A TALE OF TWO BENTLEYS
An unusual 4i-litre put on the road by Alan Skerrrtan THE first intimation of the existence of CK8172 was when my friend and colleague, John Hay, returned from a deviously-routed Official journey with the news that a quaint Bentley, believed to be a 3-litre, was residing in a breaker’s yard at Bradford. A journey was obviously imperative, so we went to hold an inquest on the remains, and found the engine and gearbox complete and apparently undamaged. The back axle was less the differential unit, there being only the axle casing and wheels and half shafts in evidence, despite extensive rooting about among the surrounding ruins. The body was reduced to the absolute minimum, less seats and rear squab, and the dashboard had been robbed extensively, I suspect, by sporty boys desirous of having Bentley-marked instruments on their Ford saloons. _
After some argument as to val yes, the Bentley was literally uproot&I from its ignominious resting place by means of the yard crane, and its numerous flat tyres were inflated. We were prepared for the worst in respect of these tyres and tubes, and had taken along an excellent collection of jacks, pumps, tyre levers, and puncture outfits. But there must be something about Bradford air, because. once those tyres were inflated they stayed inflated until we took them off to paint the wheels six months later. My theory is that the dusty atmosphere in that locality rapidly blocks up the usual holes one finds in old tubes ! Perhaps this is a marketable idea, so I leave it to the Bradford Corporation. With all tyres “airworthy,” and soine sketchy adjustments done to the brakes, we hitched on to my Morris coupe, and with much hilarity from the Bradfordians, the cortege proceeded. The dead weight of the Bentley, with brakes rubbing due to the absence of the rear axle parts, nearly killed the Morris, especially on the long pull over Yeadon Moor. Coining down from Yeadon we cast off the tow and I went down to try the Bentley on its own. A small saloon, which was stationary at the lights by the “Pyneley
Arms,” will never know how near it was to annihilation, because it went ahead just as I was deciding to overshoot everything to avoid it, the brakes by now merely emitting rusty noises and having little retarding effect. Finally, we pulled into the stack-yard of the farm where I was staying in my caravan. The farmer was very amused and took it to be an antediluvian form of tractor, having sonic apt remarks to make in his broadest Yorkshire brogue. In the field, amid snow and ice, work started in earnest, and the first thing off was the body with its one-time coat of white paint, plus four other assorted colours, now camou 11 aged with ferrous oxide finish. The main worry was the absence of the differential unit, but we soorn remedied that matter after sundry visit to breakers, on duty trips around the country. When we examined the car we found much of interest. First, our 3-litre had somehow become a 41litre, still carrying Bentley seals, and with twin S.U.s, twin built-up rear wheels with an admixture of 6.00 in. by 20 in. and 30 in. by 6 in. tyres, also complete Telecontrol shock-absorber equipment. The chassis had been reduced to a wheelbase of about 3 ft. 6 in. The chassis was first registered as a 3-litre on October 10th, 1923, and the radiator is a” Blue Label •’ type with the support brackets reversed and a 4-in, chunk removed from the bottom centre of the honeycomb to clear the starting handle. By this means the bonnet has been lowered until it just clears the top of the camshaft cover. The fan has, of course, been removed. A straight-through exhaust system had been fitted, but was replaced by most of the exhaust system from a 61-litre Bentley. Queer aluminium-alloy wings just covered
the tops of the rear duplex wheels, but the front wheels were missing. I later found one cycle-type wing on a 4-1-litre Bentley in the same breaker’s yard, but had to make its fellow up from an old rear wing by extensive blacksmith’s work on a tree trunk in the field. After some three months’ work we fitted up a small header tank and turned the engineover rather hopelessly. To our intense surprise it started, and soon lapped up the hard-earned drop of petrol in the header tank. This was incredible, considering the 21 years’ internment in the breaker’s yard and the fact that we had not then dismantled any part of the engine except the magnetos and carburetters. Now, with the Kigass working, starting is always easy. and I often compare it with the poor starting one had from other cars. We found the “
urge” available outstanding, enabling us to spin the car right round in the field by accelerating sharply ; this process became even mere spectacular after the passage of several examples of the bovine species.
Numerous modifications were made of a miner character, and after much assembling, painting, and upholstering, the car was ready for a journey to London.
We started off with ‘two 32-in. by 6-in. heavy-duty tyres on top of the spare. wheel, just in case our very bald tyres passed away, unaccustomed as they were to contact with tarmac for a distance of 200 miles. We did the 75 miles as far as Flt.-Lt. Crook’s squadron at a maximum speed of 35 m.p.h, in order to eke Out our fuel, because we had no idea what the consumption would be ; actually,. it worked out at 17 m.p.h. for that first part of the journey. We decided that on the next day, just occasionally, our right foot could be depressed slightly harder. After a most enthusiastic welcome at the squadron, culminating in a party in honour of something not now quite so clear in my mind, we had an honoured. send-off next morning, accompanied. by
Crook’s ” 2.9 ” Alfa-Romeo, to the intense pleasure of the local R.A.F.
