We have the wonderful opportunity to be caretakers of two special Bentleys. They are consecutive chassis numbers, one owner since new and original un-restored condition.
The 4-1/4 Bentley was introduced in early 1936 and was an instant commercial success. The 3-1/2 Litre continued to be sold for a few months but in very small numbers. The 4-1/4 was a much-improved car, with an increased engine bore, a different head design, new bearing material, larger carburetors and valves, and thus a raised compression ratio. A Borg & Beck clutch was fitted, along with an air-cooled dynamo, and improvements to the front end to eliminate axle tramp continued. When The Motor tested a new 4-1/4 Litre, they found that acceleration was brisker, top speed had been raised to 90 mph, and cruising at 70-75 mph took less throttle. This test was run using a heavier saloon than the 3-1/2 Litre drophead the magazine had tested only five months earlier. The 4-1/4 was clearly a grand touring machine. As before, the 4-1/4 appealed to sporting drivers as well as the “smart set.” Eddie Hall had a 4-1/4 engine fitted in his T.T. racer, finishing second on handicap in the Ards T.T. as he had previously, and also setting an all-time average speed record for this course at 80.81 mph. But the greatest performance car in the annals of 4-1/4 Litre history was a special streamlined coupe, B27LE, designed by Georges Paulin at the request of Walter Sleator, head of Franco-Britannic Autos in Paris, specially for the motoring enthusiast André Embiricos. The car had a higher compression ratio, larger carburetors, a different rear axle ratio, and aluminum front brake drums, all for the sake of increased performance; however, the real performance enhancer was the streamlining of the lightweight body. The car was tested in Europe in 1938 and early 1939, achieving a maximum recorded speed of 118 mph. Land speed record holder George Eyston drove the car at Brooklands one July morning, averaging 114.6 mph for an hour’s run; then he drove to work in London! As if this weren’t enough, the Embiricos car was raced at Le Mans in 1949, 1950, and 1951, coming in sixth in 1949. The most important achievement of this car was in its pointing the way to future development of the Bentley: first the Corniche saloon of 1939, sadly wrecked on test and then destroyed by enemy action, and then the Bentley Continental developed in 1951. The Embiricos car can be argued to be the progenitor of all Bentley Continentals up through the current model. Sustained high-speed performance was enhanced in the 4-1/4 Litre with the introduction of the “M” series cars in 1938. These cars had overdrive gearing, a Marles steering box, a revised cooling system, a different rear axle, a rearranged dashboard, and smaller wheels. These cars were designed to be driven for hours on end on autobahns and were very successful road cars. Once again, coachbuilders vied to mount elegant bodies on the 4-1/4 Litre, ranging from racy tourers and two-seaters to soignée sedanca coupes. Park Ward introduced all-steel saloon bodies on the 4-1/4 Litre, a great change from traditional English ash-framed and aluminum-paneled custom coachwork, and the design of these bodies evolved into the precursor of the Mark VI Bentley design of 1945-46. But the handwriting remained on the wall. Even though the 4-1/4 Litre was profitable, the range of Rolls-Royce cars with very little interchangeability of parts and with even less economies of scale was less and less profitable. After much investigation and soul-searching, the Experimental Department came up with the idea of a “rationalized range” of motorcars, all with the same engine and chassis design but capable of being built in different sizes. The first step in introducing the “rationalized range” was the Mark V, which was drawn on lessons learned with the 4-1/4 Litre and which was to be introduced at the 1939 London Auto Show. That show was cancelled because of the outbreak of war, and the Mark V never went into production. However, the “rationalized range” did go into production in 1946, owing much to the 4-1/4 Litre Bentley, a car that many think was the best car Rolls-Royce or Bentley ever built. Total 4-1/4 Litre cars built: 1234 cars,
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