At the end of World War I, Walter Owen Bentley gathered a small group of dedicated and skilled artisans to create Bentley Motors. The first Bentleys appeared in 1919, a group of three experimental 3-liter cars. In the following decade, the 3-liter gave way to the 4 1/2-liter, the 6 1/2-liter, the Speed Six, the 8-liter, the supercharged 4 1/2, and finally the subdued 4-liter.

The 6 1/2-liter Bentley was introduced in 1926, but work soon began on an upgraded version with increased horsepower to handle heavier coachwork, and to become more competitive on the racing circuit. The original 6 1/2-liter Bentley was powered by a 6,597-cc engine with a single Smith's five-jet carburetor.

The upgraded 6 1/2 became known as the "Speed Six," with a higher compression ratio. The OHC inline six had four-valve heads, twin S.U. carburetors, Bosch magneto, Delco coil dual ignition, and a four-speed transmission. The front of the chassis was supported by a solid axle and leaf springs, and the rear suspension via live axle and semi-elliptic rear springs.

The four-wheel mechanical drum brake system with Dewandre servo assist is surprisingly effective at bringing this massive chassis to a smart stop. The system is designed to stop a car at speed, so it's still relatively easy to take out the back wall of your garage. However, when braking from a speed of 70+ mph, it stops quite nicely.

SB2773 was delivered in December 1929 to Forrest Lycett, one of the founders of the still-active Bentley Drivers Club. In an excerpt from the Bentley Drivers Club Review, published in the Bentley Bedside Book, Lycett recalled, "It was in Spain on the Speed Six where I first attained a genuine 100-mph on a public highway."

Lycett's Speed Six was powered with the new single-port 180-hp engine, with a five-gallon oil sump. It was fitted with a four-seat touring body by Cadogan, and unlike most Vintage Bentleys, this example has retained not only its engine, but also its original one-off coachwork. Three Speed Six Bentleys carried Cadogan coachwork; the other two were closed saloons.

Registered as UW 6686, this 1929 Speed Six Cadogan 4-Seater was restored in the late 1980s in the U.K. In 1992, it was brought to the U.S. and received the CCCA National First Prize in 1994. Subsequent awards include a CCCA Senior award in 1995, and first place at the Rolls-Royce Owners Club National Meet in 1997.

A complete mechanical rebuild was then performed by Robert Jefferson. This well-traveled Bentley was driven on the 2004 tour from Seattle to Monterey, and in 2005 it was driven to Connecticut for the Bentley Drivers Club/RROC meet, where it again received a first place award in the touring class.

SCM Analysis


Engine Number Location:Lower left side of engine block
Club Info:Bentley Drivers Club, 16 Chearsley Road, Long Crendon, Aylesbury, Bucks HP18 9AW
Investment Grade:A

This 1929 Bentley Speed Six Cadogan 4-Seater sold for $1,815,000, including commission, at the RM auction in Monterey, California, on August 19, 2006.

As impressive as this number is, at this writing, the highest auction price paid for a Bentley Speed Six is more than twice as much-$5,109,665 in July 2004 at Christie’s Le Mans Classic sale. The winning bid bought the original 1930 Le Mans tourer (chassis number HM2868) that placed second at the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1930, and was a 1930 Brooklands Double Twelve winner as well. Though cosmetically a bit tatty (who cares), it was an honest, original, Vintage Bentley with exceptional racing provenance. Every Bentley Le Mans tourer fabricated since 1930 is a replica of that car.

Vintage Bentley cars, or “W.O.s,” refers to the cars produced between 1919 and 1931 under Walter Owen Bentley’s direction at Cricklewood. In 1931, Rolls-Royce purchased the Bentley firm and moved it to Derby. Thus, the cars produced there from 1931 until 1940 are commonly referred to as “Derby Bentleys” and have no commonality with Vintage Bentleys, other than the badge.

Much has been written about the legendary racing Bentley Boys-John Duff, Dr. J. D. Benjafield, F. C. Clement, Dick Watney, Sammy Davis, Sir Henry Birkin, Jack Dunfee, and the leader, Woolf Barnato, an heir to the De Beers diamond mines. Their exploits on and off the track memorialized the marque then and now.

If you were an exceptionally well-heeled, sporting, motor car enthusiast living in the U.K. in the 1920s, chances are you would have driven a Bentley. From the first 3-liter car introduced in 1919 until delivery of the last 8-liter car in 1931, this was the Ferrari of its day. Woolf Barnato was such a sporting gentleman.

With $6.8m at his disposal in 1926, Barnato became Bentley Motors’ patron and savior, at least for a few years. Barnato raced competitively and successfully in Bentley cars and owned at least 23 of this marque, including three 3-liters, three 4 1/2-liters, two blown 4 1/2-liters, six 6 1/2-liters, three Speed Six cars, and five 8-liters. In May 1929, he took delivery of the first Bentley Speed Six, the 1928 Olympia Show car.

The most highly valued Vintage Bentleys are the 4 1/2-liter supercharged models (only 50 produced), the 8-liter (100 produced), and the 6 1/2-liter Speed Six models. There were 544 6 1/2-liter cars produced, and of those, 171 were Speed Six models.

Vintage Bentley cars were consistently well made, powerful, responsive, and surprisingly easy to drive-once you mastered the synchro-less gearbox. Today, the A, C, D, and F-type boxes are the most desirable since they are easiest to master with their close-ratio gearing. The wide ratio B box is the least desirable. When considering the purchase of a W. O. Bentley, the wise buyer will do quite a bit of research before writing a check.

Few marques have had as many coachwork and engine replacements as the 1919-31 Bentleys. Many lovely, original, closed coachwork bodies were needlessly cast aside in favor of more sporting, open tourers. Therefore, a Vintage Bentley that has retained its original body will always demand a premium price. Detailed records of these cars from new are available, so it’s relatively easy to determine the real deal.

Besides originality, it’s imperative to find an example that has been properly maintained. Since the engine heads are non-detachable, engine work may necessitate pulling the block, an expensive and daunting exercise. The Achilles’ heel of the Vintage Bentley is probably the magneto. Its cross-shaft, gear-driven mechanism is heavily loaded and can break. Parts are still available, but at a premium price.

Ill-informed collectors have dismissed Vintage Bentleys as too agricultural or having just too much bulk to be truly enjoyed. But I believe the recent success of new Bentleys, combined with the company’s reawakening to its heritage, is creating a new group of collectors interested in the Vintage cars. Just as the Harley rider identifies his bike with the familiar, “potato, potato” engine sound, so, too, Bentley enthusiasts instantly recognize the distinctive “burble” of a Vintage Bentley.

Prices of these cars entered the six-figure arena a decade ago and have risen steadily. Now all but the least desirable examples hover in seven figures.

Considering the documented history of SB2773, a Speed Six model that has retained its original engine, its original and rare sporting one-off coachwork, and remains in exceptional condition, I’d say at $1,996,500, it was well bought. Rare cars such as this exciting example will continue to increase in value, and the new owner should do well when it comes time to sell.

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