The Bentley 4-Litre was the old Cricklewood company’s swansong model before its absorption by Rolls-Royce. With the Depression biting, sales of the old 4½-Litre declining and its newest, 8-Litre model costing all of £1,850 in chassis-only form, Bentley Motors desperately needed a new smaller model to compete with Rolls-Royce’s successful 20/25hp. The result was the 4-Litre. At the Management Committee’s behest, and to W O’s disdain, the six-cylinder engine was designed by Ricardo, with overhead inlet/side exhaust valves and a claimed output of 120bhp at 4,000rpm. A double-drop chassis was adopted, closely based on that of the contemporary Bentley 8-Litre, and offered in two wheelbase lengths: 11’ 2” and 11’ 8”, both of which were shorter than the shortest of the two 8-Litre chassis available.
Although ‘W O’ did not like the Ricardo design (considering it difficult to tune) the fundamental soundness of the inlet-over-exhaust arrangement would be demonstrated after the war, engines of this configuration powering Bentley and Rolls-Royce motor cars up to 1959. The 4-Litre has been much maligned and is little understood, as very few were built. Because it was considered by some to be too heavy for its power, yet had the best chassis, gearbox and rear axle of all the Bentleys, many were converted very early on into 6½- and 8-litre specials.
Not every one agreed. None other than Bentley boss Captain Woolf Barnato himself used an early 4-Litre as his personal transport, covering around 6,000 miles during 1931/32. Only 50 4-Litres were completed before the original Bentley company’s liquidation, of which only 12 are known to exist today, the ex-Barnato car, ‘GO 8477’, being one of them.
Supplied new via Jack Barclay and Jack Olding, this charming Bentley 4-Litre was first owned by Major W C Gordon Black of Fife. ‘FG 7632’ was delivered to Major Gordon Black on 26th May 1932 and during his ownership covered approximately 30,000 miles, as verified by Bentley works records. The history file confirms during the 1950’s VA 4085 had five short-term owners, mostly in the West Midlands, and was eventually sold in 1962 to the previous owner, Mr Philip Pardy of Epsom, who ran it until 1969.
During this period Mr Pardy, a well-known Bentley enthusiast, prepared and drove his 4-Litre single-handed from Land’s End to John O’Groats in under 24 hours! The detailed record of this epic journey in May 1964 was published in the BDC Review in April 1965.
By 1969 the Bentley was deemed to be in need of a restoration by Mr Pardy – however, the project effectively remained stalled for the next 30 years whist in his garage! The present owner purchased the car in 2000, on the clear understanding that this 4-Litre (unlike so many) would be restored to its original Cricklewood specification.
Since 2001 the Bentley has been subject to a meticulous restoration taking over 12 years. This has included a major engine rebuild with new APR big-end pinch bolts, while the main bearings and big ends were recast utilising modern high-grade white metal. New rings were fitted to the original pistons and the cylinder block re-bored and sleeved. The rebuilt cylinder head was fitted with hardened inserts to accommodate modern fuels. A modified oil filtration supply was incorporated to suite modern oils. The engine is yet to be fully run in. The original 4-Litre radiator has been serviced and tested by a well-known Manchester specialist, and the radiator louvres operate automatically by means of Bentley’s patented thermostatic actuator. Ancillaries have been professionally restored including the AutoVac, ignition coils, dynamo, voltage regulator and water pump.
All aluminium, the original Thrupp & Maberly coachbuilt body (number ‘5411’) was refurbished throughout, being bare-metal stripped, etch-primed and re-sprayed in black over the Bentley blue of the original 4-Litre radiator badge. The 20” wire wheels have been sprayed to match and all the original bearing grease caps and quick release nuts have been re-chromed.
The original speedometer was professionally restored, re-calibrated and zeroed. The car has been rewired throughout and discreet amber flasher bulbs have been fitted at front and rear, as has a double stop light to the original ‘diver’s helmet’ rear lamps. A superb windscreen-mounted spotlight by Stephen Grebel has been fitted, and the Bosch headlights are double dipping with the correct lenses.
Illuminated by the original recessed ground-glass lenses, the original black leather upholstered was re-Connollised and a new grey West of England roof lining professionally fitted, as was a customised set of new leather-bound matching Wilton woollen carpets. The two mahogany vanity units in the rear have been illuminated and refurbished and now boast matching crystal champagne flutes carrying the Bentley logo. A concealed tool rack in the boot lid has been equipped with period tools including a Vintage hand lamp and oilcan.
Offered with current road fund licence and Swansea V5, and being one of only about a dozen 4-Litres still retaining their original chassis, body and engine, this would be an asset to any connoisseur of fine motor cars.
Featured in Ray Roberts’ Bentley Specials and Special Bentleys Vol 2 (page 524) this superb example of the last of the Cricklewood-built models comes with a large history file containing bills; period photos; original factory blueprints; and copies of several articles written about it. It will not disappoint.