1929 Bentley 4½-Liter Tourer by Vanden Plas

I’d put this price down to the mystique of an auction and congratulate the owner on courage worthy of a Bentley Boy

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Walter Owen Bentley’s automotive efforts were directed from the outset toward sporting motor cars, and the initial 4-cylinder, 3-liter models proved lively until burdened with saloon bodies. Bentley’s solution was to double displacement and horsepower to 6½ liters, but disappointing sales figures and steep production costs threatened the company’s financial stability.

Luckily, “Bentley Boy” Woolf Barnato purchased the company in 1926, and after a second victory at Le Mans in 1927, he introduced a sportier 4½-Liter available as a two-seat roadster, tourer, and refined saloon. With Barnato at the company’s helm, Bentley scored two more wins at Le Mans and many at Brooklands.

Like other exclusive automakers, Bentley offered custom coachwork. Freestone & Webb, Gurney Nutting, Vickers, and Vanden Plas all produced tourer bodies for Bentleys. Vanden Plas was also employed by Rolls-Royce, Daimler, Alvis, and Lagonda.

A limited number of early Vanden Plas-bodied cars have survived, and Bentleys are among the most sought-after. While approximately 665 4½-Liter Vanden Plas Bentleys were produced, it is believed that only six examples of the 4½ feature original tourer coachwork. Experts suggest that approximately half of these VdP Bentleys were assembled with cycle-type fenders, presumably placing this example among exclusive company.

The Bentley 4½-Liter presented here was originally owned by A.F. Rollason in Great Britain before its purchase in the 1950s by Carl B. Seaman of Columbus, Ohio. Correspondence between Rollason and Seaman indicates that the car had retained its original Vanden Plas body and was in “first class condition.” It was described as being of the Le Mans type, with a heavier chassis and underslung strengtheners, and the original engine had been overhauled.

Seaman sold the Bentley 4½-Liter Tourer in 1961 to Robert H. Kimes, Jr. of Dayton, Ohio. Letters received by Kimes described the car as a “most desirable specimen” and he owned the car at least until 1978. More recently, XF3505 belonged to Frank Allocca of New Jersey. In the last three years-less than 1,000 miles ago-the car had an extensive overhaul.

The Bentley 4½-Liter Tourer is presented in very original condition, from its engine and body panels to the upholstery and dash. The brightwork is very presentable, as is the black paint. Virtually every element is either period-correct or part of the car’s storied past. Signs of road use are apparent, which is to be expected from an active tourer. This is one of the most extensively documented cars RM Auctions has ever offered, with paperwork dating back to the early 1950s.

XF3505 is one of the rarest of all vintage automobiles, having never been restored. Simply sitting in the car gives you a sense of its past in such things as the lovely patina of the leather, the shiny spot worn by the arms of a dozen caring owners, and the smooth grip of the steering wheel. The engine bay is lovely and carries the soft slick glow of a well-oiled machine.

Simon Kidston

Simon Kidston - SCM Editor at Large

Simon is from an old British motor-racing family. He started his career at Coys, leaving to co-found Bonhams Europe in Geneva. Over the next decade, he staged high-profile auctions around the world, branching out on his own in 2006 to found Kidston SA, a consultancy responsible for some of the larger deals you rarely hear about. Simon also judges at Pebble Beach and is “the voice” of the Villa d’Este Concours and the Mille Miglia.

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