W O Bentley proudly debuted 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 sportscar.
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). However, by the middle of the decade the 3-Litre's competitiveness was on the wane and this, together with the fact that too many customers had been tempted to fit unsuitably heavy coachwork to the excellent 3-Litre chassis rather than accept the expense and complexity of Bentley's 6½-litre 'Silent Six', led to the introduction of the '4½'.
The new 4½-Litre model effectively employed the chassis, transmission and brakes of the 3-Litre, combined with an engine that was in essence two-thirds of the six-cylinder 6½-litre unit. Thus the new four-cylinder motor retained the six's 100x140mm bore/stroke and Bentley's familiar four-valves-per-cylinder fixed-'head architecture, but reverted to the front-end vertical camshaft drive of the 3-Litre. Bentley Motors lost no time in race-proving its new car. It is believed that the first prototype engine went into the 3-Litre chassis of the 1927 Le Mans practice car. Subsequently this same engine was fitted to the first production 4½-Litre chassis for that year's Grand Prix d'Endurance at the Sarthe circuit. The original 4½-Litre car, nicknamed by the team 'Old Mother Gun' and driven by Frank Clement and Leslie Callingham, promptly set the fastest race lap of 73.41mph before being eliminated in the infamous 'White House Crash' multiple pile-up.
The 4½-Litre was produced for four years, all but nine of the 665 cars made being built on the 3-Litre's 'Long Standard', 10' 10"-wheelbase chassis. Purchasers of the 4½-Litre model were, in common with those of all vintage-period Bentleys, free to specify their preferences from a very considerable range of mechanical and electrical equipment, in addition to whatever body style and coachbuilder might be required. The car offered here - chassis number 'FB3324' was despatched from the Cricklewood works late in 1928 bound for coachbuilders Freestone & Webb where it was bodied as a Weymann-type all-weather saloon. On completion the Bentley was registered 'VM 6475' on 8th January 1929.
Factory records held by the Bentley Drivers Club afford a fascinating insight into the comprehensive warranty offered by Bentley Motors, which included replacing this car's chassis later in 1929. As was typical at the time, this sporting Bentley was subjected to energetic use in its early life and onwards into the 1930s and '40s. By the time 'VM 6475' was 20 years old the body was completely worn out and so was removed, the chassis being re-bodied in Vanden Plas 'Le Mans Replica' style. The BDC has photographs taken around this time of the car being used in competition. Soon afterwards, the original engine ('RL3427') was removed and replaced with a 3-Litre unit ('SR1407'). The car was still in this configuration when it was offered for sale by Jack Bond Vintage Autos and purchased by the current vendors in November 1960. Some ten years later a correct 4½-Litre engine ('XF3513') was acquired and it was decided to undertake a complete strip-down and rebuild. The chassis was sent to Messrs Rubery Owen for restoration and the steering gear and rear axle were completely reconditioned. Then progress slowed and in 1976 the task was entrusted to specialist restorer, Ian Lock, who at that time was working at Fergus Engineering near Spalding in Lincolnshire.
Completed in 1976, the comprehensive rebuild included fabricating a new body in the style of the preceding one but to a very much higher standard. Since then, only running repairs have been necessary. These have included relining the clutch, rebuilding the water pump and overhauling the magnetos. 'VM 6475' has been used regularly for the last 36 years, including various VSCC rallies in recent times, but has not covered a huge mileage and remains in generally very good/excellent condition, nicely patinated and running perfectly. MoT exempt, this most delightful '4½' is offered with old-style logbook, sundry restoration invoices, current road fund licence and Swansea V5 registration document.