Property of a deceased's estate 1934 Bentley 3½-Litre Tourer Coachwork by Lancefield/Corsica Registration no. AXB 2 Chassis no. B39AE Engine no. X4BC
'... the ability to traverse the rapidly crowding roads of Great Britain in less time, and with less, effort were points strong in its favour.' Johnny Green on the 3½-Litre, Bentley, 50 Years of the Marque.
Although Rolls-Royce's acquisition of Bentley Motors in 1931 robbed the latter of its independence, it did at least ensure the survival of the Bentley name. Launched at Ascot in August 1933, the first of the 'Derby Bentleys', as they would come to be known, continued the marque's sporting associations but in a manner even more refined than before. Even W O Bentley himself acknowledged that the 3½-Litre model was the finest ever to bear his name. Based on the contemporary Rolls-Royce 20/25hp, the 3½-Litre Bentley was slightly shorter in the wheelbase and employed a tuned (115bhp) twin-SU-carburettor version of the former's overhead-valve six. Add to this already remarkable package an all-synchromesh four-speed gearbox and servo assisted brakes, and the result was a vehicle offering the driver effortless sports car performance in almost absolute silence. 'The Silent Sports Car', as it was swiftly dubbed, had few peers as a tireless long-distance tourer, combining as it did traditional Rolls-Royce refinement with Bentley performance and handling.
The Derby Bentley was, of course, an exclusively coachbuilt automobile and as befitted its sporting nature was almost always fitted with owner-driver saloon or drophead coupé coachwork, the 'standard' designs being the work of Park Ward. Of the 2,442 examples manufactured (including the subsequent 4¼-Litre model) almost 50% were originally bodied by Park Ward, that offered here being one of them.
The 19th Rolls-Royce-built 'Derby' Bentley to leave the factory, chassis number 'B39AE' was registered as 'AXB 2'on 3rd March 1934 and delivered new to Ernest Leopold Payton, an Austin Motor Company executive, who would go on to own a further three Derby Bentleys. The car was originally bodied by Park Ward as a 'standardised', four-door, four-light saloon. After Mr Peyton, the '3½' was next owned by one H Swann from 30th April 1935. Subsequent owners listed on accompanying paperwork are (in order): Nigel Brooke of Compton Valence, Dorchester (1958/59); Neil Edwards of Chaffcombe, Somerset; Brian Walton of Henley (1959); Paul Foulkes-Halbard of Wannock Polegate, Sussex (to 1985) and Peter Crisp of Witheridge, Devon (1985 onwards). By this time 'AXB 2' had lost its original body and was in rolling chassis form, though it retained its original engine. The Bentley was still in this state when the late owner, VSCC and BDC member Robert Jensen of South Petherton, Somerset, purchased it from Peter Crisp circa 1988.
Robert Jensen purchased the current body separately from George K Dodds, apparently at around the same time (see correspondence on file). Built by Lancefield, this coachwork had started out in saloon configuration on the 'W O' Bentley Speed Six, chassis number 'SB2775', originally delivered in 1930 to bandleader Bert Ambrose. It was cut down and modified along more modern lines by Corsica in 1938. Based in North London, Corsica was a relatively small firm that allowed clients considerable freedom in determining their cars' final appearance surely the ultimate in 'bespoke' an approach that endeared it to wealthy sporting motorists. Many years later the Speed Six came back to the UK from the USA where it had been owned by well-known collector, the late Henry Petronis. The new owner wanted to turn the car into a Le Mans Replica so the Corsica body was removed and sold off, eventually passing to Robert Jensen.
It would appear that Robert was in no hurry to start the restoration, as the earliest of the numerous related invoices on file dates from 2007. The accompanying history consists of a 2"-thick ring binder of paperwork and bills, mainly from Vintage and Sports Car Services of Chard, Somerset and other marque specialists including Fiennes Restoration Ltd. Close inspection is essential to fully appreciate the late owner's fastidious, no-expense-spared approach to the rebuild. The most recent bills relate to a gearbox rebuild (2012) and repair of the rear axle pinion assembly (2013). Additional documentation on file includes assorted correspondence; insurance paperwork; current Swansea V5C; and a couple of old MoTs (most recent expired December 2012).
In August 2010 the project was said to be 'nearing completion' and the finished car was later pictured in the BDC Review (August 2011 edition). 'Looks sensational' was how Robert Jensen described the reborn Bentley, and few would disagree. It is a great shame that he did not have longer to enjoy this unique and wonderful car.