1931 BENTLEY 8 LITRE FIXED-HEAD COUPE
COACHWORK BY GURNEY NUTTING OF LONDON
Chassis No. YR5088
Engine No. YR5088
Admiralty blue over black with black Everflex top and blue leather interior
Engine: six cylinder in-line, 4 valves per cylinder, 7983cc giving c220bhp at 3500rpm; Gearbox: four speed manual; Suspension: semi-elliptic springs front and rear, Bentley & Draper friction front, hydraulic rear shock absorbers; Brakes: four wheel drum, servo- assisted. Right hand drive.
Introduced to the public at the 1930 London Motor Show, the 8 Litre was the biggest-engined car made in Britain. It was also just about the fastest, fully capable of 100mph with closed coachwork; a legacy of its racing heritage, five wins in that toughest of endurance races, the Twenty-Four Hours du Mans. W. O. Bentley himself said 'I have wanted to produce a dead silent 100mph car, and now I think we have done it.'
The 8 Litre represents an evolutionary step in Bentley's thinking, taking the best features of the legendary Speed Six and adding to them the benefits of engineering advances. The 8 Litre engine bore was increased from 100mm to 110mm, to increase the capacity by 1400cc and to add 40bhp, giving steam turbine-like performance. A new, immensely rigid and much quieter gearbox was designed with dog-clutch engagement on 3rd and top, with a hypoid-bevel back axle. The chassis frame itself was double-dropped front and back to give the coachbuilders a low, rigid platform for formal coachwork. The deep channel pressed steel siderails are joined by no less than one pressed steel and seven tubular steel cross-members. The suspension was redesigned with the springs outside the chassis to increase stability, fitted with Bentley & Draper friction front and hydraulic rear shock absorbers. The steering was stiffened up and a host of detail improvements were incorporated, reflecting Bentley's experience with the Speed Six on and off the race-track.
The Autocar described the 8 Litre as 'Motoring in its very highest form', clocking W. O. Bentley's own 8 Litre saloon at 101.12mph over the 1/2 mile, fully laden. An exhaustive survey of The Autocar's test reports between 1930 and 1939 shows only one faster car - an 8C 2300 Alfa Romeo at 106.8mph. The 8 Litre remained the fastest production Bentley until 1953.
Only 100 of the magnificent machines were built in 1930/31; YR5088 is the 38th. The chassis was completed in January 1931, and despatched to Gurney Nutting to be bodied. Gurney Nutting were one of the very best of the London coachbuilding firms, and the fixed-head coupe body they built on this chassis represents the epitome of the coachbuilder's art. The body is a full four-seater with two large doors and semi-integral trunk, fitted with float-type running boards (after the style of Malcolm Campbell's 'Bluebird'). Gurney Nutting's trademark helmet wings lend lightness and elegance to the design. The interior is spacious, the driver and passenger seats giving a commanding view down the bonnet, the rear seats offering comfort and generous leg room.
Built for a wealthy Scotsman, John Moller, YR5088 was delivered in April 1931 via Rossleighs, Bentley's main Scottish dealer. The registration number SM 8794 was issued by Dumfries CC, the number still in use today. Moller entered YR5088 for the first RAC Rally in March 1932, a reliability trial that required entrants to cover 1000 miles at an average speed of 25mph, converging on Torquay from different start points around the UK. Starting from Edinburgh, Moller finished 92nd out of 232 in the over 1100cc class; doubtless keeping the Bentley down to an average of 25mph proved too much of a chore. Moller also entered the coachwork competition in Class 4b, occasional four-seaters and two-door sports saloons over 1100cc. The Bentley Service Records rather curtly note that the car was entered 'without permission' and cancelled the Five-Year Guarantee shortly afterwards.
