Bentley 3 Litre Sports Four-Seater

Every Bentley boy has his favorite model. Some celebrate Bentley’s recent liberation from Rolls-Royce with the new Continentals; others revere the timeless R- and S-Type models. The prewar 3½ and 4¼ “Silent Sports Cars” have their adherents, but for many enthusiasts, a Bentley isn’t a Bentley unless it was built when W.O. Bentley himself was in charge. For them, one of the most prized “W.O. models” is the Red Label, the short-chassis three-liter car built from 1924 to 1929.

At the end of World War I, Walter Owen Bentley devoted increasing interest to a new firm, Bentley Motors of Cricklewood, London, formed in 1919. His objective was a car of his own design, bearing his own name.

For its engine he chose a long-stroke four with four valves per cylinder, operated by a shaft-drive overhead camshaft. The cylinder head was fixed, a feature of subsequent cars through until the 1930s. The remainder of the car was fairly conventional for the period: four-speed gearbox, ladder chassis frame, solid axles with semi-elliptic leaf springs and mechanical brakes. Announced in The Autocar in May 1919, the car was christened “3-Litre,” after its 2,996 cc displacement, said to be the first use of engine capacity as a model name. The introductory illustrations were by Bentley’s friend F. Gordon Crosby, the renowned artist, who also designed the car’s iconic radiator shell and famed “Winged B” emblem.

Deliveries were scheduled for June 1920, but it was September of the following year before development was complete and cars became available. At £1,060 for chassis alone, it was expensive, but sales were encouraging, growing to 402 in 1924. Most cars were sent to nearby coachbuilder Vanden Plas for four-seater touring bodies. By the mid-1920s, the Bentley was accepted as the archetypal British sports car and achieved considerable racing success.

The 3-Litre remained in production through 1929, by which time 1,622 had been built. The cars are characterized by their radiator emblems, which changed in color over the years. The “standard model” on either short or long chassis used a blue background and came to be called “Blue Label.” Extra-short wheelbase 1924-26 cars with high compression were called “Green Label,” and high compression, short (117.5-inch) wheelbase 1924-29 models were “Red Label.”

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2011 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.

87 bhp, 2,996 cc single-overhead cam inline four-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel mechanical brakes. Wheelbase: 117.5".

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Hugh Hamilton

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