1936 Bentley 3½ Liter Sports Saloon
Coachwork by Freestone & Webb Ltd.
Chassis no. B81 FC
The 'Silent Sportscar' was launched in 1933, marking a new era for the company and was an immediate success. The first of the 'Derby' built Bentleys, the 3½ litre continued the marque's sporting history, but in a new manner even more refined than before. Even W.O. Bentley acknowledged that the 3½ litre was the finest ever to bear his name. Based on the contemporary Rolls-Royce 20/25, the 3½ litre has a slightly shorter wheelbase and employs a tuned version of the 20/25's overhead valve six with raised compression ratio which produced a top speed of 90mph, putting this model among the really high performers of the mid 1930s. A tireless long distance touring car, it had few peers and combined the traditional Rolls-Royce refinement with Bentley performance and handling. Park Ward's elegant Sports Saloon coachwork was by far the most popular choice for the 3½ model from a total production of 1,177 chassis between 1933 and 1936.
This car is known to be one of a handful to this same style, completed by Freestone & Webb, which is notable for its deep chrome molding running along the side of the coachwork and dipping deep into the rear doors. At the same time a matched molding runs down from the roofline and neatly onto the trunk area, then kicking up as the rear fenders do also. A rear mounted spare sits neatly on its rear. This particular example had a moon roof also.
According the records listed in Michael Ellman's authoritative work on Derby Bentley, B81FC was originally sold new in early September 1936, the buyer was one W.Wragg. Many years later, the car arrived in America and it was acquired by the current owner in 1979, from a lady in Brookfield, CT. To judge from its cosmetic condition today, the car appears to have been restored many years ago with new paintwork and rather unusually tinted windows. Its tan leather interior seems to be the original, and is now aged with some drying and creasing. The mechanics were thoroughly checked over and the motor taken down in 1990 and more recently in 2002, but on both occasions no work was deemed necessary.
The Derby-built Bentley is an altogether different animal from its vintage counterpart. The Rolls-Royce influence brought a certain refinement to the brand, which provided a template for the next 80 years of Bentley Motor Cars of fast, yet elegant saloons and coupes. Today, they provide one of the most approachable and usable pre-war collector cars of them all, supported by the active owners clubs twinned with Rolls-Royce and a good availability of quality new or new old stock parts.