Formerly the property of The Late. John Cresswell
1925 Bentley 3-litre Speed Model Tourer
Coachwork by Vanden Plas
Chassis no. 1054
Engine no. 1077 Body no. 1144
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 80 x 149mm. 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", 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) Andre Hartford shock absorbers. Bentley made approximately 1,600 3-litre models, the majority of which was bodied by Vanden Plas with either open tourer or saloon coachwork.
Michael Hay's authoritative work, Bentley, The Vintage Years, records the fact that '1054' was completed on the short chassis with four-seat sports coachwork by Vanden Plas and destined for Australia. Vanden Plas records indicate the car was completed in May 1925, the body being finished in white with polished aluminium bonnet.
One of only 513 Speed Models built, '1054' was first owned by Ernest E Keep of 891 Punt Hill, South Yarra, Melbourne (see Australian registration documents on file). The first recorded change of ownership occurred in November 1932, when Reuben Tishler, of Caulfield acquired the car, which he sold to Messrs William Lane & Sons, of Narrandera, New South Wales in January 1933. The Bentley returned to Victoria in the early post-war years in the possession of pastoralist R A D Hood whose property, 'Merrang', was located at West Hexham.
By 1960 '1054' belonged to Charles W Lehmann of South Yarra, Victoria (where it was registered 'LC-888') and had been fitted with a 4½-litre engine (number 'MF 3159') although the original unit ('1077') was reinstalled at a later date. The Bentley's next long-term owner was Bill Hands, of Murrumbeena, Victoria, during whose ownership it was photographed for the first James Flood Book of Early Motoring, published in 1968.
In 1980 the car passed to Dr. Ian Barker of Shepparton (the immediately preceding owner) in whose hands it underwent sympathetic renovation. The latter included re-skinning the body and replacing the timber framework wherever necessary, while Rod Warriner fitted a new set of gears. Nevertheless, much of the original woodwork remains intact and still carries the correct Vanden Plas numbers; even the vulnerable wings are original, as is much of the leather upholstery. Dr. Barker went to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the Bentley, which he enjoyed on numerous rallies over 20-odd years.
In June 2001 '1054' was sold to John Cresswell, a highly respected engineer and knowledgeable Bentley enthusiast from Victoria, who further improved the car and drove it regularly until his recent passing. John Cresswell was perhaps best known in Bentley circles as the owner of one of the original 50 Blower Bentleys which he had tirelessly tracked down and resurrected. Following a 30 year tenure of the Blower Bentley it was sold to a Brisbane based enthusiast. Ever the 'W O' enthusiast it did not take long for John Creswell to come to the conclusion that life without a W O Bentley was an unacceptable situation and it was then that he purchased '1054.' Rumour has it that his intention was to re-fit a 4½-litre engine to boost the car's performance but such was his engineering ability that he was able to rebuild the correct 3-litre engine to such effect that a 4½-litre power-plant was not necessary. Further work included a rebuild of the differential. Given that the recent mechanical work carried out on the car was undertaken by a talented engineer this particular 3-litre Bentley is unsurprisingly in fine fettle.
Offered for sale by the Cresswell family, '1054' represents a very rare opportunity to acquire a highly original Bentley 3-litre Speed Model possessing unbroken provenance and which looks much as it must have done when Ernest Keep took delivery 85 years ago. Most importantly, the car retains its original Vanden Plas tourer body (number '1144') which contrasts refreshingly with that of the typical 'Le Mans' replica. Included with the car is a comprehensive history file containing period photographs, old registration papers, sundry receipts and other documentation.