Villa Erba

25 May 2013

Previous Next

Lot 136

1929 Bentley 4½-Litre Open Tourer by Vanden Plas

  • Chassis no. FB3317
  • Engine no. FB3320

€530.000 - €690.000

100 bhp, 4,398 cc, 16-valve, SOHC four-cylinder engine, twin SU carburettors, four-speed manual gearbox, front beam and live rear axle with semi-elliptic springs, and four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 130.5 in.

  • One of two hundred and four 4½-Litre Bentleys fitted with Vanden Plas coachwork
  • Documented in detail by noted Bentley expert Clare Hay
  • Known ownership, awards, and history
  • Original coachwork, drivetrain, and suspension

Vintage, or “W.O.”, Bentleys were produced between 1919 and 1931 at Cricklewood. The so-called “Derby Bentleys” that were produced by Rolls-Royce after their purchase of the company out of receivership share only a badge with their forebears. From the first three-litre car in 1919, until the last eight-litre car in 1931, Bentley was the Ferrari of its day. Vintage Bentleys were powerful and surprisingly easy to drive—once mastery of the “crash” gearbox was achieved.

Vanden Plas produced most of the open bodies fitted to W.O. Bentleys. Many resembled the Bentley racing team’s Le Mans-style tourer. Vanden Plas built 204 bodies for 4½-Litre Bentley cars, and the Le Mans-style body of these cars is widely copied. Few marques have had as many coachwork and engine replacements as the early Bentleys. Many closed bodies were replaced by sporting, open tourers, both in-period and after the war, and few original bodies have survived intact, making FB3317 all the more desirable. Besides originality, proper maintenance is vital, and the value of a vintage Bentley is not diminished if it has sensible updates, thoughtful maintenance, and supporting documentation. Consequently, after 84 years, this example is a rare find.

Archived by Bentley Motors and Vanden Plas, and subsequently by clubs like the Bentley Drivers’ Club and Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club, early Bentleys can often be accurately documented. The ownership history of FB3317 is admirably complete, starting with its first owner in 1929, F.W. Howarth, of The Danes, Higher Crumpshall, Manchester. Clearly a Bentley enthusiast, he first owned a 1925 3-Litre Arnold Saloon, then a 1928 4½-Litre J. Gurney-Nutting Saloon, and a 1930 4½-Litre Supercharged Vanden Plas Coupé.

He was followed by B.C. Garnham, of London, in 1933 and G. Forbes, of Essex, in 1936. Following a presumed wartime slumber, the car re-emerged in 1946 with a succession of known owners, most notably Captain Geoffrey Hunt, who brought FB3317 to the New World in 1956. At some point, presumably before its export to America, the original chassis frame was replaced by AD3671. This practice was not uncommon at the time; presumably, AD3671 was in better condition than FB3317, which is known to have been repaired multiple times in the 1930s. It is further known that Captain Hunt installed the Marchal headlamps, which remain with the car to this day, whilst the dating of the current cycle wings is unknown.

In 1966, owner W. A. Boone restored the car, and he won many concours events with it. The rebuild is recorded in number 100 of the Bentley Drivers’ Club’s Review from May 1971, and Boone notes that the wooden body frame was restored by Don Carpenter, of Wizard Works in Kenosha, Wisconsin; since the body was extensively restored at this time, it is possible that the wings were replaced then as well. In any case, to this day, the body retains the hallmarks of the Vanden Plas craftsmen.

Boone and FB3317 participated in club tours and events, including RROC Spring and Fall Tours in the U.S.; Vintage Racing at Laguna Seca, California, and Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin; a Bentley Drivers’ Club Tour of England, covering 1,200 miles; and the SCCA Michigan Miglia, which covered 1,000 miles in three days. Awards include the NIRCCA Grand Award for Excellence and an RROC First in Class for “Vintage Bentley” in 1970; the AACA’s “S. F. Edge Award for the outstanding restoration of the year of a foreign-made automobile in a national event” in 1972; the BDC, “Best Overseas Car” at Kensington Gardens, London, in 1974; and 100 points in the “Senior Foreign” class at the Indianapolis National Grand Classic in 1976.

Published references include seven in the Bentley Drivers’ Club Review between 1974 and 1982 and five in the RROC Flying Lady between 1971 and 1979. In addition, FB3317 is mentioned in Vanden Plas Coachbuilders, by Brian Smith, and All the Pre-War Bentleys - As New, by Stanley Sedgwick. Perhaps the most astute observations have been made by Clare Hay, author of many archival Bentley reference volumes, including Bentley: The Vintage Years; Bentley Factory Cars, Bentley Speed Six; and Bentley Eight Litre. Hay inspected the car thoroughly in early-2013 to examine the original components and map out for the first time where and why repairs, replacement of parts, and sensible upgrades were performed.

In the incredibly detailed report, every component of the car is examined, photographed, and recorded. Aside from the replacement chassis, Hay notes that the engine, the desirable close-ratio C-Type gearbox, number 6442, the steering box, and the front and rear axles remain original to the car, as do the correct-type Bentley & Draper shock absorbers. The front brakes are the original 1929 type, although it is noted that the finned brake drums are a later update and are considered superior to the original units. The fuel system is correct, including the matched pair of SU HVG5 carburettors and Ki-Gass cold starting pump, as is the matched pair of ML ER4 magnetos. The car even retains its original leather trays between the chassis and the sump flange, which are almost always missing, as well as the quick release radiator cap, which was originally fitted to racing cars and ordered by F.W. Howarth from Bentley in April 1930.

FB3317 has retained its complete identity throughout its entire life; thus, it will be welcomed in clubs, like the Bentley Owners’ Club Ltd., and invited to the finest events round the globe. Unlike many cars from the 1920s, a Bentley is thrilling to drive, and one is an essential part of a pre-war collection.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 9... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. He is a life-long automobile enthusiast and ... read more

Don Rose

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Ian Kelleher

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Ian Kelleher began his automotive career immediately following his graduation from Oberlin College with a Bachelor of Arts in Politica... read more

Jake Auerbach

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Jonathan Sierakowski

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Jonathan Sierakowski developed a passion for classic cars while working at a Connecticut restoration shop as a teenager. He graduated with a... read more

Kurt Forry

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. He att... read more

Peter Wallman

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007 following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, where he was based out ... read more

Shelby Myers

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more