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Car of the Month - December 2008
Bentley 3/8 Special on chassis Bentley 3 Litre, 1923, #299


Bentley 3/8 Special

Many car enthusiasts believe they know that the typical Bentley from the 20s was an Open Tourer. Whether a 2-Seater or a motor car offering accommodation for 4 in any case one with a distinctively sportive note. The idea is fascinating to think the car shown here to be almost characteristic for a Bentley 3 Litre “in its pure form" – but in fact that is not true.

Due to their expensive price alone Bentley have been "Upper Crust" motor cars and such typically were candidates for closed bodies. Indeed a great many originally were bodied as really heavy Limousines, Sedanca de Villes and Landaulets. Many clients were interested in a powerful engine because that provided sufficient torque to move a car appropriately regardless of being a ‘heavyweight’ – however as regards acceleration or top speed they were willing to compromise. This is true not only for the Bentley 3 Litre but also for the later models with 4½ litre, 6½ litre or even 8 litre capacity. The last model ever of what was later called ‘W.O. Bentleys’, i.e. the Bentley 4 Litre had an engine with a basic design that didn't allow to be tuned for sports car performance.

.Bentley 3/8 Special

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Over the years when more and more Bentley motor cars for being „oldfashioned“ or for being rather expensive in maintenance became inexpensive in the second-hand car market, the niche of club-sport events offered an area for survival. Once fitted with a lightweight open tourer there was the advantage, that in sport events a competitive car could be entered and the added advantage that a spartanic open tourer was far less expensive than a closed body with a luxuriously equipped interior. Several decades later a special market had developed with prices that rapidly climbed to a shockingly expensive level. – And that was when speculation accelerated and for profit's sake a high percentage of those cars that had survived with their original coachwork were altered to offer in appearance and powertrain what might fetch the highest price.

Bentley 3/8 Special

Regulations in various European countries are entirely different. In Germany the Bentley 3 Litre that is shown here would not be road-legal because the chassis was cut and shortened considerably and then welded together again – so there would be no chance to get a registration for this one. An insurmountable additional barrier would be the fact that the chassis of the Bentley 3 Litre is stressed beyond limitations by having been mated to an 8-litre engine – that one tuned (the quadruple carburettors are obvious at a quick glance, none of the original Bentleys ever showed such) to give an output in excess of 450bhp. Perhaps a nice view at a veteran car rallye – but a deathly weapon when driven and because of the lethal risks (for driver and passengers as well as for spectators by the side of the road!) this car under no circumstances should be allowed to be driven on a public road.

Bentley 3/8 Special


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