1931 Bentley 8 Litre – Classified of the Week

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By Chris Pollitt

The 1930s were a magical time for motoring. With coachbuilding in full swing, manufacturers had to build faith in their name with only their chassis and engine offerings. There was no manufacturer body to fall in love with. We had to bond with the engine. And this is why Bentley did rather well. This Bentley 8 Litre was an incredible machine well before any coachbuilder got near it. It boasted speed from the single overhead cam straight-six engine, it featured a long ladder chassis with tubular cross-bracing on which any body could be built and it offered exceptional handling for the time care of long, semi-elliptic leaf springs and double acting dampers. This engine and chassis combination was the stuff of motoring dreams. 105mph came as a promise from Bentley, though the company openly stated that it was good for 125mph.

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Sadly, the Bentley 8 Litre came at the same time as the Great Depression, and at the equivalent of around £300,000 in today’s money, for just the chassis and engine, sales weren’t exactly plentiful. In the end, only 100 were built. The car you’re looking at here, which was built on the longest 3,500mm wheelbase chassis, is build number 53. But when it was first built and bodied, it didn’t look anything like this. 

The car, chassis number YM5028, was bodied by Freestone & Webb of London, but it was not the svelte, racing body you see here. In fact, it was a traditional saloon. The car was used like this through a succession of owners, it was hidden away during the war, it was recommissioned and then, in 1962, it went in for the big change. Bought by a Mr. Michael Wilcock of Swandean Garage in 1962, he set about turning the car into how you see it today. 

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A gorgeous two-seat Swandean body was fitted, works were carried out to the engine and suspension and the end result was a sporting Bentley that could easily hit the giddy heights of 130mph. And it did, regularly. The big Bentley was frequently campaigned by Wilcock throughout the ‘60s, and the car is offered with the documentation to prove it. 

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This is a wonderful, immaculate and incredibly interesting car that would be, as the vendor states, the perfect way to celebrate 100 years of Bentley. Is it cheap? No, it’s £724,995. But for a car of such importance and such heritage, it’s really not too bad at all.

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