Recipe: Take a good 3-liter Red Label Bentley chassis, mix in a good 4½-liter engine, gearbox, and transmission and add a light body with accessories to taste. The result is a motorcar which, while still retaining a good vintage flavor, possesses a performance equaled by few other machines even of the most modern and expensive type.” (Captain J.G. Fry, The Autocar, May 14, 1943).
Captain Fry’s 3/4½ was one of several constructed by H.M. Bentley and Partners during the late 1930s. Brother to marque founder W.O., H.M. did much to keep the Vintage Bentley spirit alive and was among the first to rebody tired or otherwise worn 3 Liter and 4½ Liter cars.
The idea of combining the best elements from both designs to create what The Autocar termed “a hybrid old-type Bentley” must have seemed logical. Furthermore, it even had some precedent in the Cricklewood firm’s back catalog. Built to special order, nine of the 665 4½ Liter cars produced utilized the same 9′-9½″ wheelbase as the 3 Liter Red Label/Speed model. Though wonderfully swift and agile, these “short chassis” (or “shorties”) proved somewhat prone to stress cracks and frame distortion if asked to carry any but the lightest coachwork.
Beginning life as a Bentley 3 Liter Speed Model with coachwork by Vanden Plas, this particular example was supplied new in July 1924. Thereafter it is understood to have passed through the hands of Wassell, Thompson, Good, and Baker, before being acquired by John May (presumably in the 1980s).
Eager to have a steed for competitive tours and race meetings, May commissioned renowned Bentley engineer and restorer John Guppy to transform CX 6596 into its current configuration. Retaining what are believed to be its original chassis and front and rear axles, the car was fitted with a new but correct-type 4½-liter engine and D-type gearbox. Suitably uprated, the powerplant is said to play host to a Phoenix counterbalanced crankshaft, Phoenix rods/rockers, and Arias pistons, plus a modern Borg & Beck clutch. Benefiting from a shortened radiator shell and lowered bulkhead, the replacement four-seater bodywork is commendably light.