• A two-time factory Le Mans entry • 2nd Overall at the 1929 Brooklands Double Twelve • 3rd Overall at the 1929 24 Hours of Le Mans • The Only Remaining “Bobtail” 4½ Litre For the 1928 season, Bentley was intent on having new Works cars, all based on the 4½-liter production chassis in addition to Old Mother Gun. The first two cars produced, YV7263 and YW2557, were Works specialized production chassis sent to Vanden Plas for lightweight Le Mans coachwork per design 1477. The body consisted of an ash frame with fabric covering. A tall, rear D-shape fuel tank was mounted with a vertical spare. The package was covered by a rounded aluminum shroud, the resultant appearance of which gained the cars their “Bobtail” nickname. Additionally, the team cars received the “eyebrow”-type cycle fenders. Both cars were finished in the team’s standard Napier Green. For YW2557 at Le Mans, W.O. selected two of his best drivers — the 1924 Le Mans winner Frank Clement and the 1927 Le Mans winner Dudley Benjafield. The race proved a significant trial for the new 4½ Litre “Bobtail,” with strong competition from Stutz and Chrysler. Almost immediately, YW2557 was setting a blistering pace, recording a new lap record at 72.7 mph. The first pit stop was made after three hours, and by the time darkness fell upon the Circuit de la Sarthe, YW2557 was running in 4th in the hands of Clement and Benjafield. Unfortunately, well into the race, YW2557 suffered a broken frame. Upon return to Cricklewood, each of the team cars received new frames with significant chassis strengthening. Of note is the modification of Birkin’s “Bobtail” to be fitted with a different style of fuel tank, a small trunk and a side-mounted spare, making YW2557 the sole remaining “Bobtail.” For the first major outing in the 1929 season, Bentley once again turned to YW2557 for the inaugural Double Twelve Race at Brooklands on May 10 and 11. The 1927 Le Mans winner, Sammy Davis, and Gunter were given YW2557, wearing number 6, and were joined by Clement and Cook in YV 7263 and Barnato and Benjafield in the new Speed Six. YW2557 proved quite capable, with Davis noting comfort at speeds of 104 and 105 mph, even reaching 107 mph when needed. Davis went on to recount that it was “the finest battle [he had] ever had bar none. Worthily did No. 6 respond.” Of the Le Mans Works Team Cars, originally comprising four 3 Litres, four 4½ Litres, three Speed Sixes and four Birkin “Blowers,” few remain in such a pure state. Inarguably some of the most important motorcars on the planet, the Bentley factory team cars rarely come to market. The majority of the surviving examples reside in some of the world’s greatest car collections. This 4½ Litre “Bobtail” is one of just two team cars to hold podium results at the period’s two major endurance races, and, as one of the finest Bentleys in existence, without question presents an opportunity not to be missed.  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1928 Bentley 4½ Litre Le Mans Sports “Bobtail”
Years Produced:1928
Number Produced:4
Original List Price:N/A
Tune Up Cost:$2,000
Chassis Number Location:Engine compartment on firewall
Engine Number Location:Stamped on block
Club Info:Bentley Drivers Club Ltd.

This car, Lot 20, car sold for $6,050,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach sale on August 18, 2012.

What a summer for proper vintage Bentleys. Those fortunate enough to have driven a factory-Works Bentley will know that the visceral experience is unlike any other pre-war sporting car.

“The world’s fastest lorries,” Ettore Bugatti called them, but they are indisputably quick. In comparison with a standard production chassis, the team cars have, as the catalog put it, “a momentous energy and lightness about them.” Vintage Bentleys all get down the road well with their massive torque from low-compression, long-stroke engines, but the team cars are almost uncannily fast.

The best of what’s left

Chassis KM3088 is one of the best left in the world — as is more usual for significant cars, it’s normally identified by its registration YW2557 (English registrations stay with their cars for life, unless you jump through various hoops to change them). It’s one of the few (almost) unmolested factory team cars still with its original Vanden Plas body. (Mother Gun, the 1927 runner and 1928 winner, chassis ST3001, is now a Speed Six-engined streamlined single-seater known as the Bentley-Jackson Special, following much development in its post-Le Mans years, although it wears a brass plate engraved “Mother Gun” — just in case it’s not recognized.

Chassis KM3088 retains its original 4,398-cc engine block with period-correct major parts. In the hands of its current owner (since 2004), it was entrusted to Bentley specialist Richard Cresswell of VBE Restorations for a complete preservative restoration. This meant finding key components to put the car back to as near 1927 spec as possible, including the factory racing sump from Mother Gun, and a set of SU slopers stamped “KM spare” — the racing team’s extra set of carburetors for YV7263 or YW2557. VintageBentleys.org has photos taken in earlier years that show it with standard “upright” SUs.

The current wings are probably an approximation of what it wore in the day, as pictures from 1948 and earlier show a flatter, simpler style. It’s estimated to make around 150 horsepower, now driving through a non-original gearbox.

Luckily, it’s the block rather than the crankcase that carries the all-important original number MF3175. On a Bentley, the block includes the cylinder head; the crankcase is separate and the valves go in from the bottom. It’s fiddly, especially for valve seat works, but it negates the possibility of head gasket failure because there isn’t one.

Bentleys chopped and changed

The point these last few paragraphs are struggling to make is that, however much they try, none of these “original” Bentleys is quite as original as it appears. However, in Bentley circles “original” can have a slightly looser interpretation, as these are some of the most famously chopped and changed vintage cars in the world — even by the factory.

As we saw last month (September 2012, English Profile, p. 48), the Birkin single-seater had worn a different body for a time before being put back to something approximating the car that Birkin vacated, and Mother Gun is unrecognizable as the 1927 Vanden Plas-bodied Le Mans racer. Nevertheless, we must take this as one of the most “original” as they come, and that is where its value lies.

The body retains period-correct fabric covering, with the VDP number stamped in the original body, and Works-specific hardware, components and modifications are found throughout the entire car.

For example, mounting brackets for the 1928 Le Mans third center headlamp remain on the front cross member. Other unique details on team cars included quick-release caps for water, fuel and oil replenishment, a leather hood strap, a fold-flat front screen, Aeroscreens, large-diameter gauges, bucket-style seats and cycle fenders.

The differences between the Works cars and the production cars amounted to innumerable modifications, either for weight savings, reliability or performance. Specifically for the 1928 Le Mans, the team cars sported a third, centrally mounted headlamp.

Original survivors bring the money

This car was sold by Christie’s at Le Mans in 2004 into its most recent ownership (of a Bentley Drivers Club member) for $2,023,065, pre-restoration when it was quite scruffy in 3- condition (SCM# 34914).

Now it has sold again — slap-bang in the middle of the $5.5m–$7.5m estimate range — and we can see how the market has valued original survivors in the eight years since, as the price has more than tripled. 4½s re-bodied into Le Mans style but with no Works history have been fetching up to $850,000, so the market considers the real thing to be worth around eight times as much — although you might have expected it to do a little better than the Birkin “Blower” single-seater that sold the month before in England.

Why? This car has proven Le Mans history (twice); it was a factory team car, which the Birkin car never was, and it is arguably as “original” — there we go again. Perhaps the difference is that there was only ever one supercharged single-seater in period, or maybe it’s just down to Retail Red. The market is a fickle thing. Well bought and well sold. ?

(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.)

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