<b>1928 Bentley 6&#189; Liter Open Sports Tourer</b><br />Chassis no. BR2354<br />Engine no. BR2361

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An H.M. Bentley & Partners Demonstrator
1928 Bentley 6½ Liter Open Sports Tourer
Coachwork by Barker & Co. Coachbuilders

Sold for US$ 1,655,000 inc. premium, Quail Lodge Auction 2018

Refer to department
An H.M. Bentley & Partners Demonstrator
1928 Bentley 6½ Liter Open Sports Tourer
Coachwork by Barker & Co. Coachbuilders

Chassis no. BR2354
Engine no. BR2361

6,567cc SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Single Smiths 50BVS Carburetor, 147bhp at 3,500rpm
4-Speed 'C' Manual Transmission
Semi-Elliptic Leaf Spring Suspension
4-Wheel Mechanical Servo assisted Drum Brakes

*Sole Bentley survivor of this Barker body style – unique and elegant
*Known history from new, with Clare Hay report on file
*Comprehensive, freshly completed restoration
*Matching numbers
*Yet to be shown at Concours level in America


Next year, the Bentley marque will pass a milestone in its story, with the centenary of the brand. It is a huge achievement, not least because throughout those 100 years it is a company that has always been associated with the utmost sporting and luxurious cars.

That reputation was founded on the basis of magnificent automobiles like the 6½ Liter offered here today, cars which exemplified style and performance. Walter Owen Bentley would commence operations with his four-cylinder cars, which, as early as 1922, were stealing the march on others in events such as the Tourist Trophy, and even Indianapolis where a sole car debuted in 1922. However, it was not long before the "Grand Prix d'Endurance" at Le Mans was in his sights as the ultimate proving ground.

Forays began in 1923 with a 4th place and, the following year, an outright win became the first of a series of wins. Despite a dry spell through 1925-1927, the bigger 4-cylinder 4½ Liter achieved victory in 1928. Throughout this period, and frustrated by retirements at La Sarthe, production quickly evolved. In 1926, Bentley introduced the model which would be the backbone of his final Le Mans campaigns—the fabulous "Big Six."

The tale goes that further development of the 4-cylinder was deemed not enough by "WO" after a chance encounter with the prototype Rolls-Royce "New Phantom" in France, sending them back to the drawing board. The result was two more cylinders and two more liters! Boasting a stoic high-quality chassis, this now behemoth power unit was matched with beefed up transmission and axles. Production of these cars continued from 1926 through to the introduction of their eventual successor the 8 Liter in 1930. Along that journey, the stealth of the 6-cylinder cars brought Le Mans wins in 1929 and 1930.

Whereas four-cylinder cars tended to receive light weight coachwork, the 6½ was unrestrained, so it is not surprising that of the 544 cars built, only 10% were delivered with open touring bodies. The buyer of the six-cylinder Bentley knew what they were doing, each country had its pinnacle cars: in Belgium the Minerva, in France the Hispano-Suiza, in Italy the Isotta-Fraschini and here in America Duesenberg and Packard tied for this crown. That being sad, it can be argued that none blended luxury with sport as Bentley did, the owner of a Bentley was the driver and the "red mist" was usually in the air!


As the roaring Twenties drew to a close, and times became more austere, open touring cars were commissioned far less than they once had been, closed or formal cars being more the order of the day.

Very few would have been delivered in the majestic form that BR2354 was, with costly coachwork that mirrored its sporting mechanical aspects. This Bentley received its body by the esteemed company of Barker & Co. Coachbuilders—a rare choice, as Barker ultimately bodied only 19 of the 6.5-liter chassis. True to form, Barker clothed the brazen Bentley with a beautifully proportioned and high-quality sports tourer body, seating seven adults if required, with two rear fold-down occasional seats, a tour de force in coachbuilding curved throughout on multiple planes and supremely elegant. A period photograph, reproduced on these pages, shows the finished article, which after being registered in May 1928 was used by HM Bentley & Partners as their Demonstrator.

It was to be a proposition that very few could step up to, the buyer a Major J.T. North taking delivery eleven months later. Major North, a resident of Surrey, was the nephew of the infamous Chile "Nitrate King" Colonel JT North, and was a decorated veteran of the Great War.

Two further British custodians handled the Bentley, before it migrated in 1937, comfortably before the outbreak of war, to South Africa for a 75-year sojourn. In the early 1940s, on the Cape, it was owned by two young friends in the South African Air Force. But, despite being out of harm's way from the UK, it was not immune to the consequences of the times; large capacity six-cylinder cars not being easy to keep on the road during fuel shortages. On one occasion, running the car on Aviation fuel caused the car to be impounded by the local authorities. Then, as an alternative, for a while the resourceful Air Forcers converted its fuel source to be wood! Photos on file still exist with its wood burner sitting where its luggage rack once was.

Ownership would pass a few times before it arrived with long term owner, South African Mrs. Alva Wilkins in 1964. Mrs. Alva Wilkins, a lady of diminutive stature of 5ft 4ins, quite the opposite of the Woolf Barnato "frame" that one might think was required to pilot these cars. Despite this, she actively used the Vintage Bentley for the next 20 years, including tours in both Australia and Africa. Its next custodian would keep the car for almost 30 years before the current owner negotiated to repatriate the Bentley from its long-term South African home.

On arrival in the UK, the owner elected to commission a rebuild worthy of this stature of car. An exhaustive and fully-documented process, the car was rebuilt from the ground upwards, including total refurbishment of its Barker bodywork, removing and restoring the original aluminum skin from its original frame, carefully repairing it where necessary.

Its original paintwork scheme became apparent, as light blue, with black fenders, in line with the period photo of the car, and this has been replicated. The interior has been matched in rich royal blue Connolly surface-dyed hides and the brightwork throughout correctly re-nickeled. But this was not just about the aesthetics; the car received a comprehensive mechanical refurbishment with all mechanical items rebuilt to concours standards (e.g. the engine, gearbox, ignition system, brakes and suspension). Furthermore, the complex exhaust system was rebuilt correctly to the original WO Bentley blueprints, and the car comes with the incredibly rare tool kit housed correctly in the running boards, and an equally rare Handbook. The stunning history file comprises three leather-bound volumes of period photos, articles, rally plates, and a completion photographic description of the restoration.

Throughout its life it has retained its fully-matching numbers drivetrain, which is endorsed by copies of the factory build sheet on file, as well as a new report by the acknowledged expert for these cars, Dr. Clare Hay. Its survival as such an original car may generally be attributed to its long period away from the easy availability of replacement components in the Northern Hemisphere. The reality of its rarity can quickly be assessed by the fact that of only 28 bodies Barker provided for WO Bentleys, nineteen were fitted to 6½-liter cars, only two of which were 4-seat open tourers, and of that "brace," this is the only survivor.

So, there you have it, a unique survivor, which 90 years after it was delivered is once again in "as new," or rather "better than new" order. A debut in the UK was made at the Bentley Drivers Concours at Stonor Park in June, and in the lead up to the sale the car will be previewed at the Annual Rolls-Royce Owners Gathering in Squaw Creek.

Chassis BR2354 would surely complement any collection, serving as a world-class centerpiece and example of the marque. It arrives at the sale here in stunning condition, ready to be shown or toured in any number of events that will herald the 100th anniversary of this iconic brand.
Auction information

This auction has not been published. Catalogs are usually available four weeks before the auction. If you are interested in consigning property, the last consignment date for this auction is 13 Jun 2020