At the heart of the Speed Six legend was a phenomenal chassis, which led to many original bodies being replaced with lightweight, homemade, "boy-racer" coachwork
The Bentley Speed Six positively shone in long distance endurance racing. At Le Mans in 1929, Woolf Barnato and Tim Birkin stormed to victory at an average speed of 73.62 mph. A year later, the fearless Barnato repeated the performance in the same car, this time accompanied by Glen Kidston. Second place also went to a Bentley, with Frank Clement and Dick Watney finishing close behind. The "Bentley Boys" legend was born and the Speed Six secured its unique place in motor racing history.
This Speed Six was erected in 1930 and fitted with Gurney Nutting coupe coachwork for its first owner. It was first registered GK 90. It had a further six owners in pre-war years and then a further six or so known owners recorded after the war. At some stage, the registration number was changed to AXX 890.
It is known that by 1970 the original coachwork was no longer with the car. In more recent years the car has been furnished with its present Le Mans Replica Vanden Plas-style coachwork, with fabric-covered body and blue livery. The blue leather upholstery is complemented by blue carpets and the car is superbly equipped with Lucas "bulls eye" headlights, center spotlight, fold-flat windscreen with twin aero screens, swivel spotlight incorporating rear view mirror, "B" motif doorstep plates, and of course the essential fishtail exhaust outlet. Full weather equipment of hood tonneau cover and side screens is provided and the car proudly sports the traditional Bentley Flying "B" radiator mascot and the obligatory twin bonnet straps.
This magnificent and most desirable Bentley model has not been used for two years or so and will require the usual careful recommissioning. The car comes from Swedish ownership, is exceptionally well documented and comes with copies of its history file from the Bentley Driver's Club.
|Vehicle:||1930 Bentley Speed Six 6 1/2 Liter Le Mans Replica|
|Original List Price:||$8,571 (chassis); $10,952 (w/coupe body)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$1,000|
|Chassis Number Location:||On front crossmember, right knuckle of the front dumb iron, dashboard ignition plate|
|Engine Number Location:||Left side of block near motor mount|
|Alternatives:||1928-1931 Hispano Suiza H6C, 1930-193 Alfa Romeo 6C GS|
This Speed Six 6 1/2 Liter Le Mans Replica sold for $308,460, including buyer’s commission, at the Bonhams Goodwood auction, September 5, 2003.
Bentley’s sales brochure called the Speed Six, “The world’s greatest sporting car,” and it might have been just that. With its Le Mans triumphs and wins on many other tracks of the time, the Speed Six followed the footsteps of the Bentley 3 Litres into racing history. The Le Mans image of big green tourers with fold-flat windscreens and cycle fenders became the quintessential icon for generations of would-be Bentley Boys.
At the heart of the legend was a phenomenal chassis. As with the 8C Alfa, the importance of the chassis soon outweighed any outdated coachwork or interest in matching numbers. This led to many original bodies being replaced with lightweight, homemade, “boy-racer” coachwork, beginning in the 1930s. Bentleys were used and used heavily, for any and every sporting event. This cannibalism, as unfortunate as it is, served as the basis for the very survival of the cars that remain today.
A large majority of vintage Bentleys are now in the Le Mans replica configuration, bringing a scarcity to cars that are numbers matching and with original bodies. With production of 362 6-1/2 Litres and merely 182 Speed Sixes, one can imagine how few remain unchanged. My count of Speed Sixes with original bodies is approximately 30.
LR2777 is a good example of a Bentley’s history, and a tragic history in itself. This Speed Six started life with a Gurney Nutting coupe body. Sold new to Lord Brougham & Vaux, the car’s ownership was as impressive as its appearance. Possibly one of the prettiest bodies ever built on a vintage Bentley, it disappeared by 1970, most likely scrapped. The chassis is still valuable as one of the few real Speed Sixes, but far less so than if it retained its original coachwork.
Had the original body remained on the 6 1/2 Liter, this Bentley could have possibly made well into the magic seven-figure bracket, a value reached by only a handful of vintage Bentleys including the famous Gurney Nutting coupes of Bentley Boys Barnato and Kidston, as well as the nearly-priceless factory team cars. Luckily, LR2777’s original engine remains. This aids its value, allowing it to remain in the second tier of vintage Bentley prices.
The car wears a proper Le Mans-style body and, as such, is the ideal car for an aspiring English-style vintage racer, though the car loses some of its bad-boy appeal because of being finished in blue with dark blue.
But regardless of color, these cars are excellent performers for vintage racing and touring events and hold up well to aggressive use. Members are quick to point out that their marque organization is the Bentley Driver’s Club, as opposed to the Rolls-Royce Owners Club.
Despite the car’s stated needs, the final price of $308,460 was a good buy. Auctions are notoriously tough venues in which to get full value for vintage Bentleys-in a private sale, to the absolute right buyer, the car might have made more, perhaps as much as $400,000. However, those laser-directed buy/sell deals can be hard to come by, so on this day, at this auction, this is how the market pegged this car.-Peter Hageman