Two Years with Two Bentleys
By MANNIN. THE writer went to the 1926 show without a bias of any description but simply requiring a genuine sports car which would have the wearing qualities of a staid tourer. The number of suitable vehicles,
however, was soon narrowed down and a road test gave the decision in favour of the 3-litre Bentley.
The principal features of the chassis are well known, but the writer was impressed by the four valves per cylinder, large brakes, two magnetos and exceptionally stiff frame.
The first run on the car was from London to Liverpool, which accomplished as it was in pouring rain, justified our expectations as far as steadiness and nice handling were concerned and. we immediately felt at home in our latest acquisition. The running-in period of about 1,000 miles was not irksome, as naturally on such a car a 50 m.p.h. cruising speed calls for no appreciable effort from the engine. When this mileage was completed we permitted ourselves to indulge in something nearer the speeds for which the car was built, and began to appreciate the reasons why the name of Bentley has so quickly come to the front in the world of motoring. A few minor troubles were experienced in the teething stage, as is only common with most ears, but these did not prove of any consequence owing to the excellent service we always obtained from the firm. The five years guarantee which the firm give with their products is no mere form of words, and the man who remarked that when one buys a Bentley one buys the works for five years, was little, if any, short of the truth.
A most elusive trouble which did occur early in its life was a persistent habit of the tappets slacking off their adjustment, resulting in irregular running and some broken valve springs. The works eventually traced this trouble to the experimental d.uralumin rockers with which our particular car was fitted. They therefore replaced them with the standard type steel rockers and the trouble was gone, never to return. One occasion, on which a magneto ceased to be sufficiently magnetic, produced another example of service, a replacement being despatched by return. Practically the only other need to call on the works for replacement, was caused through the railing of the writer rather than the car.
On occasion when both in a hurry and a bad temper our engaging of the various ratios was not marked with that tender care which shows up the good motorist, in fact to put it crudely we were sometimes infernally rough with it. Eventually the gear box decided to put a stop to this and a particularly crude effort broke a selector and left us to perform a rather uncomfortable journey to the works in third gear only. A new gear box was fitted in a day, and we took to being a little more rational in our treatment of the gear lever. The subsequent postmortem on, the old box inspired the remaik ” Can that Young man, really drive ? ” made by a member of the staff to a friend of ours at a trade luncheon. The performance of the car on the road left little to be desired in the matter of getting from point A to point
B, especially when it is borne in mind that one does not expect a car with a comfortable four seater fabric body (ours was the actual show model by Vanden Plas) to behave like a Targa Florio racer.
The car would do a genuine 85 m.p.h. whenever circumstances permitted, and owing to the excellent roadholding and powerful brakes, they permitted very frequently ! At 70 m.p.h. in third, no undue fuss was apparent, and the gear ratios proved ideally chosen for fast cross-country work, and some quite unpublishable averages were attained on many occasions, but as I am not writing in the correspondence columns of the weekly motoring press I will refrain from boring readers with a list of figures. The highest speed actually attained on the road was 97 m.p.h. down Benson Hill, and several unofficial records to or from towns in the vicinity of Oxford were put up. The steering was excellent, though possibly a trifle high-geared. However this suited the high pressure tyres fitted, and the car was pleasant to hold and could be cornered with extreme violence without any sign of rolling. Economy is frequently a secondary consideration on a car of this type but in spite of being always driven as fast as was safe, an average of • 19 miles was obtained from a gallon of fuel, and the oil consumption seemed to depend entirely on how often one changed the oil in the sump as it never seamed to uss! any in the ordinary way. A set of the high pressure tyres of that date lasted about 8,000 miles, which on a car like this, driven as it was, shows that the rear-wheels must have refrained from bouncing to any extent.
The ” 4Hitre.”
