1930 Bentley 6½-Liter Speed Six

Although the 6½-liter had been conceived as a touring car to compete with Rolls-Royce’s new Phantom, in Speed Six form it proved admirably suited to competition: in 1929 Barnato/Birkin’s Speed Six won the Le Mans 24 Hour race ahead of a trio of 4½-liter Bentleys and Barnato/Kidston repeated the feat in the following year’s Grand Prix d’Endurance at the Sarthe circuit ahead of similarly mounted Clement/Watney. Small wonder, then, that the fast yet refined Speed Six was W. O. Bentley’s favorite car.

The 6½-liter was produced for four years, during which time 544 chassis were completed, 182 of these to Speed Six specification. LR2776 was one of a small number of Speed Six chassis bodied for Bentley Motors by H J Mulliner, arriving at the latter’s Chiswick works early in 1930 and listed in the Service Record as “our own body order.” Described as “folding head sportsman’s coupe,” the coachwork is of the drophead coupe type. Each of the others was different: one was used by Jack Barclay Limited as a demonstrator and then sold to film star Carlyle Blackwell. Another, a fixed head, was sold to the Maharajah of Jaipur. So the ownership of H J Mulliner-bodied Speed Sixes was not only very limited but an exclusive club.

Carrying registration number GH 1517, this car was sold via the Cork Street showrooms to a Miss Henrietta Bingham. The guarantee date is July 13, 1930, and service records are continuous to the outbreak of WWII in 1939. LR2776 is known to have been re-framed after an accident in February, 1931 but it retains its original engine and registration mark. The car was sold to J. Simkins in 1936 and subsequently to Bentley Drivers Club member Hans Weiss. This important Bentley was displayed at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu in 1964, subsequently being exported to Australia where it remained until 1975. In July of that year it returned to the UK, becoming the property of J. Norris. Fourteen years later it was purchased by previous owner Terry Cohn, who totally restored the car over a four-year period at a cost approaching $300,000.

Recognition of the restoration’s superlative quality came in the most convincing way possible when, in September, 1993, this car won the prestigious Louis Vuitton Concours at Parc de Bagatelle, Paris, going on to complete a 4,000-mile tour later that month that included the Italia Classic Tour. In the present ownership for the past seven or so years, the car added first place at the Het Loo Concours in 1999 to an already impressive list of achievements.

In its Bentley supplement published in May 1994, Classic and Sportscar described this Speed Six as “meticulously restored, brilliantly detailed and subtly modified to impressive effect. A chassis with a Le Mans-winning pedigree tailored with handsome English coachwork is a vintage ultimate.” There can be few finer or more desirable examples of the type than the car shown here.