1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer by Vanden Plas
- The ultimate 8-Litre Bentley
- Five owners from new; confirmed to have original chassis and engine
- Fitted with Le Mans-style Vanden Plas coachwork in 1938
- A strong performer and delightful to drive; eligible for virtually all rallies
- Documented and authenticated by renowned Bentley historian Dr. Clare Hay
- An extraordinary performance machine with few rivals from any era
The general history of the Bentley 8-Litre is well-known and documented: that it was the last “W.O.” Bentley, engineered to perfection by the company’s founder; that for effortless power, heaps of torque, and sheer impressive performance, it was utterly remarkable; and that just about nothing else built in England at the time could compare to its aura of grandeur. Yet even the great extant 8-Litres of the mere 100 built often lack that certain je ne sais quoi that makes earlier “W.O.s” strum the heartstrings of men and boys. They are comfortable, and they are swift, but they are less raw, less sporting, and more country club than country road.
That offered here is not one of those cars. It is an 8-Litre crafted by Vanden Plas with all the rakish looks and racer’s soul of a 4½-Litre: those open fenders, that low beltline, that notch in the driver’s door! It never went to Le Mans, but to drive at speed and hear the sound of its engine is to have no doubt that it was capable. The thrill of power and speed is no less potent than a modern Ferrari, yet it is all mechanical, with no high technology.
There are few more remarkable machines, as five lucky men have been able to attest.
THE STORY OF A VANDEN PLAS 8-LITRE
Chassis number YX5118 was the eighth from last 8-Litre built, and one of just 35 on the 12-foot “Short Chassis.” It was produced late enough in the production run that it remained at the Bentley Works, finished save for its coachwork, when Bentley Motors went into receivership on 11 July 1931. The company was renamed Bentley Motors (1931) Ltd., a new, wholly owned subsidiary of Rolls-Royce. The few unsold, complete, not-yet-bodied chassis were subsequently sold to London Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealers Jack Barclay and Jack Olding.
This car then filled the order of Sir Everard Talbot Scarisbrick, 2nd Baronet and 30th Lord of Scarisbrick in Lancashire, and was undoubtedly delivered to his ancestral home, Scarisbrick Hall in Ormskirk. Sir Everard was indubitably a connoisseur of fine motorcars; his name appears in the history of several interesting automobiles of this time period, and this was, in particular, his third Bentley. Fitted with a four-passenger tourer body by the London coachbuilders Mayfair, it was delivered to the Baronet in May 1932 and underwent almost continuous fine-tuning in his ownership. A Jaeger speedometer and rev counter were fitted in July of 1932, followed in February 1934 by a higher-ratio 15/53 crown wheel and pinion, and three SU fuel pumps in lieu of the original Autovac.
The car was acquired shortly thereafter by the second owner, J.C. Babcock of London, in whose ownership it was maintained for over 30 years. Mr. Babcock had the engine and chassis overhauled in 1936 and replaced the rear axle with a special high-ratio 16/53 type.
In 1938, with a new body in mind, Mr. Babcock approached coachbuilders Vanden Plas of London, renowned for their sporting bodies on Bentley chassis, most famously the fabric-sided “Le Mans tourers” that have been ruthlessly recreated on numerous original cars since.
By this time, Vanden Plas had turned its attentions in a more luxurious and less sporting direction, and the few bodies they produced for 8-Litres were generally convertibles of a comfortable vein. Not so for their body for YX5118, which had all the élan of a Bentley Boy’s 4½-Litre “Blower” with its cut-down driver’s side door, low-slung waistline, and simplicity of detail. It was a body that commanded attention and emphasized that this was no mere automobile, but a powerhouse that could chase and pass anything that dared to challenge it.
The only similar 8-Litre body of this era was that fitted by Vanden Plas to Vivian Hewitt’s infamous YX5119—a car that, the reader will note, was built immediately following this one, and which is today considered the most valuable 8-Litre. Comparisons also follow in that Captain Hewitt maintained and enjoyed his 8-Litre regularly well into its spell as a “classic car,” as it did Mr. Babcock, who in 1949 entered this car into the 1949 Bentley Drivers’ Club Kensington Gardens Concours. An original British registration document on file confirms Mr. Babcock’s multiple years of ownership while also importantly identifying the body in his care as a “four-seater sports,” that which is currently mounted.
In 1967, following some 30 years of ownership, Mr. Babcock passed his Bentley to L.R. Beakbane, in whose ownership it remained for only one year. It was then sold in 1968 to Hans Dieter Holterbosch, the American importer of Löwenbräu beer and a noted enthusiast of great performance machines. The Holterbosch stable included superb, well-restored, and properly maintained examples of the best Classic Era motorcars. Significantly, this was the only Bentley. The car was restored in the United Kingdom by Don McKenzie, son of renowned Bentley tuner L.C. McKenzie, with the body refinished and re-trimmed by Hooper & Company in Westminster, successor to the grand old coachbuilder, then returned to the United States to take its place in the Holterbosch stable. There the Bentley remained, occasionally used and maintained but largely out of sight to the public, for 45 years.
Several years ago the car was acquired by its present caretaker, in whose ownership it has been sympathetically returned to robust running order, as was demonstrated for an RM Sotheby’s specialist in a recent road test. It is a robust and incredible thrill to drive.
This 8-Litre is accompanied by a comprehensive 24-page report, compiled by Dr. Clare Hay, the foremost authority and single most knowledgeable living expert on “W.O.” Bentleys, using photographs and documents from throughout chassis number YX5118’s long history. She notes that the engine stamping on the front bearer is original and in unusually good, clear condition, itself an indication of the quality work and maintenance that the car has had over the years. Underhood finishes are to original specifications, with the exception of an upgraded modern coil and three SU carburetors, all of which are desirable modifications for modern touring. Dr. Hay’s conclusion is that the car retains its original engine and chassis, thus confirming what one would suspect from a car with such a known, unblemished history.
Today offered by only its fifth enthusiast owner since new, chassis number YX5118 is truly in a class by itself, even among other 8-Litres. Well-documented and lovingly kept for its entire life, it is a marvelous paradox: smooth yet raw, powerful yet controlled, and sporting yet comfortable, with those classic Vanden Plas lines that look the enthusiast in the soul and shout “Bentley” with the first kick of its six giant cylinders.
If it is possible for a 1930s automobile to be called a supercar, this is it.