Bentley 4 1/2-Litre Open Tourer

The Bentley of the 1920s was a painstakingly crafted vehicle. Though chassis frames were supplied by outside contractors, the balance was fabricated slowly and methodically within the modest brick sheds that sprinkled the Cricklewood site. On average, Bentley produced 300 cars annually or about six to seven cars per week. It took more than a bit of juggling…and pleading with suppliers to manage cash flow. Engines and transmissions were manufactured to exceedingly high standards; each was tested thoroughly before being fitted to a chassis. At such a small rate of production, there was no justification for series manufacture of each and every model, thus keeping costs high and cash flow minimal.

Vanden Plas and the 4½-Litre - Like Rolls-Royce, all Bentleys were bodied by independent coachbuilders. Each operational chassis was fitted with a radiator, hood panels and firewall and then road-tested on public highways prior to being sent to completion for its bodywork. No less than 120 coachbuilders (mostly British) supplied bodies, the most prolific being Vanden Plas, which provided 669 bodies from 1922-1931 (Gurney Nutting was second, supplying 360 bodies over a similar period). Bentley’s relationship with Vanden Plas began in 1922; by 1924, the company bodied 84 Bentleys alone and in 1925 leased a portion of their premises to Bentley for the latter’s service department. Vanden Plas became the coachbuilder of choice for Bentley.

The new 4½-Litre Bentley arrived on the scene in late-1927 following the prototype’s debut at that year’s Le Mans race. The car broke the lap record prior to the famous (or infamous) White House Corner disaster. It was the successor to the 3-Litre, using features of the original Bentley four-cylinder as well as the later six-cylinder engine upon which development had begun in 1925. It shared the same bore and stroke as the 6½-Litre (100mm x 140mm) but retained the shaft-and-helical camshaft drive of the 3-Litre. The 4½-Litre was brought about by the need for greater power and speed, which were required for Bentley to ensure competitive supremacy. The engine quickly proved its mettle with an outright win in the 1928 Le Mans race and subsequent Brooklands competition success. During the production run from 1927 to the takeover from Rolls-Royce in 1931, few modifications to the engine were deemed necessary attesting to its overall excellent design. Most significant was the introduction of a plate-type clutch in 1929 which replaced the earlier cone variety. In standard Vanden Plas Tourer form, the 4-Litre Bentley was good for 92 mph; in Le Mans trim, 120 mph was possible – quite remarkable for the era. Bentley built a total of 665 units over the model’s lifespan, almost all constructed on the longer 130-inch chassis first used on the 3-Litre. One-hundred-sixty were bodied with the now very desirable Vanden Plas Four-Seater Open Tourer coachwork.

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

100 hp @ 3,500 rpm, 4,398 cc SOHC four-cylinder, four-speed manual transmission, right-hand drive, four-wheel mechanical drum brakes, semi-elliptic leaf spring suspension. Wheelbase: 130"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Ned Jackson

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