1926 BENTLEY 6 1/2 LITRE SHORT CHASSIS DROPHEAD COUPE
COACHWORK BY H.J. MULLINER
Chassis No. TB 2542
Engine No. FW 2605
Pale olive-green with garnet wings and claret leather interior. Engine: straight six, 6597cc, 24 valves, overhead camshaft driven by triple-throw eccentrics, Smith Bentley carburettor, 147bhp at 3500rpm; gearbox: manual four speed; suspension: front beam axle, rear live axle, half elliptic leaf springs all round; brakes: vacuum servo assisted four-wheel drum; right-hand drive.
On the announcment of Bentley's big six-cylinder model in September 1926, The Autocar compared it with the four-cylinder Bentley Three Litre, "a fierce little car.....which does its work thoroughly at full power." The six-cylinder was, in contrast, always "working well within the power range, noiselessly and without effort, so that the great car is utterly deceptive in speed." When he designed his brilliant Three Litre of 1919, W.O. Bentley took as his inspiration the 1914 Mercedes and Peugeot Grand Prix cars. The result was a delectable if rather expensive sporting car, fast and strong, which rewarded drivers skilled in the use of the close ratio gearbox. It was a great success but its merits encouraged owners to have the chassis encumbered with weighty touring bodies instead of the light sports shells Bentley intended. Thus equipped, the Three Litre was robbed of much of its performance and character. Capt. Bentley bowed to the inevitable, adding litres and cylinders, thereby producing a straight six of 4.2 litres which Continental testing suggested hardly gave the necessary performance edge over his competitors. His next effort disposed of 6597cc, and initially offered close to 150bhp. With its 24-valve cylinder head and near-silent three-throw eccentric drive for the camshaft, it provided a unique combination of power, flexibility and mechanical silence. Installed in a chassis with powerful brakes and unrivalled handling, the result was one of the grandest of all grand-touring cars. In international long distance racing too the car displayed seemingly limitless endurance, the works team winning the 24-hours GP d'Endurance at Le Mans outright in 1929 and 1930, and a private owner taking the Brooklands 1931 500 Miles race at 118.39mph average speed.
This very early example was built using the rare 11 ft wheelbase short chassis of which only eleven are known to have been produced. It is on record that it was initially given the high 13/46 rear axle ratio usually associated with the Speed Six, making a 92 mph maximum possible. According to service records preserved by the Bentley Drivers' Club the handsome drophead coupe coachwork was crafted by Mulliner and Company, who succeeded in limiting this well equipped cars' weight to little more than that of the considerably more spartan sports-tourers. The coachwork repays careful examination, for the detailing is particularly fine. When lowered, the folding head does not interrupt the body lines; the windscreen has a modest rake. Headlamps and the screen-mounted spotlight are both by Grebel.
A detailed service history records that this coupe was delivered in July 1926 to Mrs Cholmeley in Wiltshire and began a very active life during which, it may be concluded, for the first fourteen years was routinely returned to the manufacturer's service depot when in need of mechanical attention. In 1928 the owner had it brought up to current specification and fitted with latest-type lights. By 1930 there was a third owner, recorded mileage was 42,917 and the guarantee was transfered for the final time. The last recorded mileage was 79,211 in 1933. In 1938 the coupe was in Cape Town, South Africa, when factory service involvement ceased. It returned to Great Britain and in 1976 was described as having been "lovingly restored regardless of expense by its previous owner."
The short chassis 6.1/2 Litre Bentley was always a rarity; few now remain with the correct coachwork. This example represents an opportunity to acquire an original open-bodied car of imposing presence with a performance that cannot be materially inferior to that of the replica sports versions more often offered. Its new owner would be welcomed by the Bentleys Drivers' Club and the car would be eminently suitable for many of their events. Still carrying its original registration plate `YR 633', application to the DVLA may enable a successful UK purchaser to retain this, should they wish.