Sold for $962,500 at 2011 Gooding and Company - Pebble Beach Auctions.
Chassis #: 3
Engine #: 4
Registration #: AX 3827
Even from the very early days of the automobile the value of racing as a component for innovative advancement and refinement was absolutely priceless. Racing inspires chance-taking and the search for any possible advantage. This pursuit would launch many automotive manufacturers, but in the case of Bentley, the racing experience would cause Bentley to become recognized the world over.
It would all start with W.O. Bentley experimenting with aluminum pistons. They would end up helping Bentley to increase power, and therefore, top speed. As a result, Bentley would use Brooklands as his own personal playground, setting many records and earning a good deal of success. By the mid-1920s, Bentley would supplant the then dominant Bugatti winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and causing Ettore Bugatti to call the Bentley, 'the fastest lorry in the world.'
The car in which Bugatti was referencing was Bentley's 3 liter. The car was anything but small, weighing in at 4,000 pounds. But it certainly was reliable and it featured a number of innovations that would more than make up the difference to Ettore's Bugattis.
Perhaps the biggest innovations in the 3 litre would come from the source of its name. By the end of World War I, W.O. had developed the 3-liter motor. By 1920, Bentley had their first working example of the engine. Upon inspection, it wouldn't be the 3-liter displacement that would make as much as the fact it would be the first engine to utilize four valves in each cylinder, overhead camshafts and dual ignition to provide more even burning of the fuel/air mixture.
Bentley would use this obvious performance upgrade to take victories in the 1924 and 1927 editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Bentley would take this incredible new technology and the results from the race track and would begin creating customer cars utilizing the same elements. As with many manufacturers of the day, Bentley would focus on creating the chassis. The chassis would then be shipped to a number of coach-builders to have custom-designed coaches built to attach to the chassis. One of those coach-builders Bentley would use often would be R. Harrison & Son, Ltd.
One of those early customer 3 Litre Bentleys would be up for auction at this year's Gooding & Company event at Pebble Beach. However, the one available for sale wouldn't just be any Bentley 3 Litre. The very first Bentley 3 Litre that would be finished and delivered would be chassis number 3, this very same car.
Upon completion, the car would be delivered to Ivor Llewelyn of Blaen-y-Pant, Malpas, which is near Newport in Wales. Mr. Llewelyn suited the Bentley perfectly. Many photographs of him exist driving a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost with the chauffer riding in the backseat. Mr. Llewelyn was something very special to Bentley as he would be the first paying customer.
Although the chassis number would be number 3 it would be the first car to be delivered. This is mostly due to the fact that by Mr. Llewelyn insistence the car would be left unfinished. The metal would be left bare and vulnerable to be scratched. This was intentional as he desired to have a car that was very simplistic but would create a finish of its own caused from the scratches the car would receive during construction and use. The car would come with brass brightwork and was believed to be finished with non-pleated black leather. One very interesting feature of the early 1920s car was the fact its top disappeared fully.
Very soon after receiving the car, Mr. Llewelyn would have a dickey seat installed in the back of the car. This would require some modifications.
The new Bentley would end up carting around someone who would become well known for introducing exotic, mostly British, cars to the world. Mr. Llewelyn's son, Desmond Llewelyn, would end up playing 'Q' in the James Bond movie series and would be well-remembered for some of the incredible cars used in the movies.
After some eight years with the car, the Bentley 3 Litre would be sold by Mr. Llewelyn and would end up being purchased by Christopher J. Griffiths, also of Newport. Griffiths would own the car for five years and then, in 1933, it would end up the property of Earnest Williams of Bristol, England. The car would stay with Williams throughout the duration of the Second World War.
After the war, John Saunders of Bristol Aeroplane Company would purchase the Bentley and would begin to bring chassis number 3 back to roadworthy condition. It would be just another couple of years before the car again changed hands and would become owned by Duncan Beaton. The agreed upon price for the car was quite interesting.
According to Beaton, Saunders was asking £125 for the car. That was too steep for Beaton. After £4 worth of pints of beer the agreed upon price would be end up being £120. Beaton would enjoy the car so much that he undoubtedly believed he hustled Saunders in the end.
In 1951, Beaton would grudgingly let go of the Bentley to Frank Walker in exchange for a 6C 1500 Alfa Romeo. Walker wouldn't own the car too long. The Bentley would go on to change hands a number of times before leaving the Bristol area and would end up with Robert Eugene Tait of London. Mr. Tait would go on to sell the car to a John S. Riggs of New York. Therefore, in November of 1957 the car would depart England en route for its new home in Elmira, New York. It is believed Mr. Riggs had driven the car all the way to Elmira from the docks when it had been unloaded from the S.S. American Farmer.
Once again, the car would spend just a few years with Riggs before it would be sold again. That owner would also only own the car a couple of years before Ed Jurist of the Vintage Car Store came along and purchased the car. That same year (1966), Robert McKee would come to own the car and it would end up being featured in the BDC Review by Tony Stamer.
Throughout most of the 1970s the car would undergo restoration at behest of Mr. Kerr and Mr. Howell, its latest owners. The restoration work would continue when George Schuetz of Woodstock, Vermont would come to own the car in 1985 and would call upon Len Wilton and Ed Downey to help with the work. It would never get done.
In 1994, the car would be sold in a disassembled state. The new owner would be a passionate Bentley enthusiast and would set about having the restoration completed. The work would be very methodical, well-researched and focused on details. Finally, in 1999, the Bentley 3 Litre, chassis number 3, would again hit the road. It had taken some thirty years but the first Bentley to be delivered to a customer would be delivered its new lease on life.
When the restoration was complete, the Bentley would emerge with a polished aluminum coachwork. It would also feature black fenders/running boards and green interior. The brass brightwork would remain un-restored and would give the car an even greater look and feel of nostalgia.
This significant and rare Bentley, with matching numbers and interesting narrative would end up drawing an enthusiastic crowd and eager bidders at auction. It would end up selling for $962,500.Sources:
'Lot No. 011: 1921 Bentley 3 Litre', (http://www.goodingco.com/car/1921-bentley-3-litre). Gooding & Company. http://www.goodingco.com/car/1921-bentley-3-litre. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Bentley 3 Litre', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 June 2011, 04:36 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Bentley_3_Litre&oldid=435756258 accessed 25 August 2011By Jeremy McMullen