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. In only mildly developed form, this was the model which 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. An increase in compression ratio increased maximum power from the standard 70 to 80bhp and raised top speed to 90mph.
Michael Hay's authoritative work, Bentley, The Vintage Years, records the fact that 'BL1608' was completed on the short standard chassis with the A-type close-ratio gearbox and four-seat coachwork by Vanden Plas, and was registered 'YF 4812'. One of only 513 Speed Models built, the car was bought new by Forrest Lycett, gentleman racing driver and renowned Bentley aficionado, who was also one of the founders of the Bentley Drivers' Club (BDC). Forrest Lycett owned a succession of standard and not-so-standard Bentleys (many of which still exist) including the legendary 8-Litre built for him by L C 'Mac' McKenzie. Clearly a man with an insatiable appetite for speed, Forrest Lycett first attained a genuine 100mph on the public highway while driving his Speed Six in Spain and in 1951 was timed at 136mph on the Jabbeke autoroute in Belgium at the wheel of the 8-Litre. Prior to WW2 the latter had been one of the world's fastest road cars, setting the International Class B standing start kilometre record at Brooklands in 1937 and the British standing-start mile record at the Surrey track in 1939. Taking a break from his job in the City of London, Forrest Lycett famously drove to Brooklands on the latter occasion, broke the record and was back at his desk soon afterwards.
In 1929 he sold 'YF 4812' to Mrs Dorothy de Vries, who kept the car until 1939. During this period Mrs de Vries drove her Bentley overnight from London to Edinburgh in record time to deliver urgent medical supplies during the General Strike. Writing in the BDC Review (No. 93, July 1969) H L Hammatt (a onetime spare parts manager of Bentley) recalled encountering this formidable woman. 'A certain lady (Mrs de Vries) complained that her motor would not go as fast as she wanted; at the Service Depot at Kingsbury we had squeezed all we could out of it, which still did not satisfy her: so in desperation, we had the speedometer advanced by 5mph.'
The Bentley was in Ireland during the war years and was then purchased by a dental surgeon. Donald Lockhart bought the car in 1950 and in February 1952 received a letter from Lt Col C H D Berthon (then Secretary of the Bentley Drivers Club). Quoted in the BDC Review (No. 120, May 1976) Lt Col Berthon stated: 'I knew this car well in 1939 when it was one of the fastest 3 litres on the road. It was never raced as far as I know but it was a Le Mans replica in certain respects hotted up engine and the long, very narrow sweeping mudguards typical of Le Mans 1926 and 1927. It belongs to the same series as Birkin's Six Hours Race 3 litre.'
'YF 4812' carries a weight plate in 'kg' and is believed to have been taken over for the 1927 (or possibly 1928) Le Mans race as a reserve car. The Bentley Drivers' Club archive contains a record of this Bentley, which includes information on maintenance and repair work carried out on the car up to WW2.
In 1967 the engine was rebuilt by Dick Moss and in 1980 'YF 4812' took part in the reunion run to Le Mans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bentley's last win there. Following Donald Lockhart's death the Bentley passed to his brother, Frank Lockhart, famous campaigner of the unique 1948 Rover Formula 2 car in over 300 historic races. Since Frank Lockhart's death in 2007 'YF 4812' has been used only occasionally and is now offered for sale by his family. Described as in generally good condition, this well documented 3-Litre Speed Model comes with sundry restoration invoices, old-style logbook, current road fund licence, MoT to May 2011 and Swansea V5 registration document.