One of the most significant Vintage Bentleys to be offered for sale in more than 20 years
1927 Bentley 6½ Liter Sports Tourer
Coachwork by Vanden Plas
Chassis no. BX 2421
Engine no. DH 2201
Body no. 1377
This magnificent Bentley is widely acknowledged as being one of the finest of its breed, it was commissioned by a true connoisseur of the marque, E. Bullivant, who tailored its unique sporting coachwork which it still retains to this day, together with all of its major components.
The six cylinder Bentley
Some five years after 'W.O.'s' first Bentley model had first fired up in the garage of a Baker Street Mews, it was obvious that there was a demand for more power both for the sporting motorist and also to cope with the ever grander coachwork fitted to the more formal cars. A new 4½ liter car was developed and the prototype, 'The Sun', was first driven by 'W.O.' with A.F.C. Hillstead, for the trip to Le Mans in June 1924.
On that occasion 'W.O.' had the opportunity to compare his new car with the Rolls-Royce prototype, the 'New Phantom', also on test, and a decision was taken there and then to increase the engine size of the new model to a mighty 6½ liters. Feverish activity saw the new chassis and engine developed in time to launch the 6½ liter car on at The Olympia Motor Exhibition in London in October 1925. The straight six engine actually had a capacity of 6,597 cc, and the chassis was very similar to the earlier Bentleys but with enhanced braking, a more substantial differential and a plate clutch.
The new car had 3mph to 80mph flexibility in top gear, comparable with Rolls-Royce equivalents, and would provide Bentley with the basis for its future campaigns at Le Mans up to 1930 when they retired from racing.
This car benefits from a known and documented history from new. Copies of the Bentley Factory records and Vanden Plas order both exist, and these combined with knowledge of its original owner's verve and taste for Bentleys confirm that it has always been a very special automobile, because it was designed that way.
It was sold new to E. Bullivant of Mortimer House, Egerton Gardens, a substantial town house in London's Knightbridge/Chelsea area. He was a gentleman known to have always commissioned the most up to date, sporting and good looking cars from Bentley Motors. Despite carrying a guarantee date of March 1927, it was fitted from new with the later pattern push-on brakes and a 26 gallon tank, features which would only become standard for the following year. It was equipped with a long steering column, no doubt owing to the necessary rake for its coachwork and at the stern a 3 liter exhaust fishtail finished it off. The requirements to Vanden Plas were equally detailed, the body was paneled, rather than fabric, was designed with an armrest for the driver (as for a team car), it was to have side lockers, a trunk at its rear and a double spare wheel carrier. Full weather protection was required and it had pockets to all the doors. By the time it was finished with accessories including bold Zeiss headlamps, the total cost of the body alone was nearly twice that of a standard VDP body.
Keeping up with the development of the model, Bullivant had the car uprated within his first year of ownership, when it gained the new radiator and crankshaft driven dynamo set up, camshaft damper and 'new type carb'. Even when Bullivant exchanged the car at Jack Barclay for a newer love in 1929, its next owner R. Winsloe kept the car maintained by the factory, and continued updates with high speed oil pump gears, a sprung steering wheel, rear hydraulic shock absorbers to the rear and a Spicer shaft, as well as converting it to a C type 'box with the help of Birkin & Coupers of Welwyn.
Its chassis maintenance records continue right up to 1939, charting the next owner as C. Burrage-Moulton in 1936. The car's subsequent ownership trail is recorded from that day until this, as: Dr. M.H. Harding (1949), A.J.L. Evans (1957), G.S. Baigent (1963), N.S. Gibbons (1964), to the U.S. and E.C. Lynch (1966), G. Hoff (1971), C.F. Brown (1979) at which point it returned to the U.K. to M. Triggs (1981), I. Laidlaw (1983) and then C. Pettit (1988). In this period its carburetion was uprated by highly regarded Bentley specialist Richard Moss with the fitment of early Speed Six pattern twin SU units.
The car was last seen publicly in the zenith of the 1980s market, when Bonhams Chairman Robert Brooks and Head of the Motoring Department James Knight assembled one of the finest auctions of British Sports Cars ever to take place, in Monaco. Shortly after this it passed into a private British collection of exceptionally high quality automobiles, emerging recently for its sale.
Over the course of its life any minor details altered have been returned to its original form with a sympathetic eye for detail and by known Bentley specialists. Endorsing its originality are period photos from day one, including in its even better looking 1928 onwards guise with front engine driven dynamo, confirming that it was always in the desirable configuration in which it is today. The car is pictured in the standard reference work for this era of Bentley, Hay's Bentley-The Vintage Years (page 93), and in a report completed by the author on the car in the mid-1980s its conclusion is that this 'is probably one of the most desirable 6½ Liters in existence'. Hay recently reviewed, updated and endorsed this with a current report that accompanies the car. Recent research during cataloging by Bonhams has re-confirmed its matched numbers status, including its bodywork and the presence of original detail features such as the rear hydraulic shocks, so often lost over time.
In preparation for the auction, the Bentley has been freshly serviced and detailed by respected California restorer Alan Taylor of Alan Taylor Company, Inc. in Escondido. Aesthetically, it represents an older restoration, its interior, paint and wheels displaying a light patina the like of which suits these brazen war horses and is frequently created artificially on lesser cars. On the road, the performance is still exhilarating; the six cylinders provide a surge of power with a reassuring and solid sensation that there is always more to come as the engine sings through the rev range.
Vintage Bentleys tended to have hard lives, either in their early days as those who emulated the famed Bentley Boys had a tendency for the 'red mist' to come down and over exert themselves behind the wheel resulting in accidents, or else, later on their coachwork was updated or butchered to maintain the use of their indestructible running gear for a more practical purpose. The cars were frequently altered to become hearses or ambulances, tow trucks and the like, and while the old photos of noble Bentleys being used for more mundane tasks are somewhat entertaining, they are tinged with the sadness that so many great cars have gone by the wayside, particularly during the war.
Quantifying these numbers makes it all the more sobering. While it is a common misconception that all Bentleys were Vanden Plas Tourers, the reality is far from it, particularly on the six cylinder car. Of 544 6½ liter chassis built, only 48 were tourers at all! Of those, Vanden Plas were the favorite choice, but only 19 cars received their open coachwork including the Works Le Mans cars, the remainder being shared by Cadogan, H.J. Mulliner, Hooper, Harrison, Wylder and others. Of that 19, a dozen of the cars survive at all, and of those only 9 retain their original bodywork. A cursory glance through that roster crystallizes the 'carpe diem' moment that the sale of this fine automobile presents.
Today, the usability of an original bodied, matched numbers Vintage Bentley is multi-faceted, it could be shown on a concours field anywhere in the world, will provide a comfortable long distance driving or touring on the many events for which it is eligible or even exercised on the track that the Bentley marque established the reputation in the 1920s - Le Mans.
With its known pedigree, a fascinating file of correspondence and archive material that even includes a copy of Winsloe's purchase invoice from Jack Barclay in 1929, and its sheer robust elegance it is easy to see why this car is so revered and desired in Bentley circles.
Bonhams is proud to offer one of the all time great Bentleys - the Bullivant 6½ Liter.
Estimate upon request