1928 Bentley 6 1/2 Liter Saloon  Chassis no. BR2353 Engine no. BR2351
Wings of desire

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 57, Winter 2018

Page 60

The winged B has always signalled an exemplary motor car. The 6½-Litre is no exception, explains Poppy McKenzie Smith

Next year heralds 100 years of Bentley, a company that has not simply been manufacturing for a century, but continually producing some of the most luxurious, powerful and successful motor cars in the world. Bentley motor cars exemplify style and performance, and were established as serious competitors on the track from the outset.

W.O Bentley was a keen racer, and even as early as 1922 his machines were stealing a march in events such as the Tourist Trophy and Indianapolis. Before long, W.O had set his sights on the newly announced Grand Prix d'Endurance at Le Mans, the ultimate proving ground for any car worth its salt.

Forays began in 1923 at the inaugural 24 Hours of Le Mans race, and Bentley, the only British team entered, was placed a respectable 4th. The following year, an outright win became the first of many for the marque. Frank Clement and John Duff drove the 3 Litre Sport to victory over several Lorraine-Dietrichs and Chenard- Walckers, despite mechanical issues in the final hours of the race and accusations of wheel tampering. A dry spell followed, but victory was achieved again in the larger, more powerful 4½-Litre model and in 1926, W.O Bentley introduced the model which would be the backbone of his final Le Mans campaigns – the gargantuan 'Big Six.'

The tale goes that development of the 6-cylinder, 4 ½-Litre model was deemed a failure by W.O after he happened upon the new Phantom prototype from Rolls- Royce while driving through France. He was staggered by the sheer magnitude of his rival's creation, and promptly sent his designers back to the drawing board to create something even more impressive. Two more cylinders and two more litres were added to his Bentley, as well as beefedup transmission and axles. Production of these cars continued from 1926 through to the introduction of their eventual successor the 8-Litre in 1930. Along that journey, the stealth of the 6-cylinder cars brought Le Mans wins in 1929 and 1930.

The handsome 6½-Litre proved just as popular as a road car. 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, such as this imposing 1928 Bentley 6½-Litre Four Light Weymann Fabric Sports Saloon. Weymann fabric bodies were an ingenious – if sadly shortlived – design enterprise. The design used an ultra-light wooden frame with special metal joints which was then covered in muslin and chicken wire before being finished with a synthetic leather fabric over the top. The use of lightweight timber and fabric reduced the usual squeaks and rattles of traditional metal coachbuilt bodies, and resulted in a smoother, quieter and slightly faster ride.

Weymann trumpeted its unique coachwork style, and promised buyers "absolute silence, perfect comfort and a durable product...that was easy to wash and clean and easily repaired in case of an accident". Alas, it was the latter that proved the biggest stumbling block for Weymann's design, as the lightweight timber did not fare well in collisions.

Mercifully, this glorious example of Weymann's creativity has come through unscathed, and is widely regarded as one of the most original of its kind to survive. It has had a mere six owners in its 90-year history and has covered just 42,000 miles in the process. W.O. Bentley's goal was "to build a fast car, a good car, the best in its class". The 6½-Litre is proof of his success.

Poppy McKenzie Smith is Motoring Press Officer.

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