In 12 short years, Bentley became one of Britain’s most revered marques through its cars’ technical sophistication and enviable record in long-distance racing events, including winning the Le Mans 24-hour race five times.
Designed by Walter Owen Bentley and his colleagues, the 3-Litre was the progenitor of the 4.5-, 6.5- and 8-Litre Bentleys. The 3-Litre combined several developments not previously seen in road-going cars, including an overhead camshaft driving four valves per cylinder, the first use of aluminum pistons in an automobile engine, pent-roof combustion chambers, dual magneto ignition and dual carburetors.
Despite these high-performance features, the 3-Litre was untemperamental in its operation and bulldog-tough in its durability. Indeed, Walter Owen Bentley’s pioneer effort was so soundly engineered and ruggedly constructed that he was able to offer an unprecedented five-year guarantee with these cars.
Even before retail delivery of the 3-Litre began, it was establishing its enviable racing record, having won its first race at the famed Brooklands oval in May 1921. Le Mans victories followed in 1924 and 1927. The 1927 win was particularly notable because of S.C.H. “Sammy” Davis’ epic run to first place after crashing heavily in his 3-liter team car at White House Corner.
World records held by the 3-Litre included 1,000 kilometers at 97.11 mph, 1,000 miles at 97.40 mph and 24 hours at 95.03 mph, all set in 1925 at Montlhery in France. In 1926 a streamlined 3-Litre returned to that course and set a record of 2,000 kilometers at 100.23 mph and 12 hours at 100.96 mph.
Carrying a guarantee of a 90-mph top speed straight from the showroom, the 3-Litre Speed Model had only 507 examples built from 1924 to 1929. They have proven to be the most “tweakable” of the 12 types of 3-Litres and are a great favorite today among vintage Bentley drivers, thanks to their splendid balance of high performance, ease of handling, timeless style and simplicity of maintenance.
The car offered here comes from an exemplary collection of sports and racing cars and was formerly owned by that great sportsman, race driver, sports-car constructor and car collector Briggs S. Cunningham.
While many Speed Model 3-Litres carried Vanden Plas coachwork, this body is one of three built by Vanden Plas in a striking boattail design, with a very clever top storage arrangement. The mahogany decking adds to the visual interest and elegance of the design, as does the unusual combination of brass and nickel brightwork.
While in the hands of a previous English owner in 1960, the car was involved in a road accident, which required replacement of the chassis with another authentic Speed Model unit. The original chassis number was DE1224.
It is equipped with the desirable Bentley “A” gearbox and proper SU “sloper” carburetors. All dashboard instruments appear to be original. The restoration, carried out before Cunningham bought the car, is now mellowed but still quite presentable in all areas, having had minimal road use in several decades but nonetheless maintained in road-ready condition.
With is delightful “dickey” seat, suitable for an adult or two small children, this handsome and unusual Bentley would make a pleasing addition to any collection of prewar vintage sports cars.