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1931 Bentley 4 Litre Open Tourer by Vanden Plas

'This is About the Most Original and Correct Vintage Bentley That I have Ever Seen'- Clare Hay, 2018. Never Restored and Just Four Owners from New. Eligible for W.O. Bentley Rallys, and Likely the Most Significant 4L Extant.

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Price $485,000
VIN VF4019
Exterior Color Two-tone Green and Black
Interior Color Green Leather
Mileage 86326 Miles (TMU) Miles
Engine 4 Litre Inline 6 no. VF4020
Transmission 4-Speed Manual
Status Inventory
Stock FJ2266

Comments

1931 Bentley 4 Litre Tourer by Vanden Plas
s/n VF4019 Eng. no. VF4020, Body no. 1741
Green with Black Wings and Green Interior

Simply put, the cars made by Bentley Motors Limited before Rolls-Royce acquired them in late 1931 are among the finest and most desirable prewar cars made. Exceptionally engineered and built, they set the standard for performance and luxury, including five victories at Le Mans from 1924 to 1930. By 1931, with the depression spreading, Bentley Motors Limited was in financial trouble and entered receivership in the Summer of 1931. Their last effort to turn the company’s fortune was the 4 Litre, a smaller and less costly model meant to compete with the Rolls-Royce 20/25. The 4 Litre drew heavily on the legendary 8 Litre, using a shortened version of its chassis powered by a 4 liter inline-6 designed by celebrated designer Harry Ricardo (later Sir Harry Ricardo for his contributions to internal combustion engine development during its earliest years). The engine produced 120 hp with dual HVG 5-type SU carburetors, coupled to a 4-speed F-Type gearbox. The semi-eliptical front and rear suspension combined with the shorter chassis allowed for spirited performance and nimble road manners.

The 4 Litre Bentleys were extraordinary, bespoke, and remarkably durable, but uncompromising levels of handwork encumbered the much-needed profits. Working with some of the finest coachbuilders and prestigious clientele, Bentley delivered 50 4 Litre cars before entering receivership in July of 1931. Ultimately, unbeknownst to the owners at the time of sale, Bentley would be purchased by Rolls-Royce shortly after production of the 4 Litre ceased, making it the very last of the original independent Bentley motorcars ever produced.

According to Bentley expert and marque historian Clare Hay, chassis number VF4019 was the 19th of 50 4 Litres built, employing the shorter 11 foot two inch wheelbase. It is one of two cars dispatched to Couchbuilder Vanden Plas specifically to be bodied in the style of the open Tourer fitted to Woolf Barnato’s personal 8 Litre Bentley. Barnato, the primary funding source for the advancement of Bentley in their early years, would later acquire the company in 1925, becoming the primary force behind four consecutive Bentley victories at Le Mans from 1927-1930, driving the winning team car in 1928, 1929, and 1930.

Because of the unique open Tourer bodywork, chassis number V4019 was quickly assigned its first duties as a Bentley demonstrator. The body was dispatched to Vanden Plas on 11 May 1931, and the car completed 13 June 1931. The finished car was prepared in Le Mans Green with black fenders, frame, and body moldings, and the interior trimmed in green celstra leather. Once readied for promotional use, the completed car was dispatched to “The Autocar” magazine for road testing. During the tests, a gearbox bearing failed, necessitating the installation of gearbox number 8151 by Bentley Motors Limited, which remains installed today. Bentley Motors photographer Charles K. Bower photographed the car during service as a demonstrator during this period. The car remained unsold when Bentley Motors Limited entered receivership in July of 1931, and the car was sold as part of a lot of 9 Cricklewood Bentleys to the famed dealer Jack Barclay on 25 November 1931, who sold it on to its first owner on 4 January 1932. P. A. G. Phillips, a resident of Turnbridge Wells and heir to a cigar manufacturing fortune, became the car’s first private owner and registered the car in London under the license GP 5193.

As indicated on the factory service record, Mr. Phillips had the car regularly serviced, including the installation of a new 4.16:1 rear axle, which was installed in September 1933 at 15,516 miles. The record shows routine maintenance and relatively light use until 1938 at which time the car had 46,767 miles. Although the car was unregistered during the war years, Mr. Phillips continued to use the car, occasionally loaning it to Royal Air Force squadron leader and decorated pilot, Peter Balean. Impressed by the performance and condition of the car, Balean continued friendly contact with Phillips. After repeated requests, Balean eventually purchased the car from Phillips, becoming the second owner in June 1960. Balean continued the tradition of fastidious care Phillips had so thoughtfully performed over the previous 30 years, rebuilding the engine using .0030” oversize pistons, with a lightly ground and balanced crankshaft.

