Bentley 3 1/2 Litre Drophead Coupe

The Bentleys produced in tandem with Rolls-Royce in the 1930s are commonly referred to as “Derbys,” since they were built in the shared Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motors Works in Derbyshire, England. The 3½-Litre Bentley was introduced to the public at Ascot Race Course in August 1933. Powered by a larger and sportier version of the small Rolls-Royce 20/25 engine, it was well-received by the press and public alike, and 1,191 were sold between 1933 and 1937, overlapping the 4¼-Litre Bentley, which replaced it.

Rolls-Royce had acquired Bentley Motors in 1931 in a hand-shake agreement with W.O. Bentley, promising to continue to produce cars with the Bentley badge. Promising to do so was one thing, but actually doing it was another. The company struggled for two years to design and produce an appropriate car that would respect the “W.O. Bentley” sporting and racing heritage rather than the more stately cars carrying the Rolls-Royce badge. The early 1930s were challenging times financially, and Rolls-Royce approached the new Bentley model prudently, carefully managing production costs, while creating an exciting car to attract new car buyers.

To limit re-tooling costs, the Bentley 3½-Litre was based on the Rolls-Royce 20/25 hp chassis. The new Bentley engine was re-configured from the 20/25’s 2¾-liter motor by increasing displacement, adding a new cross-flow head, twin SU carburetors, higher compression ratio and a re-profiled camshaft. The result was a fast, smooth, long-lasting, responsive and excellent-handling car that was marketed as “The Silent Sports Car.” The Derby Bentley rapidly became the favored car for the boy- and girl-racers of the day.

Bentley enthusiasts have always recognized that the quality of the car is on par with everything else Rolls-Royce has produced, yet the 3½-Litre Bentley also provides brisk acceleration and responsive handling, and with a top speed of over 90 mph, its low-revving engine can cruise all day at freeway speeds.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in October of 2009 at the Battersea Evolution, London and in August of 2011 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.

115 hp, 3½-liter, OHV six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual synchromesh transmission, front and rear semi-elliptic leaf springs, rear live axle, four-wheel, vacuum-assisted mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 126".

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Dan Savinelli

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