‘Motoring in its very highest form,’ eulogised The Autocar in December 1930, having recorded a top speed of 101.12mph in W O Bentley’s own saloon-bodied 8-Litre over the half-mile.
Although the prevailing image of Bentley cars during the vintage Cricklewood period of the company’s life is that of out-and-out sports cars and fast tourers, it is often overlooked that W O Bentley made a determined bid for the carriage trade, particularly with his larger 4-, 6- and 8-Litre models.
Only 100 examples of the 8-Litre model had been produced before bankruptcy overtook the original Bentley company, but had they been in a stronger financial position it might well have been a different story. The chassis price of the 8-Litre Bentley at £1,850 was in direct competition with the Rolls-Royce Phantom II, allied with better performance, and the contemporary motoring press was lavish with its praise for the 8-Litre model. The latter had debuted at the 1930 London Motor Show and was the largest-engined car made in the UK at that time and arguably the fastest. Bentley’s advertising claimed ‘100mph without noise’ and tests bore out that claim, the 8-Litre being fully capable of the ‘ton’ even when burdened with weighty formal coachwork. As W O Bentley himself said: ‘I have wanted to produce a dead silent 100mph car, and now I think we have done it.’
The world’s fastest production chassis at the time of its introduction, the 8-Litre represents an evolutionary step in the development of the vintage Bentley, combining proven features of the 6½-Litre model with the latest engineering advances. Rather than trying to extract more power from the existing 6½-Litre engine, W O Bentley followed his long-preferred method of improving performance and simply enlarged it, increasing the bore size from 100 to 110mm. Although the 8-Litre’s engine followed conventional Bentley practice, its gearbox – designated ‘F-type’ – was radically different from its predecessors, the redesign having been necessitated by the greatly increased power and torque it was required to transmit, as well as the quest for silence.
The massive chassis frame likewise was entirely new, being of the ‘double drop’ design that enabled overall height to be reduced and the centre of gravity lowered, these aims also dictating the use of a hypoid-bevel rear axle. Seven tubular cross members resulted in a much stronger and less flexible frame than hitherto, which was available in a choice of wheelbases: 12′ or 13′. Revised suspension incorporating longer road springs, out-rigged at the rear, together with Bentley & Draper shock absorbers made for increased smoothness and stability, both vital considerations when designing a large and weighty vehicle capable of three-figure speeds. The 8-Litre’s steering and braking systems also featured numerous detail improvements.
This magnificent 8-Litre was first delivered new in Singapore to Mr. Eu Tong Sen in May 1931. Eu Tong Sen built his fortune by acquiring from the British monopolies for tax or revenue farming in several areas such as opium, alcohol, spirits, gambling and pawn broking, later acquiring land for mining tin.
The 8-Litre was ordered with Thrupp and Maberly coachwork, and shipped directly to Singapore. Tong Sen used it to visit horse races with his girlfriends, which became such a habit that the Bentley became known as the Harem Saloon. During the Second World War the Bentley was stored away in one of Tong Sen’s mines, later being repatriated into the UK in the late 1940s.
The new owner, Mr. Peter Quinn, gave the car its first UK registration number NLH 43 which the car retains today. He removed the original body but kept the original bonnet and scuttle from the car. The car was subsequently bought by a Mr. John Cobbing in 2002 who undertook the rebuild and restoration and re-bodied the 8-Litre as the stylish tourer you see presented today.
The chassis was restored with new bushes and pins, and re-piped with its original one shot lubrication system, re-wired and restored to original specification. The engine was rebuilt with new valves and guides, a new water pump, new front and rear water plates, new oil drain tubes and new bottom three throw drive gear. The original crank however was deemed to be in fantastic condition and so was retained, with the main bearings being reground to approx. 0.012″ under size. Then new bronzes were made and the metal was re-whited. A decision was taken to use new connecting rods and put them on modern shells, giving the car the best of both worlds. The crankcase and sump was machined for modern oil seals, replacing the leaky acme threads.
To improve running the carburettors were stripped and rebuilt with new jets, needles, and cork washers. The autovac unit was stripped and restored with new valves and seals, and the magneto rebuilt by renowned expert Tony Stairs. Lastly a new coil was fitted, alongside an overhauled distributor with new points and condenser. Breathing was improved with a new 3” exhaust system as per the original design (the silencer was designed to be straight through with a centre baffle). To aid cooling the radiator was fully restored with a new core, and re-chromed on the shell. Modern Kenlowe fans were fitted to help with cooling, although the car still retains its original fan assembly.
The gearbox was stripped; all the gears were found to be in excellent condition and as such it was rebuilt with new bearings, and mated to a new clutch lining and discs. The rear axle was stripped and fitted with a new crown wheel and pinion (the car now boasts a 3.21 : 1 ratio). New half shafts were fitted, new wheel bearings, the front axle was also stripped and fitted with new king pins and bushes. The steering column was found to be excellent, but nonetheless was dismantled and rebuilt with all new bearings. The brake servo was dismantled and found to require a new leather seal and brass fingered disc underneath. All components were cleaned and the servo full overhauled. Lastly the two original wheels were restored with new outer rims and spokes, then 4 new wheels were commissioned and built up to order.
All of this hard work and investment produces a long-legged tourer which can also handle country lanes without the need for an overdrive gearbox. As such the 8-Litre has engaged in a number of trips down to Le Mans, behaving impeccably at all times.
All in all a very well sorted example of a sporting yet comfortable and very stylish tourer of the highest order.