Bentley 3-litre

Classic cars
Our very first road test, taken from Motor Sport, July 1924 | by 'FULL THROTTLE'*

The sporting car, as a class, has characteristically more distinction than that possessed by touring types. Being out of the ordinary, and intended to emphasise particular motoring qualities, the sporting car usually has quite an individuality. Some sporting cars, of course, seem to stand quite apart from orthodox standards.

In the latter category one may place the 3-litre Speed Model Bentley. This car embodies all the qualities one has come to consider essential in a sporting car.

A brief review of the chassis reveals at once how interesting a proposition the Speed Model Bentley is, and this opinion is vastly enhanced when one takes the car for a trial. The engine is a four-cylinder monobloc of 2996cc capacity. Its design has much originality: there are two inlet and two exhaust valves in each cylinder, operated by a totally enclosed overhead camshaft and rockers, running in oil. The pistons are of aluminium, designed for high compression. Cooling is by pump circulation controlled by an automatic thermostat. On a sporting car one usually has to “drive on the spark” more than is requisite on a touring car, and to obtain really the best running from the Speed Model Bentley one makes no exception.

The system of dual-controlled magnetos enables one to obtain particularly effective ignition. A notable point is that a petrol consumption of 25mpg at 30mph is guaranteed, which, considering its wide capabilities, is not excessive. The clutch is of the inverted cone type, lined with Ferodo. The four-speed gearbox is operated by a simple right-hand gate change carried on an extension of the box.

In a car of such advanced design, one naturally expects to find front-wheel brakes, and the system of fully compensated internal expanding brakes operating on all four wheels and controlled by pedal is very effective. The handbrake operates on the rear wheels. The tank holds 11 gallons of petrol, and a two-way tap near the filling cap gives access to a reserve supply of two gallons.

Chassis lubrication is by oil, supplied from an oil-gun through screwed oil plugs. The only grease cup on the chassis is situated on the water pump. After the chassis has been lubricated it can be run for three months of normal mileage without further lubrication, apart, of course, from the engine’s requirements.

From the foregoing it will be appreciated that the Speed Model Bentley is a particularly interesting car. Our road experiences with this model, although not at the moment as extensive as we should like, have convinced us that it must possess a fascination for every sporting motorist. It is naturally fast, but that is by no means the sum total of its outstanding attraction. Very few sporting cars are really docile in control, many are not at all comfortable. The Speed Model Bentley is a happy exception.

Owing to its high gear range one must, of course, remember that the four speeds are there to be used. Gearchanging is so easy a matter, however, that one finds not the smallest objection to always starting on first and to a fairly frequent use of the lower ratios in traffic. On each gear the car is instantly responsive.

There is one feature of the Bentley that may be described as unique, and to this we would give due prominence: how many sporting cars, or cars of any sort, will do 70 miles an hour on second gear? The Bentley makes light of this.

The acceleration is quite remarkable. The Bentley will hang on to about the 70 mark on second gear indefinitely, and the change down at speed with a quick double-clutch is not unduly difficult.

One can change into top at practically any speed, slow as well as fast, and the Bentley will attain the neighbourhood of the 80 mark without much forcing.

Steering on the Bentley is delightfully easy, comparable in its comfort to that experienced on a high-quality light car. The four-wheel brakes, operated by pedal, are remarkably powerful, and very easy and smooth in operation. Although there is not an overabundance of seating room, the Speed Model Bentley is quite comfortable to ride in.

The electrical and other equipment is very complete, and the general layout of the car very pleasing to those who desire a high-quality sporting vehicle that is quite practicable for ordinary touring and exceptionally attractive among sporting designs for town and general use.

The price of the Speed Model Bentley with four-seater body is £1125 and with two-seater body £1100, purchasers being afforded the option of choosing the colour of body and upholstery. The manufacturers are Messrs Bentley Motors Ltd of Hanover Street, London, W1. The extensive Bentley factories are at Cricklewood, London.

Interest in the Bentley is naturally enhanced by this car’s splendid victory in the French Grand Prix d’Endurance last month. The Bentley [left] was the only British car among 40 competitors, and its outstanding performance throughout the race provides a notable tribute to British engineering in general, and to Bentley design and workmanship in particular.

Magnificently driven by Duff and Clement, the Bentley maintained a thrilling struggle with some of the best representatives of French automobile science throughout the 24 hours that the race occupied. This event is indeed appropriately named, a trial of endurance, for it is difficult to imagine a more exacting test under road conditions than this gruelling struggle of speed throughout a day and a night.

The Bentley had no mechanical trouble, and at the end of the race was in good condition and still lapping consistently. The distance covered by the Bentley in 24 hours, with Duff and Clement alternately at the wheel, was exactly 2188km, or 128 laps of the course. Second place was taken by the Lorraine-Dietrich, driven alternately by Stoffel and Brisson, with 2061km to its credit.

*We don’t know who he was!

Bentley 3-litre factfile

Production: 1921-29
Power: 80bhp
Max speed: 90mph
Start of a legend. Finest sporting car of its era, say many (though not 30/98 owners). Le Mans success heaped glory on the badge and dedicated enthusiasts have made this and its 4½ and six-cylinder successors into a symbol of Britishness. Few remain in original form, saloons especially rare; many 3-litres now have bigger engines. Perfect spec: for investment, a genuine blown
4½; for rarity, a 3-litre saloon

Bentley specialists

Graeme Hunt:
Milford Vintage: