15-16 August 2014

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Lot 131

1937 Bentley 4¼-Litre Open Two-Seater by Carlton

  • Chassis no. B55KU
  • Engine no. B7BK
  • British Registration no. FPJ100

Sold for $1,595,000

126 bhp, 4,257 cc OHV inline six-cylinder engine with two SU carburetors, four-speed manual gearbox with synchromesh on the third and fourth gears, front and rear semi-elliptic spring suspension with hydraulic shock dampers, and four-wheel mechanical brakes with servo-assist. Wheelbase: 126 in.

  • A bespoke, one-off 4¼-Litre
  • Unique bodywork, with numerous special-order items
  • Matching numbers, with original body, engine, and gearbox
  • Competed in the RAC Blackpool and J.C.C. Brooklands rallies in 1939
  • Restored by renowned Bentley specialist Dale Powers

Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley Motors from Walter Owen Bentley in 1931 and then struggled for two years to design and build an appropriate car, one that would honor the “W. O. Bentley” sporting and racing heritage, yet one that would also not be confused with the more stately cars wearing the Rolls-Royce badge. The timing couldn’t have been any worse, as this was during the Great Depression. Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motors Works’ manager at Derby, E. W. Hives, CH MBE (developer of the Merlin aero engine and later the chairman of Rolls-Royce Ltd.), headed the team that was tasked with designing the all-new Bentley, which was set out to be a sports car that would appeal to a wide range of prospective buyers.

His personal notes read, “Answer to the moods of the driver…be driven fast with safety…tour without fuss and noise…maximum speed should not be obtained at the expense of acceleration…controls, steering, and brakes shall be light to operate, and the braking shall be adequate for a fast car…maximum speed of the car on the road should be 90 mph, 75 mph in third gear.”

The first “Rolls-Bentley,” a 3½-Litre model, was based on the current-series Rolls-Royce 20/25-horsepower chassis, but it was reconfigured to use the 20/25’s 2¾-liter engine. In 1936, the engine output was increased to 4¼ liters by using the Rolls-Royce 25/30-horsepower engine and chassis, but it came with a higher compression ratio (6.8:1 compared to 6:1) and the Rolls-Royce Stromberg downdraft single carburetor was substituted by dual SUs. The result was a fast, silky, exciting car that soon became known as the “Silent Sports Car.”

The Bentley cars that were produced in tandem with the Rolls-Royce cars of the 1930s have been, until recently, overlooked by collectors. This was due in part because they lacked the bulk and presence of the large-horsepower Rolls-Royce Phantom models, and also because so many Derby Bentley cars remained with their original owners in daily service for decades and weren’t offered for sale. They were often referred to as “Derbys,” as they were built in the shared Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motors Works in Derbyshire, England.

As was the custom in the 1930s, the new owner of the rolling Bentley chassis would have it sent to one of the bespoke coachbuilders, and they would build it to his specifications. Of the dozens of Bentley coachbuilders, Park Ward, Thrupp & Maberly, Vanden Plas, H.J. Mulliner, and Gurney Nutting were most often selected. Of the 1,234 Bentley 4¼-Litre chassis produced, over 530 were bodied by Park Ward, and most of them were steel saloons.


Carlton, a more exclusive body builder, bodied only a few Derby Bentley cars. The company was originally known as the E.B. Hall & Company, a North London horse-drawn carriage maker, but it evolved into designing and building very special car bodies on a few select Daimler, Rolls-Royce, and Bentley chassis. After they were licensed to produce the revolutionary Weymann fabric bodies, they changed the company name to Carlton Carriage Company. Of the four Carlton bodies fitted to 4¼-Litre chassis, the car offered here, chassis number B55KU, is the only two-seater open tourer ever built. The others were a sedanca coupe, a saloon, and a four-seater drophead coupe.

Carlton achieved quite an accomplishment with this exceedingly rare two-seat model, as he created a drophead that was just as attractive with the hood up as it was when lowered to its concealed-hood position. By positioning the touring spare in the front wing rather than the boot lid, the resulting profile became streamlined and elegant. The combination of Ace deluxe wheel discs (also known as “Easi-Clean”), a vintage Bentley-type fold-down twin aeroscreen (often called the Brooklands windscreen), a correct slanted Winged B mascot (which must be turned 90 degrees before the bonnet can be opened without chipping the paint), and its original Marschal headlamps and centrally mounted driving lamp result in a seriously appealing body style. Under the bonnet, the correctly restored and impeccable engine compartment properly stores the correct road tools. These are often missing, but they are preserved with this car and tidily fit in a tray under the boot floor’s carpeting. The period-correct color scheme of its midnight blue exterior and saddle tan interior is a perfect pairing.

No detail has been overlooked within the interior, as it was clearly designed for the owner who loves to take the wheel. Among the special-order instruments included with this car, as validated by the accompanying Works chassis card orders, is an extremely rare Smiths tachometer with a clock built into its center top. The instrument layout is equally atypical, with the speedometer and tachometer to the left of the driver’s position, and the ignition and lamp switches have been placed even farther to the left, in front of the single-passenger seat. As the car is a one-off design, it is presumed that this may be one of the first uses for this dash layout before it became standard on later cars.

This car carries no stories, nor feigned history. The entire history of the car is documented not only in original order records and Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club-supplied ownership history but also in the car’s appearance in several archival publications, including All the Pre-War Bentleys as New by Stanley Sedgwick, on page 109, and Bentley: Fifty Years of the Marque by Johnnie Green, where a photo and identifying chassis number appear on page 208.

The car’s first owner was Gordon C. Wood, of Weybridge, Surrey, England, who accepted delivery from renowned Bentley dealer H. R. Owen on July 14, 1937. He clearly was one of the early car enthusiasts, as he specified the car was to be prepared “for use in town and touring.” He went on to compete in several rallies in 1939, including at the Royal Automobile Club’s Blackpool Rally and the prestigious J.C.C. Brooklands Rally.

Mr. Wood sold the car to H. G. Holcroft, of Shropshire, England, on September 18, 1938. On New Years’ Day in 1956, the car was sold to R. Guy, of Wolverhampton, England, who then sold it to its first U.S. owner in 1966. Then, around 1993, well-known and highly respected Bentley owner, restorer, and driver Dale Powers, of Florida, acquired this Bentley, and over the next decade, he managed its complete restoration. Afterwards, Powers and his wife enjoyed the car and participated in numerous car club caravans, tours, and meets. They sold chassis B55KU to Bill Jacobs in 1999, and he had it refinished in its current midnight blue and saddle tan hide interior, and he also had the mechanical restoration refreshed. The current owner acquired the car approximately eight years ago, and he confirms that the car continues to perform as it should and describes it as fast and handling well.

Exceptional and rare unmolested Derby Bentley cars with original engines and coachwork are in great demand by astute collectors. Honest examples like this unique, one-off two-seater open Derby Bentley are a superb investment, and they also provide great enjoyment to their owners while behind the wheel.


Please note that the engine installed in this car is K7BA; it is of the correct type but not the original B7BK as stated in the catalogue.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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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

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

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

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

Michael Squire

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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