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Coachwork by Vanden Plas
Garnering its first Le Mans victory in 1924, in just its fifth year of existence, the Bentley marque cemented its reputation for speed and endurance with a string of successive wins at the French classic from 1927 through 1930. Introduced in chassis form at the Olympia Motor Show in October 1927, the 4 1/2 Litre combined successful elements of its predecessors, the 3 Litre and the 6 1/2 Litre models, and quickly established itself as a worthy competitor on the track. Bentley’s epic victory over Stutz at the 1928 24 Hours of Le Mans immortalized the new 4 1/2 Litre and the model has remained an undisputed icon of British motoring ever since.
The 4 1/2 Litre offered here, chassis AD 3668, is a relatively late-production example, built in March 1930 on the standard 10’ 10” wheelbase chassis, incorporating desirable features such as the heavy crank specification engine, Bentley & Draper friction shock absorbers, and “C” type gearbox. As documented in factory records, this chassis was delivered to Vanden Plas in Kingsbury, where it was fitted with their classic four-seater Sports bodywork, with full-length wings, rear-mounted spare, three-piece fixed windscreen, and weather equipment.
According to the coachbuilder’s records, this particular Sports Tourer body, bearing number 1646, was built to order for the original selling agent, Rootes Ltd. of Piccadilly, London and was the second such 4 1/2 Litre built for them in this style. Research by noted Bentley authority Dr. Clare Hay suggests that AD 3668 was originally painted black, with green upholstery and wings, set off by cream-colored wheels and brake drums.
Completed in May 1930, the Bentley was sold new to Col. Sir Henry Darlington, a decorated WWI Battalion commander and aide to Winston Churchill during the interwar period. He kept the 4 1/2 Litre until fall 1934, when he replaced it with a new Derby Bentley and AD 3668 was sold to its second owner, A.E. MacDonald of Birkenhead.
It was under his ownership in June 1935, that the 4 1/2 was involved in a road accident, which required it to be sent back to the factory for repairs. As documented in the Bentley Motors service record, this repair work included reconditioning of various original numbered components and fitting a new chassis frame. According to Dr. Clare Hay, who inspected AD 3668 in 2013, the replacement frame fitted was most likely new, unnumbered old stock. The process of replacing chassis was standard practice by Bentley Motors at the time – a procedure that would have cost the owner just 37 pounds and 10 shillings.
In October 1937, about a year after its rebuild, the Bentley was sold to D. Mehta of Knightsbridge through well-known London dealer Jack Barclay Ltd. Throughout the next decade, the 4 1/2 Litre passed through a succession of English owners including C.V. Alexander, A.H. Gold, and Captain M.A. Lowry.
In 1951, the famous American sportsman and racing driver Bill Spear of Southport, Connecticut purchased AD 3668 while on one of his frequent trips to England. Although best known for racing Ferrari and Maserati sports cars throughout the 1950s, Spear was a true automobile connoisseur with wide ranging tastes. In 1952, he was among the first customers to place an order for Bentley’s new R-Type Continental Fastback and like his friend and neighbor Briggs Cunningham, Spear was an avid collector of antique cars, with a stable that included important examples of Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Simplex, and Mercedes.
In 1956, Spear sold AD 3668 to George H. Waterman Jr., the famed Rhode Island-based antique car collector and co-founder of the Veteran Motor Car Club of America. Between 1956 and 1973, the Bentley was a fixture in this pioneering car collection, which included significant pre-WWI racing cars from marques such as Napier, Renault, Fiat, and Mercedes.
Following Mr. Waterman’s ownership, the Bentley was sold to well-known dealer Charles Howard, returned to the UK, and, after passing through several British owners, sold to Robert Isler of Lausanne, Switzerland in 1977. In 1996, Clinton Bourke, a UK-based Bentley Drivers Club member, purchased AD 3668 from Bentley specialist Stanley Mann and retained it in his collection for more than a decade, during which time he went to great lengths to document the car’s early provenance. Additionally, Mr. Bourke entered his prized Bentley in many historic events and shows including the 2002 BDC Arbury Hall Concours, where it was judged as a commended car.
Since 2013, AD 3668 has been part of a collection of high-quality motorcars and continues to be driven and enjoyed as W.O. Bentley intended it to be. Today, the car is finished entirely in green, displays a lovely, consistent patina, and remains in unusually correct order, retaining its original bodywork, engine, gearbox, front axle, rear axle, and bonnet, as confirmed in the accompanying 2013 Hay report and factory build records.
This car, AD 3668, represents the epitome of the Vintage Bentley – the classical ideal of a 4 1/2 Litre chassis wearing Vanden Plas Sports bodywork. Its remarkable history – from its original sale to a decorated British officer to a treasured antique – is well documented by an impressive file of supporting paperwork and the meticulous research of Dr. Clare Hay. It is an honor to present this superb Bentley, a car fit for the connoisseur, which should reward its lucky new owner with many more years of thrilling prewar motoring.
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