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.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1930 Bentley Speed Six Le Mans Tourer
Years Produced:1928-1930
Number Produced:182 Speed Six Chassis and 363 6.5 Liter Chassis
Original List Price:$1,450 Chassis only
Chassis Number Location:Front engine bearing cross member, under left hood sill
Engine Number Location:Left side above starter and front cross shaft tunnel
Club Info:Bentley Drivers Club, W.O. Bentley Memorial Building, Ironstone Lane, Wroxton, Banbury Oxfordshire OX156ED
Alternatives:1931-35 Invicta, 1927-29 Mercedes- Benz Type S, 1931-34 Alfa Romeo 8C

This car, Lot 107 at Artcurial’s Le Mans Classic auction, sold for $920,875 on July 9, 2010.

In the late 1920s, automobiles were changing from “Toys for Boys” to everyday transportation. As such, customer demand forced coachbuilders towards larger, enclosed, luxurious bodies. These heavy automobiles, often in the form of a limousine, were often driven by chauffeurs. Extra weight required extra horsepower, and W.O. Bentley found himself needing to complement his 4-cylinder, 3-Liter engine with a larger, 6½-Liter engine.

This new more powerful engine was installed on a stronger chassis in two forms: A regular one-carburetor version, and a two-carburetor, high-compression version called the Speed Six. A total of 545 6 ½-Liter chassis were built from 1928-30, and 182 of them were the 180-hp Speed Six model.

The Bentley motto of “There is no replacement for displacement” proved quite successful, as the Speed Six, with its 11-foot wheelbase and lightweight Vanden Plas tourer body, won the 1929 and 1930 24 Hours of Le Mans races, while the 4 ½-Liter blown Bentley favored by Bentley Boy Woolf Barnato proved less reliable.

This car, SB 2775, was originally one of the many Speed-Six limousines built on the long, 12-foot, 6-inch chassis, this one with coachwork by Lancefield.

The 1929 world economic crash forced many suddenly cash-strapped owners to let go of their chauffeurs, and by the mid-1930s, many useless, heavy limousines were discarded in favor of smaller sedans that owners found easier to drive.

Often, powerful old cars that had little value at the time, such as SB2775, found new life as a toy fitted with sporty, lightweight coachwork. As such, SB2775 received new, four-seat, large-wheelbase tourer coachwork in 1938. This Corsica coachwork was far from the builder’s dazzling designs on Bugattis and some Mercedes-Benz cars. This coachwork is still on the car, in a fully restored configuration supported by a matching-number Speed-Six chassis in immaculate condition.

The car has a full windshield and sporty windscreens, leather-covered panels and cycle fenders. The interior is very classy, with a delightful patina on all seats. It appears that the car was used for touring rather than racing in recent years, andlegitimately so. Sold in England, it apparently spent 20 years in a U.S. museum before returning to Europe during the mid-1990s.

SB2775 sold for $920,875, which was $400,000 above the high estimate, mostly because of a four-player bidding war.

Let’s analyze the result of the auction-block combat:

Most of the 182 Speed-Six chassis are still in existence, so they’re not particularly rare. In addition, many of the 6 ½-Liter cars are still available. It is not significant that the original coachwork is no longer on the car. The Corsica coachwork is conventional and could be mistaken for many other tourer coachworks.

This car has an original chassis fitted with non-original coachwork. This coachwork is restored to the point that originality has disappeared. The matching-number factor is a plus, but many Bentley aficionados see it as less important, as engine swaps were often the rule in Bentley circles. The car has no significant history, but its condition remains close to mint, inside and out. In fact, the power and luggage space of SB2775 would make it ideal for today’s long-distance rallies.

The auction company’s estimate was about $600,000, which I think is a fair market value for a Speed Six with non-original coachwork and no racing history. However, the final sale price, nearly $400,000 above that and near $1m, is simply the result of an auction company hitting its sweet spot – multiple well-heeled bidders, all of whom value immediate acquisition of a handsome toy far more than fiscal prudence. Very well sold, indeed.

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