By 1926, Bentley saw a need for a new 4-cylinder model. Although a Le Mans winner, the 3 Litre was wanting in international competition, and the standard road cars suffered from increasingly heavy bodies. With the 6½ Litre in production, Bentley sought to combine the light chassis of the 3 Litre with the added power of a larger motor. The result was essentially a 3 Litre chassis with a cut-down, 4-cylinder version of the 6½-liter engine.
With a handful of 4½ Litre Team Cars at their disposal, the Bentley Boys quickly amassed Le Mans and Grand Prix finishes and victories. Although the Speed Six was the true victor at Le Mans for Bentley, it was Birkin’s respect for the 4½ Litre that led to the development of the Blower Bentley.
The 4½ was W.O.’s racing workhorse, but the production 4½ Litre was to be, in most cases, a luxury car fitted with saloon coachwork. For Bentley enthusiasts, the 4½ Litre was a racing car. Campaigned privately throughout Europe, the 4½ quickly gained a reputation for being the best-handling vintage Bentley with an exceptional power-to-weight ratio.
As Bentley’s preferred coachbuilder, Vanden Plas produced a standard Sports Tourer for the 4½ Litre. The fabric-bodied tourer with long wings was a handsome, sporting automobile and, with its lightweight construction, the 4½ proved a fast car. In addition to the standard coachwork, Vanden Plas built bodies to order, as is the case with KL3584. As with previous design 464, the body was to include a second cowling and screen, which was a body style used on a small number of Speed Six chassis. The front doors were fitted with roll-up windows — a rare and luxurious appointment in 1929. The body remained closed-coupled, enclosing the brake lever, with the coachwork ending directly over the rear axle.
Ordered through Kensington Moir and Straker Ltd., KL3584 was delivered new to Capt. P.R. Astley of Portland Place, London, in late 1929. Throughout his ownership, the car saw regular maintenance with Bentley Motors, accruing nearly 20,000 miles. In 1931, Astley wed stage actress Madeleine Carroll, and the 4½ was sold.
The second owner was A.M. Jones of North Kensington, London, and the Bentley continued to receive factory servicing. With approximately 25,000 miles on the odometer, the 4½ was sold to J.B. Stennett of The Laurels, near Winchmore Hill in England. Factory service records continue to note maintenance into 1938 without any major work or replacement of parts.
During World War II, the whereabouts of KL3584 remained unknown, although early post-war photographs show that it survived in London undamaged. Acquired by avid Bentley enthusiast H.J.K. “Tony” Townsend, KL3584 saw spirited use for 13 years, until it passed to Per Thorvaldson in Norway. Six years later, Philip Wichard of Glen Cove, Long Island, saw the car there during a trip to Europe, negotiated a deal, and by 1971, KL3584 was bound for America. With lasting restoration work dating from Mr. Townsend’s ownership, KL3584 needed little preparation before Wichard could show the car.
In its first major outing at the RROC National Meet in Newport Beach, CA, KL3584 was the first Bentley to win Best of Show at an RROC National Meet.
Seen here in a fitting dark green finish with impressive patina, KL3584 remains exceptionally original. The original frame and engine remain, as well as the original and desirable C-type gearbox. The 4½ has a proper appearance, both under the bonnet and in the driver’s seat. An original Vanden Plas body tag is mounted above the dash, as well as a plaque denoting its 1973 Best of Show.
With the growing status of pedigreed vintage Bentleys as collectible motorcars, KL3584 is a motorcar of great significance.