elegance of style belying the 13 chassis beneath. As one would expect of a coachbuilder long associated with marques of the highest quality, H J Mulliner equipped their products with luxurious appointments appropriate to such expensive chassis. Amongst other fittings, this 8-Litres quite stunning interior is equipped with compact twin occasional seats which fold neatly into its central division, a cocktail cabinet, vanity units, and a tool tray - complete with a full complement of tools - that is stowed discreetly in the top of the trunk. Lord Brougham and Vaux kept the 8-Litre for approximately one year, during which time it covered some 10,000-or-so miles. It then passed to one F W Keddie of Southend-on-Sea who kept it up until the outbreak of WW2, if not later. Throughout this time servicing was documented on Bentley factory records, which note a total pre-war mileage of around 70,000. No major work was carried out on the Bentley pre-war. Indeed, as far as is known, it has never been modified or altered in any way. By 1954 the car was the property of Dr A W O Taylor, from whom it was purchased by the renowned collector John Sword, of East Balgray in 1957. The 8-Litre was included in the first Sword Collection dispersal sale in 1962 (Lot 94). It was sold for £400 to a C G Waite, who kept the car until 1965 when it was purchased by J Landless. In 1986 the Bentley was purchased by W G Lassiter, of Florida and left the UK, remaining in America ownership until the early 1990s (the second, and last, American owner recorded is Mrs C W Lampert from December 1987). Various restoration works were commissioned while the car was in the USA, including a full mechanical rebuild and cosmetic refurbishment of the body, paintwork and interior. In the early 1990s, YM 5034 passed into the ownership of Alan C Prince, of Leatherhead, Surrey. In Mr Princes enthusiastic ownership the 8-Litre was used regularly and fastidiously maintained, as evidenced by bills on file approaching some £30,000 in total, mostly from marque specialists McKenzie Guppy & Sons. In 1994 it was awarded the Connolly Trophy at the Hurlingham Concours for Best Interior. The Bentley passed into the current ownership early in 2005 and has since benefited from an engine rebuild, including the installation of new pistons, undertaken by marque specialists Neil Davies Historic Racing (NDR) in August 2006 at a cost exceeding £6,000 (bill on file). As well as the aforementioned service/maintenance invoices, the comprehensive history file also contains ownership notes, copies of the factory records and its original 8-Litre handbook. The car is currently taxed/MoTd and comes with Swansea V5 document. This cars Sedanca de Ville body was the only one of its type built by H J Mulliner on the Bentley 8-Litre chassis, and YM 5034 is the sole survivor of the six Sedanca-bodied 8-Litres made. A therefore unique and quite magnificent example, it is presented in very good order and ready to use.