1923 Bentley 3 Litre Super SportsSOLD

Tourer

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Registration No: WT 402
Engine No: 270
CC: 2996
Colour: Black
Trim Colour: Black
MOT: Oct 2011

Reference Number 126364

as of 5/17/2011

Overview
Car 1923 Bentley 3 Litre Super Sports
VIN 331 
Transmission Manual Shift 
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Known History

"It was not the means whereby the 3-Litre Bentley performed, but the manner in which it did it, that endeared the car to sportsmen who took pride in their driving. The engine was remarkably flexible, strong and reliable, the gear ratios admirably chosen, the handling excellent and the quality unremittingly high. So, also, was the price, but an ever-growing reputation, augmented by striking racing victories - including the Le Mans 24 hours of 1924 and 1927 - ensured its success" ('Classic Sports Cars' by Cyril Posthumus and David Hodges).

 

A railway engineering apprentice turned aero engine designer, Walter Owen Bentley previewed his first creation, the immortal 3-Litre, at the October 1919 London Motor Show (though, he would not deem it production ready for another two years). Inspired by a 1914 Humber T.T. racer, the newcomer's ladder-frame chassis was equipped with all-round semi-elliptic leaf-sprung suspension and rear-wheel drum brakes (four-wheel brakes becoming the norm from 1924 onwards). The car's heart and most advanced feature was its 2996cc engine. A long-stroke four-cylinder (80mm x 149mm) that prioritized torque over top-end power, it boasted a five-bearing crankshaft, shaft-driven overhead camshaft, monobloc construction, twin ignition, four valves per cylinder and aluminium pistons. Developing between 65bhp and 88bhp, the unit was allied to a separate four-speed gate-change gearbox. Supplied in bare chassis guise only, albeit with a choice of wheelbase lengths and engine tune, the 3-Litre remained in production until 1929 by which time some 1,636 are thought to have been made.

 

Mindful that his initial offering was among the most expensive cars on the market, W.O. wasted little time in proving its competitive worth. Bolstered by the marque's first victory (achieved at Brooklands during the May 16th 1921 Whitsun meeting), he determined that the 3-Litre should take to the International stage the following year. Outlasting many a purpose-built racer, Douglas Hawkes' streamlined but otherwise comparatively standard Bentley finished the 1922 Indianapolis 500 in 13th place overall (having averaged 74.95mph), while just weeks later the Cricklewood firm fielded a team of three Works cars for the prestigious Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race. Driven by Frank Clement, W.O. Bentley and Douglas Hawkes, the trio took the chequered flag in second, fourth and fifth places respectively; a performance which netted them the Team Prize ahead of formidable factory-entered Sunbeam and Vauxhall opposition. Hampered by a disappearing floorboard and incontinent exhaust, W.O. missed out on third place by a mere six seconds. Interviewed after the event he commented: "Our primary motive was to put the cars in the public eye and get them talked about . . . and the results were very pleasing".

 

Justifiably proud of its achievements on the Isle of Man, Bentley not only published a celebratory booklet entitled `The Blue Riband' but also launched a commemorative `T.T. Replica' model. Based on the short standard 9ft 9Żin wheelbase chassis, the newcomer boasted a high compression engine, close-ratio gearbox and 90mph top speed. Reputed to have accounted for just seventy-two sales between 1922 and 1924, notable `T.T. Replica' customers included the artist F. Gordon Crosby and marque concessionaire Captain John Duff. Accorded a degree of Works support, the latter entered his car for the inaugural Le Mans 24-hours on May 26th-27th 1923. Somewhat skeptical about the new race, W.O. made the decision to attend at the last minute. Soon won over by the unique challenge that the endurance event posed to both man and machine, he was thrilled when Duff and co-driver Frank Clement overcame a holed fuel tank to claim fourth place overall (setting fastest lap in the process). Bentley recorded its first Le Mans victory some twelve months later but by then the `T.T. Replica' had evolved into the `Speed Model'.

 

This particular example - chassis 331 - was supplied new to wealthy industrialist J.B. Holmes Esq whose family firm W.C. Holmes & Co Ltd operated the Whitestone Iron Works in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. Clothed with a rakish two-seater tourer body by local coachbuilder Rippon Bros, the `T.T. Replica' was road registered as `WT 402' on August 18th 1923. Extracts from a handwritten factory ledger indicate that the 3-Litre remained with its first owner until 1929 and thereafter passed through the hands of W. Tatton Esq of Upperhulme Dye Works, Leek, Staffs, H.E. Rohll Esq of West Heath, Congleton, Cheshire and John N. Keenan Esq of Belle Isle, York Road, London N7. Noted as being for sale at Bridge Motors of Staines in 1933, the car was subsequently associated with J.E. Whalley Ltd of Westgate, the Plymouth Auto Co and the Reval Motor Works of Dorset. Modified over time, chassis 331 was upgraded with an A-type gearbox, overdrive, front wheel brakes and wellbase wheels. A correct type but replacement unit, its engine (number 270) sports twin SU `Sloper' carburettors. Clare Hay's authoritative tome `Bentley - The Vintage Years 1919-1931', lists the Bentley's current coachwork configuration as a `4 seater (VDP) by Howarth'.

 

Prospective purchasers are asked to formulate their own opinions but to our eyes the fabric-covered body sat atop chassis 331 looks as if it could well have begun life in Vanden Plas' Kingsbury workshops (a scenario which tallies with the unsubstantiated rumour that the four-seater structure was transplanted from another short chassis 3-Litre during the 1960s). Previously the property of Ecurie Ecosse patron Hugh McCaig Esq, `WT 402' is understood to have benefited from new pistons and valves a few years before entering the current ownership during August 2003. Since then, it has covered some 28,000 road miles and been campaigned at the likes of Le Mans, Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Donington, Snetterton and Cadwell Park not to mention the Harewood Hillclimb, Cornbury Sprint and MIRA. Over the past eight years, the `T.T. Replica' has been predominantly looked after by marque specialist Richard C. Moss of Bolnhurst, Beds. As well as routine MOT testing, invoices on file reveal that it has been treated to: a new crankshaft, conrods (x4) and big end / little end / main bearings (2004/2005), relined brakes (2004), overhauled magneto (2004), replacement clutch parts (2004), new differential gears (2006), overdrive solenoid (2006), water pump (2008), camshaft rear cover plate (2008) and exhaust downpipe / gaskets / flanges (2008). Less than 3,000 miles old, its 5.25/6.00 x 21 Blockley tyres were fitted on September 2nd 2009.

 

Issued with a Vintage Sports Car Club Eligibility Document on February 13th 2004 (which classifies it as `Modified' due to the presence of a braked front axle and overdrive) and a MSA Historic Technical Passport on June 13th 2006 (FIA Class: OT1), chassis 331 drew much favourable comment whilst being displayed on the H&H stand at this year's VSCC Silverstone and SeeRed Donington meetings. Exuding a lovely patina which to us makes it seem `all of a piece', this delightful and decidedly rare `T.T. Replica' is offered for sale with history file and MOT certificate valid until October 2011.