In 1935, Moller sold the car to Sir Edmund Findlay, Bt, the proprietor of The Scotsman newspaper. The Bentley saw war service, registered to the Home Office in 1941, including use by the National Fire Service in Sunningdale to tow a trailer fire pump - the fastest fire engine in the south-east. The Bentley then went through a number of owners between 1946 and 1957, when she was bought by J.A. MacQueen. Fortunately the car escaped the fate of a number of 8 Litre Bentleys, of being cut down and used for club racing. YR5088 went into a gentle decline, a decline that proved to be largely benign. When bought by the present owner in 1977 from noted Rolls-Royce expert Barrie Price, on inspection the Bentley proved to be in remarkably original condition.
The 8 litre was then meticulously restored over a period of ten years, with detailed attention not just to the cosmetics, but also to the mechanics. The body has been reskinned and repainted and the wood framing fully restored. The original dashboard is fitted with all the original instruments. The dashboard itself is of burr walnut with walnut cross-banding, a style carried over into the door panels and vanity cases. The original seats and interior fittings were preserved, superbly reupholstered in Connolly hide, with a generous map pocket on each door. The interior is exquisitely detailed, with beautiful small ivory handles on each door-catch, carefully made silk hand-holds and elegant vanity cases set into the rear quarters. Each burr walnut double door opens to reveal an illuminated mirror. One contains a few extra items, such as a lady's powder compact. The rear armrests both lift up, one housing a pair of small cut-glass decanters and tumblers. For complete privacy while powdering your nose or taking a quick nip - a mechanism above the driver's door operates a blind for the rear window.
The roof, fitted with a Pytchley sunroof, was recovered in Everflex, and the boot was similarly treated. With an eye to practical, long-distance use, with a family, the owner decided to adapt the original trunk layout. The original, with a rather impractical opening not much bigger that a letter-box, was restyled, using the trunk on W.O. Bentley's own 8 Litre saloon as a pattern. The addition of six over-centre catches, two with concealed locks, gives a final high-quality touch. The float-type running boards have also been fully restored and painstakingly fitted with pull-out tool trays, each item nestling in its own bed of burgundy baize, an almost complete set of original tools in the left hand box, the jack and greaser in the right hand box. With the Bentley come an original 8 Litre handbook and a boxed 1932 RAC Rally plaque.
On the engineering side, the engine was completly rebuilt with a new crankshaft and set of connecting rods made by that master craftsman, Roger Cook, using shell bearings. A new crankcase and sump have been fitted. Bentley Motors, at the forefront of innovation, started using magnesium alloy (Elektron) early in 1930, using this material for most of the engine castings. Unfortunately the early pattern Elektron crankcase used in the first 49 eight litre engines proved too weak, tending to crack near the front of the castings. New aluminum castings were first commissioned by Stanley Sedgwick some thirty years ago, and many owners have prudently incorporated these into their engines. YR5088 has such a new crankcase and sump; the original Elektron items are present with the car. The crankshaft is fitted with the desirable late-pattern damper.
The top end of the engine has also been fully rebuilt, with a new Phoenix camshaft and needle-roller bearing rockers. All the original electrical equipment has been rebuilt, as well as the brakes, steering, and all the chassis fittings. At present the Bentley is fitted with non-standard rear shock absorbers, but a pair of Bentley & Draper hydraulic units are being rebuilt ready to fit.
The reward for this painstaking and thorough work was first in Classes C and I and the award for 'Best Vintage Bentley' at the Bentley Drivers' Club's Kensington Gardens Concours in 1987. Since then YR5088 has been carefully used and serviced, and recently carried home all of the top prizes at the Louis Vuitton Grand Prix at London's Hurlingham Club which included winning its class, the Ashe Park Trophy for pre-war closed cars and the much-coveted 'Best of Show' award. At the Bentley Drivers' Club Annual Concours at Charlecote Park also this June, the Bentley proved its class again, taking the Best of Show award. YR5088 is undoubtedly one of the most handsome of the surviving 8 Litre Bentleys, and represents a rare opportunity to buy an original car in exceptional order, both mechanically and cosmetically.