Bentley v 30/98

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Controversy over which was the better car, the Bentley or the 30/98, began almost as soon as these outstanding cars were in customers’ hands, and has continued through the vintage years.

I recently came upon a report on the subject by someone who owned both, and compared them after 213 miles over a testing road rising to 9200ft. This was in 1922, so the Vauxhall would have been an E-type side-valve 30/98 and the Bentley a new 3-litre, both with open touring bodies.

Each car carried two passengers and a considerable quantity of luggage, the owner driving the 30/98 (Reg XF 4500), his wife the Bentrey. The overloaded Vauxhall grounded badly only once; the Bentley’s heavier springs suited the trip better. It was reported that: “Both cars seemed to enjoy their tasks”.

After climbing the first pass the Bentley was boiling; having a small water capacity it was considered undercooled for such work (the average speed was 21 mph) in very hot weather. It boiled away some coolant, but the engine did not seem to suffer and the insulated sump kept the oil cool. Indeed, the engine pulled better, the hotter it became.

Both cars could do 60 mph in third, and another winding pass was taken fast in this gear; the 30/98 occasionally got into top, whereas the higher-geared Bentley was reduced to second gear for some of the hairpins, and more water was added to its radiator. These hairpins called for one reverse at least to get the Vauxhall round, whereas the superior steering-lock of the Bentley spared it this — except at the sharpest corner, when it needed one reverse to two on the Vauxhall’s part.

To spare the tyres, corners were not taken fast, but the climb to nearly 7000ft was enjoyable, “the engines straining at the leash, giving out that pleasant deep purr which the rather open exhaust of the sporting car does at small throttle openings.” The ascent made a big Hudson steam slightly, although it was lightly laden, and later the road defeated a Maxwell, which had plug trouble. . .

The steep road with its many corners proved well-suited to the Bowden extra-air system, which on descents hissed quietly, preventing the cylinders getting too much lubricant and acting as an efficient brake; but the owner’s wife found the going daunting, saying the Bentley had lost compression and would not restart. In fact, unused to a 10.5:1 bottom gear, she had not used sufficient throttle.

The report quoted the Bentley as having too high a third gear in relation to its top-gear ratio, especially as its second gear was also high. The aforementioned bottom gear was regarded as too high for starting a 3-litre four-seater in really steep terrain.

In contrast, the 30/98’s gear ratios were regarded as too low in first, second and reverse, but its third and top gears were regarded as perfect. Only once had the Vauxhall needed first gear, when restarting on a 1in-31/2 Devon hill.

The Vauxhall dented its undershield on a humpback bridge, but accepted top gear on the least winding sections of the final climb, and on the descent the Bentley again rounded hairpins without reversing, whereas the 30/98 made its driver very tired.

The report concluded with a tribute to “the perfect steering, brakes, and general roadholding qualities of both cars, which enabled better average speeds than could be accomplished by an ordinary car, over a route which the owner of these two sporting cars would have disliked driving in any but a first-class chassis.” So there! WB

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