About this time, following their success at Le Mans, Bentleys put their famous 4-litre on the market, and having obtained such good service from the 3-litre we decided to sample one of the new models. A trial was followed by arranging a part exchange with Jack Withers, and we duly became ,the owner of a 4i-litre, not without a tinge of regret at parting from our faithful first Bentley. Pax cineribus ! The new car was very similar, apart rrom engine size. to the old one, as the body was another 4-seater fabric model by the same firm as before, though owing to the slightly extra room on the new chassis, it had been possible to arrange rather more comfortable seating, especially for the rear passengers. Minor alterations including pressure or ” Semi-balloon” tyres which in turn required somewhat lower geared steering than the 3-litre car, also a larger Autovac was fitted to avoid any possibility of ‘• drying up,” when long bursts of full throttle were indulged in. When we first took over the new model we were attacked by a fear that we had bought a definitely ” touring ” car as opposed to a ” Sportwagen “, the features responsible for this impression being the much greater flexibility of the engine,
and the feeling of extra height in the new body. However our fears were dispelled as we found that the new model had a performance surpassing the old one both as regards acceleration and speed, and at the same time it was accomplished in a smoother manner. Whereas with the 3-litre one definitely had to “live in the gear box,” on the larger car one could if one was feeling lazy, drive about almost everywhere in top. Not that this means that the gears were any less use than before, and when in the mood we used them with singular effect. Also our previous experiences had given us rather more respect for the gear lever as an instrument of destruction, and we have never had any further trouble in this department.
Shortly after taking delivery we managed to seize up the magneto cross shaft, due to revving rather carelessly with cold oil, and this opportunity was taken to have Bosch magnetos fitted in place of the others, and they have since been absolutely satisfactory. This repair was done on a Saturday night and Sunday morning and no charge was made.
The car was just run in in time to be entered for the Inter Varsity Hill climb at Ewelme Down, and it performed quite well. It won the touring class and ran third to two supercharged six-cylinder Amilcars in the Racing Class, managing however to beat a third car of the above breed. The cornering was found to be very good though we never felt able to be quite as brutal on corners as we had been with our first Bentley, and the greater weight and slightly different steering, were probably responsible. However, the road holding on the straight more than compensated for this.
Having given the car a fairly rough time in this country without any ill-effects we decided to take the car to New Zealand, and the works having advised us that they considered the present ground clearance of 7t inches sufficient for colonial work the car was duly packed up and despatched. Of course we suffered the usual troubles over Bills of Lading, etc., on landing in New Zealand, but the car was eventually located, a spare accumulator fitted, and thanks to the assistance of the Canterbury Automobile
Association, was licensed and on the road the same afternoon.
Although tarmac roads exist near the towns the usual highway consists of a fenced gravel track 66ft. wide, deeply furrowed by two sets of ruts. After a misguided attempt to avoid driving in the ruts, we took the easier course, and found that in so doing a certain amount of reduction in the quantity of stones flung up was apparent. On two occasions however these holed the petrol tank and it is certainly advisable on all cars destined for this part of the world to have a netting or wooden protection for this rather vulnerable part.
Apart from once flattening out the exhaust pipe we found the ground clearance sufficient, and a rousing speed could be maintained on the gravel roads without trouble. With a full load 85 m.p.h. was held, and on one of the few tarmac surfaces 90 m.p.h. was achieved. Owing to the large distances over monotonous country which have to be covered, the ability to cover them in the minimum time was a great blessing, and we were very thankful that we had brought the Bentley for the job.
After 5,000 miles in New Zealand we despatched the car once more to its native country, and decided to belie the title of this article by keeping the car another year. It was therefore sent back to the works for its first decarbonisation after 18,000 miles of distinctly hard usage.
Shortly after its return we achieved 103 m.p.h. down a long incline, but as this involved exceeding the makers’ maximum safe revs, by about 500 r.p.m., we could hardly be surprised that a valve touched a piston and caused a little internal bother thereby. However, the necessary bits were immediately replaced and. we are now anticipating a further period of faithful service. With the exception of having a thermostat fitted for E10,a modification well worth while, we have not
bothered to get any special fitments, as in view of a rumour that a supercharged model may appear at the show, there may yet be a third Bentley for the third year, and if it gives as good service as its predecessors we shall have no cause for complaint.