2022 | Pebble Beach Auctions
1931 Bentley Eight Litre Sports Tourer
Coachwork by Vanden Plas
$7,000,000 - $9,000,000
Among the Finest and Most Significant of All Vintage Bentleys
Built to Order for Bentley Chairman and Three-Time Le Mans Winner Woolf Barnato
Short-Chassis Eight Litre Wearing Original, Ornately Detailed Vanden Plas Coachwork
Acquired By Reggie Presland in 1933; Retained in his Family’s Ownership Until 2004
Pebble Beach Class-Winning Restoration by Noted Marque Expert R.C. Moss
Offered with Original Instruction Manual, Tools, and Extensive Documentation Files
7,982 CC SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Twin SU HO8 Carburetors
220 BHP at 3,500 RPM
4-Speed “F” Type Manual Gearbox
4-Wheel Mechanical Drum Brakes
Front Solid Axle with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs and Friction Shock Absorbers
Rear Live Axle with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs with Hydraulic Shock Absorbers
Captain Woolf Barnato, London, England (acquired new in 1931)
Reginald Clarence Presland, London, England (acquired from the above in 1933)
Peter Hageman, Kirkland, Washington (acquired from the above in 2004)
Peter G. Livanos, Gstaad, Switzerland (acquired in 2005)
Current Owner (acquired from the above)
Royal Automobile Club 1000 Miles Rally, 1936, Presland
Bentley Drivers Club Concours, Kensington Gardens, 1947 (Second Overall)
Bentley Drivers Club Concours, Kensington Gardens, 1948 (First in Class)
Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, 2004
Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, 2009 (First in Class)
Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, 2019 (Display Only)
In little more than a decade, Bentley Motors Ltd. rose from a fledgling upstart to become one of England’s premier motor car manufacturers – only to end up in receivership, absorbed in 1931 by rival firm Rolls-Royce.
Although company founder W.O. Bentley played a central role in his company’s meteoric rise and subsequent fall from grace, another key figure was instrumental to the fortunes and fate of this celebrated marque: Woolf Barnato.
Born in 1895, Barnato was the youngest son of an immensely wealthy British Randlord, who made his fortune in the South African mining industry before disappearing under mysterious circumstances during a sea crossing in 1897. As a young man, Barnato excelled in a variety of sporting endeavors and served as an officer in the British Army during WWI, eventually rising to the rank of Captain. Above all else, however, it was motor racing that captured his imagination. Inspired by John Duff and Frank Clement’s heroic win at Le Mans in 1924, Barnato purchased his first Bentley, a 3 Litre Supersports with which he won several major Brooklands races and set a new 24-hour record at Montlhéry.
In 1926, he became one of the primary investors in Bentley Motors, infusing the business with more than £100,000 of his own capital. Sensing an opportunity to wrest even more control, Barnato devised a restructuring scheme, which resulted in him becoming the company’s Chairman and largest individual shareholder. Between 1927 and 1929, he injected another £100,000 of his fortune into Bentley Motors, which allowed the firm to develop new models like the 6 1/2 Litre and 4 1/2 Litre.
With Barnato’s financial backing, Bentley went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans four consecutive years – 1927 through 1930. Remarkably, the Chairman was at the wheel of a winning Bentley each of the three years that he entered the legendary race. Even W.O. Bentley himself regarded Barnato as “the best driver we ever had, and I consider, the best British driver of his day.”
While Barnato’s competitive spirit and business wranglings would ultimately lead to Bentley Motors’s undoing in 1931, his largesse allowed W.O. Bentley to create what is arguably the finest vintage automobile ever produced – the Eight Litre.
Unveiled at the Olympia Motor Show in October 1930, the majestic Eight Litre was a development of the highly successful 6 1/2 Litre, which in Speed Six form had given Bentley two Le Mans victories.
Designed to carry the most luxurious custom coachwork and perform with greater comfort, smoothness, and silence than any previous Bentley had, the Eight Litre was based on a much stronger chassis, with deep frame rails, robust tubular crossmembers, a stiffened steering column, and other refinements such as a Tecalemit one-shot lubrication system. The car’s driveline was also developed with an eye toward refinement, featuring an all-new “F” type gearbox and modern hypoid bevel rear axle.
The Eight Litre engine was an evolution of the late-production 6 1/2 Litre, though capacity was increased by enlarging the bore 10 mm per cylinder. This locomotive-scaled powerplant possessed all the traditional Bentley attributes: a single overhead camshaft operating four-valves-per-cylinder, twin SU carburetors, and redundant magneto-and-coil ignition. Factory rated at 220 hp, the Eight Litre was capable of 100 mph, even while wearing formal coachwork.
Bentley’s own literature quoted The Yorkshire Post’s road test, which stated, “The designers of this truly magnificent car set out with a very definite aim – to produce a vehicle that would combine the best virtues of the sports model and the town carriage.”
Intentionally priced at £1,850, slightly more expensive than the new Rolls- Royce Phantom II, the Eight Litre was the largest and most expensive chassis manufactured in Britain in 1930. In the end, just 100 were built. The Eight Litre presented here is perhaps the most historically significant example – built to order for Chairman Woolf Barnato’s personal use.
At the foundation of this machine is Bentley’s short-wheelbase chassis, numbered YR5095. Of the 100 examples produced, just 35 Eight Litres were specified with the shorter 12’ chassis, which was better suited to sporting coachwork. According to factory records, YR5095 was specified with an experimental Mintex crankshaft damper, 5.5:1 pistons, friction and hydraulic shock absorbers, an exhaust cut-out, and a 20” diameter steering wheel.
