Designed in 1919, first produced in 1921, and drawing on aero-engine technology, the 3-Liter Bentley is to many, the archetypal vintage sports car. Second, fourth and fifth in the 1922 Tourist Trophy against out-and-out racing cars, first at Le Mans in 1924 and again in 1927. The holder of 24-hour records at over 95 mph, the 3-Liter Bentley is truly a legend. It was built to be a comfortable, user-friendly, road-going sports car that could be raced; a formula that many manufacturers have since emulated but rarely improved. Thc vehicle described here is the very last 3-Liter produced by the Old Company at Cricklewood. Factory records indicate that it was built to order on a special Short Speed Model 4½-litre chassis, a truly unique and much sought after example. Completed in May, 1929, DN1741 was shipped to Wylders of Kew and fitted with the attractive and desirable fabric-covered, barrel sided open sports touring body which it still wears. The strong point of this chassis for Bentley enthusiasts is the engine. Bentley fitted the late-type one-piece sump, as used on the 4½-liter, with a superior oil-pump arrangement. A heavier crank was fitted with thicker webs and two-bolt direct-metalloid rods. The valve gear used duralumin rockers in separate rocker-boxes, again developed for the 4½-liter engine, and the fixed-type top bevel drive to the camshaft. This replaced the earlier non-located type, which was prone to tooth breakage. The resulting engine was significantly more powerful and more robust than the early engine. Bought by Johnnie Green in 1940 for £60, and christened "Greenfly," the 3-Liter was regularly clocked at 92 mph, and was driven by Johnnie in early post-war BDC meetings at Silverstone. The facia is resplendent with its correct instrumentation and there are two period plaques, one identifying it as 'Greenfly' and the other attesting to its successes at Brooklands. It comes complete with copies of correspondence from Johnnie Green. It is an unrestored, original example with full history and excellent provenance.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1929 Bentley Speed Three-Liter
Years Produced:1921-1929
Number Produced:1,634
SCM Valuation:$17,500-$22,000
Tune Up Cost:$500-$1,500
Distributor Caps:Uses magnetos
Chassis Number Location:Plate on engine side of firewall near bonnet
Engine Number Location:Stamped in right front engine leg
Club Info:Bentley Drivers Club, 16 Chearsley Rd. Long Crendon, Aylesbury, Bucks, HP189AW, England
Alternatives:3-Liter Lagonda, Vauxhall 30-980E, Austro-Daimler ADM6 2-Liter

You can almost guarantee a lively argument among vintage Bentley owners down at the local pub by asking which is the best driving model among the 3-, 4-, 4½-, 6½- and 8-liter-engined cars. At the end of the day, though, most of them will come down on the side of the 3-Litre Speed model for sheer vintage motoring pleasure if not all-out performance against their larger-engined brethren. This Bentley sold for $134,500 including commision at the Christie’s auction in Pebble Beach, California.

In my experience a well set up three-litre Bentley will steer easier, stop better, maneuver more tidily, handle better, and in some cases, depending on the model of gearbox in the car, shift cleaner and more crisply than the bigger Bentleys. These virtues particularly apply to the later three-litre cars, which carry a host of improvements developed over an eight-year period.

This car had a great deal going for it: it is the very last three-litre built by the original Bentley Motors and is unique due to its chassis combination. The car has a known history from the day of delivery, including ownership by two of the best-known vintage Bentley exponents in the U.K. and U.S., and factors such as these loom more and more important for the ongoing value of vintage Bentleys purchased in today’s market.

During the 1980’s feeding frenzy the total correctness of a car was far less crucial than now. In the current market the discriminating Bentley shopper wants a real car and they don’t come “realer” than this one. It’s a matching numbers example and has a patina of originality that only careful maintenance over a long period of years can impart to any car. If I was lucky enough to own it I wouldn’t touch a thing: just drive it, show it and enjoy it.

For a correct three-litre Speed model like this one, the money paid was on the button and arguably, a bit of a bargain for a unique car like this. You could spend far more than that building up a three-litre from bits and still have a mongrel automobile when finished. Lesser examples usually bring about two-thirds to four-fifths what this car fetched. For the relatively little difference paid, the buyer got a lot more car; one that is internationally known and would find ready buyers on either side of the Atlantic. Call it a Red Label blue chip.-Dave Brownell

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