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Car of the Month

More on Bentley  in these books:
50 years of the marque

The Complete Bentley


Car of the Month - February 2010
Bentley 4 Litre, 1931, 4-Door Saloon
Drophead Coupé by Freestone & Webb

Bentley 4 Liter

This Bentley 4 Litre is the one with the last vehicle identification number that was allocated to a chassis prior to the company closing down their factory at Cricklewood in 1931 for ever after having found themselves in a position to call in the receiver. Freestone & Webb built the elegant drophead coupe but it was not before 1933 that the car was purchased and registered ALC250. Reason for that has been the global economic crisis – although quite frequently arguments have been heard that it had been just this Bentley 4 Litre model which has been a nail to the coffin.

All in all a mere 50 Bentley 4 Litre were produced and it is hard to fathom why on earth just this model should have drained the company's ressources? The truth is that over years a major disadvantage of the company had been a severe lack of capital and the board of directors neither had found appropriately to balance that nor to eliminate other weak points in the company's structure. The take-over by Woolf Barnato did provide to gap an interim period – however details of that take-over and what followed would be considered nowadays as very dubious financial transactions (to put it mildly). Indeed Barnato himself escaped the company's bankruptcy almost unharmed – had used his insider-knowledge to 'influence' the acquisition by Rolls-Royce and was appointed with the post of a director at Rolls-Royce which he kept for more than 15 years. W.O. Bentley's fate was entirely different. He obviously didn't consider the period of the 30ies as a happy one and hardly found a friendly word as regards the Bentley 4 Litre. His book "An Illustrated History of The Bentley Car" was published in 1964 and does contain chapters of a clearly autobiographical note – it doesn’t contain details as regards this model; on page 148 it is mentioned as "the unfortunate 4-litre".

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In un-biased retrospect however there is no reason for any accusations against Bentley’s Board of Directors who decided to react to the devastating decline in sales resulting from the world economic crisis by adding a ‘small’ model with an engine of but 4 litres capacity to their ‘big’ Bentley 8 Litre. The decision to opt for an engine to a concept from Ricardo, an external designer of very fine reputation was clever, too. Thus could be acquired an engine to an advanced design and that power source was almost ready to be fitted under the bonnet – hence the all-important time-factor was dealt with to react promptly to new market conditions. Not only was the engine powerful and could be combined perfectly well with the frame and drivetrain developed by Bentley but its production was considerably less costly than what hitherto had been made. Frequently there is the argument that in its basic conception this engine left a lot to be desired. What? – That is nonsense! Simply remember the fact that exactly this basic conception is to be found on those 6-cylinder inline engines which after World War II powered all Bentley Mark VI, Bentley R-Type and Bentley S1 (the sister models from Rolls-Royce, too); these engines enjoy a tremendously fine reputation for power and reliability. Ricardo had enabled Bentley to put such a gem of an engine under the bonnet of the Bentley 4 Litre some 15 years earlier.

Most presumably it is impossible to correct biased statements that have found their way into a magnitude of publications. Should however one or the other of the readers ever have a chance to inspect a Bentley 4 Litre it is a good advice to be fair as regards this model – although it was one of W.O. Bentley’s "unloved children". To launch this model had been a bold attempt to overcome in-house resistance and to gain a turnaround with a promising new concept; alas, due to circumstances in a crisis-shaken market no commercial success.

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