Once completed, the Bentley chassis was delivered to Vanden Plas, which constructed this handsome two-door, four-seat Sports Tourer, numbered 1731. Based on sketch no. 624, this attractive body style represented the latest Vanden Plas fashion. Similar bodies were supplied for several Bentley models including the 4 1/2 Litre “Blower” and 4 Litre, as well as two other Eight Litre chassis, YF5023 and YX5122, built for London dealer Jack Barclay.
As recorded in the coachbuilder’s records, this Sports Tourer was uniquely outfitted with special chrome-plated copper moldings, a fold-flat Auster windscreen, French-made Grebel pillar-swivel spotlight, Paxon Air Spring seats, large-diameter AT instruments, and a rear trunk containing fitted luggage and road tools. Tastefully finished in Birch and Battleship Grey outside, the interior was trimmed in matching grey Connolly hides with hood, tonneau, and side curtains in grey mohair. As a final finishing touch, the Barnato family coat of arms was applied to each door.
In June 1931, YR5095 was delivered to Woolf Barnato and subsequently registered as “GP401.” Following Barnato’s March 1932 marriage to American Jacqueline Quealy, his Eight Litre Sport Tourer was fitted with a second rear spare and indicator lights in preparation for shipment to California, from where the couple embarked on a honeymoon tour of the US.
In May 1933, Flight Lieutenant Reginald Clarence Presland, a London company director and Bentley enthusiast, heard that Barnato had an Eight Litre for sale. Upon his arrival at Barnato’s estate, he was greeted by a garage containing three Eight Litre Bentleys. When Presland inquired as to why he owned three such cars, Barnato reportedly replied, “That one I use, that one my wife uses for shopping, the third I am selling.”
Reggie Presland purchased YR5095 from Barnato and immediately put it to good use. In 1936, he entered the Bentley in the RAC’s 1000 Miles Rally and was invited to take part in the Festival of Speed at Brooklands, where it was timed at over 100 mph. That November, The Autocar published a review of the Eight Litre titled “100 mph on a Five-Year-Old Car,” which concluded, “an expensive, exceedingly well-made car such as this can still be utterly delightful to drive after five years, and having covered nearly 40,000 miles.”
The Bentley Service Record for YR5095 ends in May 1939, noting only minor updates during its first decade of use: three SU petrol pumps fitted in 1934 and a new front axle bed in 1937. Following WWII, Reggie Presland retrieved his car from storage and had Bentley specialist MacKenzie Guppy overhaul the engine. In 1946, he joined the Bentley Drivers Club (BDC) and resumed his active use of the car, taking it on various rallies and presenting it at the BDC Concours at Kensington Gardens, where it was awarded Second Overall in 1947 and First in Class in 1948.
Throughout the years, Presland’s famous Eight Litre was written about in various books, magazines, and newspapers. In the famous 1978 book A Pride of Bentleys, John Adams and Ray Roberts describe its well-preserved condition in their chapter on YR5059: “Wing-Commander Presland keeps the car in regular use and, except during five years of war, has always had it available. Now, because of the price of petrol, it does not get used as much as the owner would like. The car has special air cushions for the front seats which need re-inflating from time to time, so a bicycle pump is carried amongst the tools! It is interesting to find that on the underside of the timber frame of the front seats the word BARNATO is written in chalk – no doubt put on when the car was being serviced at Cricklewood in 1931.”
Remarkably, the Presland family retained YR5095 until 2004, when the car was sold to noted Vintage Bentley specialist Peter Hageman of Kirkland, Washington. That same year, Mr. Hageman took part in the annual Pebble Beach® Motoring Classic, driving the Eight Litre from Washington State to Pebble Beach and showing it in the Concours d’Elegance’s Prewar Preservation Class.
In 2005, the Barnato Eight Litre was acquired by Bentley collector Peter Livanos, who commissioned the leading marque specialist R.C. Moss to perform a complete, no-expense-spared restoration. Given the car’s well-kept unrestored condition, Moss was able to study original details and ensure that the Eight Litre was restored exactly to its factory-correct appearance and specification, just as it was delivered to Woolf Barnato in 1931.
Unveiled at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance® in August 2009, YR5095 was justifiably selected as First in Class, a testament to the quality and accuracy of its restoration, as well as its historical significance and aesthetic appeal.
Carefully maintained under the current ownership and still in gleaming, concoursquality condition, YR5095 is supplied with an original Eight Litre instruction book, fitted luggage, and tools. It is further accompanied by an extraordinary file of documentation that includes a book produced by Bentley authority Dr. Clare Hay, period photographs, and restoration records, as well as irreplaceable historic artifacts – such as the original factory guarantee issued to Reggie Presland upon his purchase in 1933. Also included with the sale is the original numbered crankcase, replaced during restoration with a new reproduction unit due to a known flaw found in the design of the first 50 Eight Litres.
Among the grandest of all Vintage Bentleys, YR5095 is one of as few as 15 Eight Litres that have survived with their original, open coachwork intact. Of these, none compare with this elegant, short-chassis Vanden Plas Sports Tourer, custom-built for Bentley Chairman and three-time Le Mans winner Woolf Barnato. Cherished by just four owners since 1933, restored to Pebble Beach class-winning glory by the renowned expert R.C. Moss, and comprehensively documented by the foremost marque authority Dr. Clare Hay, this Eight Liter is a Bentley of unrivaled quality and distinction.