1930 Bentley Speed Six Le Mans Tourer

The sale price is the result of multiple well-heeled bidders, all of whom value immediate acquisition of a handsome toy more than fiscal prudence

Walter Owen Bentley began his career as a railway engineer before going into automobiles (then airplane engines during World War I). He made full use of all his mechanical experience in 1919 to design a sports car with a 4-cylinder, 3-liter engine, much influenced by the Mercedes overhead camshaft engine of 1914. The Bentley engine had a cylinder block and cylinder head cast in a single piece, and four valves per cylinder. This Bentley 3-Liter won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1924 and 1,600 of these cars had been produced by 1929. Its success prompted Bentley and his backers to target more demanding clients by planning a 6-cylinder, 6 ½-Liter, no doubt in response to the new Rolls-Royce Phantom I.

This first Bentley Six, launched at the end of 1925, boasted an original, very quiet distribution system using connecting rods and eccentrics, inspired by a locomotive’s rod and crankshaft system. This highperformance, albeit costly, car struggled to make its mark on the limited, yet overcrowded, luxury market, despite Bentley’s burgeoning reputation in the wake of their Le Mans victories from 1927-30. The wins in 1929- 30 were obtained by the new Speed Six launched in 1928 as a more sporting version of the 6 ½-Liter, with a larger radiator and more powerful engine, thanks to a higher compression ratio and two carburetors.

The new Speed Six soon reached levels of performance worthy of the marque by twice winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, along with several major British endurance events. This same Speed Six, with special streamlined bodywork, hit the headlines in 1930 when, driven by the firm’s chairman (and Surrey wicketkeeper) Woolf Barnato, it raced the Blue Train from Cannes to Calais and on to London (via Dover), winning by four hours.

The car presented here, serial number SB 2775, was made in July 1930 with limousine bodywork by Lancefield on this chassis with a 12-foot, 6-inch wheelbase; the body was reworked by Corsica as a Le Mans Tourer in 1938. It was acquired by its current owner from the British dealer and vintage Bentley specialist Stanley Mann in 2002, and has since been regularly driven and maintained. It is a formidable machine, and ready for the road.

Jerome Hardy

SCM Auction Analyst

Jerome is a lifelong gearhead whose best memories have always been linked to cars. At age 17, his first mistress was an Italian in the form of a 1971 Lancia Fulvia, followed by more costly Europeans, represented today by a 1961 Ferrari 250 GTE. His first engine rebuild was the 350-ci small-block in his 1970 Buick Skylark, which he acquired during a seven-year stint in New York City. Now based in Paris, Hardy enjoys the sheer size of his Mercury Grand Marquis Colony Park wagon and the unwashed 1939 Packard Super Eight he purchased in Portland, OR, and now wheels around Paris.

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