Bentley 8-Litre Tourer

First introduced at the London Motor Show in 1930, the Bentley 8-Litre made an immediate impact. It was formidable, fast and impressive. Fitted with an Elektron crankcase and sump, the 8-Litre was an extension of the immensely successful 6.5-litre power plant that earned Bentley its exceptional reputation on the racetrack. However, the 8-Litre was not intended for competition; rather, it was a focused effort aimed squarely at dethroning Rolls-Royce from its pedestal as the manufacturer of the world’s finest luxury motor car.

The Bentley 8-Litre was an incredibly brisk performer, capable of 160 km/h speeds, even when fitted with relatively heavy formal coachwork. The Rolls-Royce Phantom II, by comparison, had difficulty attaining 145 km/h, even with lightweight coachwork. The 8-Litre attracted a well-polished list of customers and equally impressed the automotive scribes of the era. The Sphere of 1931 described it as “one of the finest examples of British Automobile Engineering that has ever been produced.”

Unfortunately, its introduction coincided with the deepening Great Depression, rendering the exceptional quality and performance of the 8-Litre out of reach for the vast majority of people. There were great costs involved in bringing the 8-Litre into production, and as resources continued to thin, so did the market for the car. Eventually Bentley’s chief financier, the great “Bentley Boy” Woolf Barnato, in pecuniary trouble himself, cut his losses and severed his ties with the great marque.

Amidst these dire financial straits, Bentley Motors effectively ended in 1931, when the company notified London Life that it would be unable to make its 30 June mortgage payment. Undaunted, W.O. was confident that the company would continue under the proposed new ownership of Napiers of Acton, London. The Receiver’s sale of Bentley’s assets was considered a formality, but in the Royal Courts of Justice, a barrister representing the British Central Equitable Trust made a counter offer, much to everyone’s astonishment. Napier immediately offered more, but the judge informed the court that he was not an auctioneer and gave the two parties until 4:30 in the afternoon to return with sealed bids. W.O. later said, “I don’t know by how much precisely Napier were out-bidded, but the margin was very small, a matter of a few hundred pounds. All I knew that evening was that the deal would not be going through after all.”

Later, W.O. commented on the bankruptcy. He said, “when people ask me (and they are too tactful to do so often) why Bentleys went bust, I usually give three reasons: the slump, the 4-litre car, and the ‘blower’ 4.5s; in proportions of about 70, 20 and 10% respectively.” After the court case, it became clear that the B.C.E.T. was in fact representing Rolls-Royce. Having acquired all of Bentley’s assets, including the design of the 8-Litre, it is perhaps telling that the model was never again produced.

After only 100 examples of the 8-Litre were built, Bentley ceased production. To ensure that the Bentley threat would never resurface, Rolls-Royce created a completely new line of Bentleys that would serve as entry-level cars into the ultra-luxury department. The Bentley marque was not dead, but it would never again build a car as significant as the mighty 8-Litre.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in October of 2010 at the Battersea Evolution, London.

220 bhp at 3,500 rpm, 7,982.81 cc coupling rod driven single overhead camshaft inline six-cylinder engine, two SU carburettors, four-speed sliding pinion transmission with open propeller shaft, half elliptic springs front and rear suspension, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 156"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel and Stephen Goodal

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