In 1989, Balean sold the car to Ronald Gray who divided his time between Germany and Florida. Gray also continued to preserve and protect the original finishes so carefully maintained by the two previous owners during the past half century. In 1998, Mr. Gray sold this exceptionally preserved 4 Litre to a North American Bentley enthusiast, who has retained it since. In 2009, noted restorer and preservation expert Steve Babinsky performed a full service on the car commenting on the superb level of un-broken conservatorship afforded over the past eight decades.

Today, this remarkable Bentley must be counted as one of the most important and impressive 4 Litre cars in existence. Recently, after a detailed review of the car, Bentley expert Clare Hay authoritatively stated “In general terms, I would say that this is about the most original and correct vintage Bentley that I’ve ever seen”. The handsome Tourer body is finished in what is believed to be original paint or an early period lacquer respray. The original frame, original engine, original interior, carpeting, and instruments all display exceptional visual harmony. The paint presents displays a proud patina and is surprisingly well-preserved. The Tourer bodywork offers a classic profile with perfect proportions, sculpted boot, and gently undulating black fenders, beautifully suspended above the painted wire wheels, completing the stately and sporting look executed by Vanden Plas in the Spring of 1931.

Under the hood, there is an authentic feel to all components, warmly hued by decades of rewarding service to sympathetic owners. The exquisite range of toned finishes, polished, painted, and preserved accessories reflect the integrity of the original vehicle creating a deserved homage to what would become one of the last pure Bentleys. The various mechanical components are a feast of detail and casting brilliance, each in their own right, from the steering box, to the SU carburetors and their carefully sculpted fuel lines. Every piece of hardware is hand crafted and superbly engineered, reflecting the splendor of this exceptional 4 Litre engine.

The interior continues the exquisite theme of originality with correct instruments arrayed on the wooden dashboard accented by the commanding steering wheel, complete with throttle, spark, and mixture controls. The leather seating has dutifully served the original purpose with durability and remarkable elegance despite being nearly 90 years old. Here again the beauty lies in the remarkable original surfaces and stitching – a tribute of longevity, embodied by the highest quality materials selected during the original construction by Vanden Plas. Of further note is the wonderful original two piece fitted luggage, which retain the original finishes both inside and out. The underside of the car is properly preserved with no evidence of structural compromise, boasting a remarkably clean visual condition consistent with the originality and authentic finishes found throughout the car.

The car runs and drives superbly. It start easily and runs well, with excellent carburetion and throttle response. It runs even temperatures and displays good oil pressure, warm or cold. The clutch is progressive and easy to use, while the gearchange has all the hallmarks of a properly functioning Cricklewood Bentley box: rewarding and durable to the skilled operator and humbling to anyone less. The steering is precise and direct, permitting the driver to place the car with surprising accuracy. The chassis is compliant but communicative, with a wonderfully coherent, high-quality feel that has stood the test of time fabulously. Brakes are also quite impressive, with a firm, reassuring pedal and surprising effectiveness.

The car is impressively complete, including the following documents:
• Invoice from Vanden Plas to Bentley Motors Limited for the construction of the body totaling £330 dated 7 May 1931
• Copy of the dealer ledger showing the purchase of this car by Jack Barclay on 25 November 1931
• Original purchase invoice from Jack Barclay to P. G. Phillips, Esq. showing the trade in of a 1927 Sunbeam two-seater plus £627 for VF4019 dated 4 January 1932
• Factory service record including mileages covering the period 1932 to 1938
• Registration book covering the period 1945 to 1967
• Miscellaneous correspondence and service records dating from 1957 to present

With the 100 year anniversary of Bentley approaching and many respected events seeking the finest examples of this celebrated marque, this exceptional Bentley 4 Litre Tourer represents an extraordinary opportunity for an enthusiast to present a car that will eclipse even the finest restoration. The rare convergence of originality, premier preservation, and documented provenance coupled with the unbridled joy commanding one of the most exciting prewar cars ever constructed will surely delight any fortunate motoring enthusiast. Among the last W. O. Bentley cars produced and in exceptionally undisturbed condition, this is among the most significant 4 Litre Bentleys yet it simultaneously represents excellent value, being one of the most reasonably priced entries into the prestigious Cricklewood Bentley community.

 


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