By lunch-time we had developed a leak at the bottom of the radiator honeycomb, so we tried all the usual advertised remedies—but this was rather a special leak. After some miles of radiatorthermometer watching and refilling from wayside streams, I saw red, and did some frantic work with plasticine, rag, and small wooden pegs. This worked much better, and our pleasure graph showed signs of improvement. Now, as it was Sunday, we had the rare happening of having petrol coupons to spend but no garages open from which to obtain supplies. In fact, the last 30 miles were done on two gallons just at black-out, in a thunderstorm, on sidelights only. We dare not use the P 100s, less masks. We finished, with an occasional ominous hurried ticking emanating from the dual S.U. pumps, and so ended a most thrilling war-time trip. The following general details may prove interesting. The initial cost was £15, and when all necessary items were purchased and modifications made, this had risen to £40. All work was done in the field over a period of 18 months, and bad weather was not allowed to interfere with progress ; it is surprising how much easier it is to work in a minimum of clothing in the open when it is raining. The car’s engine number is PM3254 and the chassis number is 324. The chassis is so short that the propeller shaft is only
If anyone had told me six months ago that for the sum of 2.5 I could buy a Bentley in serviceable condition I should hardly have credited their statement— but there it is ; I have, and the motor car in question has been used by me for the last three months, and over 1,000 miles have been covered without any mishap or breakdown. It all came to pass as follows
My favourite “4k,” which has been my constant mount since 1937, started to make sounds of slight protest when returning one day from Effingham—the domain of Mr. Shortt. The big-end bearings, or at least one of them, put in by McKenzie in 1939, had at long last “had it.” They had stood up to constant pounding up and down Western Avenue for nearly five years which, to my way of thinking, proves that Mr. McKenzie had certainly put the right stuff there. However, there it was— trouble in the offing. Mr. Shortt had my other “4k” in many pieces—the same remark applying to my wife’s 3-litre–and not much chance of getting them put back into one workable piece for several moons to come. Nevertheless, something had to be done, and although I did several journeys to the works with sounds of protest coming from the bottom half—Mr. Shortt having decoked and fitted oversize valves and guides to the top half quite recently, this was in excellent fettle—I was most unhappy. The top half of the engine wanted to go and the bottom half did not like it. At last, after about six weeks of this unhappy state of affairs, I took the car to Mr. Shortt to have another engine
14in. long. The only work required on the engine after its 200-mile test run was a new joint behind the starboard magneto, where there was a slight oil leak. We fitted four new plugs during the journey ; the remaining four plugs we juggled from our stock of plugs gathered during
put into it, and also for a re-line of brakes. Unfortunately, owing to a variety of circuilitiai)ces, the work was held up. Week followed on week and I was getting really pressed, when a friend of mine billeted at a farm near Salisbury reported that there was a 3-litre in the barn which, so he thought, the farmer would sell for about 120. It was very dark in the aforementioned barn, and the Bentley was more or less covered in straw, but he thought it was a “Red Label.” My friend (who, incidentally, flies an “Auster” and is the proud owner of a LagondaRapier), on further investigation reported that the Bentley was a “Blue Label,” but that it appeared to be intact except that it had no tyres and the farmer had pinched the plugs for an Austin of advanced age to which, also, the missing tyres had been fitted.
My friend having had a spot of leave, I returned with him to the wilds outside Salisbury. The farmer I found to be a delightful fellow, who was most pleased to see a possible purchaser, and stated that “I was his one and only chance of a buyer,” which surprised me somewhat. Down the hill to the barn we went together, to plunge into the gloomy interior. There under the straw was the Bentley ; everything was bone dry, and with a; little effort a casual examination was made, results being as follows : “Blue Label,” fitted with twin S.U.s. Flywheel teeth almost unmarked, aluminium water-jacket plates absolutely sound, clock “won” by the Army, the usual ” 41 ” strut-gear for stiffening the chassis fitted, one of the six wheels missing, upholstery on front seat almost
years of motoring. It being my first Bentley I was amazed at the way it would crawl along in top gear and pull away when needed, providing the ignition lever was treated with the respect due to it, and the right foot depressed in the war-time gentle manner.
unmarked grey leather, windscreen, threepiece type, quite O.K., engine turned over by my friend (strict medical orders preventing me from doing so) reported free ; naturally, with no plugs in, one could not say what the compression was like. After extricating myself from the straw and spiders I told the farmer that I was interested. His reply was somewhat staggering : “Personally, I do not consider it worth five shillings, but would you be good enough to give me five pounds for it ? ” My thoughts turned to certain traders, and I wondered if I should say three pounds ten was my limit. However, feeling most generous, I replied that I would certainly have offered more than that as, in any event, the body was in excellent condition, all doors shutting firmly and everything being perfectly rigid—therefore I would give seven pounds. This pleased the farmer no end, and my cheque for this sum was exchanged for the Registration Book, The problem then was how to get the “Blue Label” to London. In the first case it was necessary to find out if it really would go without any major repairs. It was decided that the Bentley should be moved from its nest amongst the hay to open stabling where the Austin reposed —this meaning there would be plenty of light and room to work. My friend had a fitter at the aerodrome who in his spare time consumed beer. It was decided that the consumption of beer should be condensed into the minimum of time while the wherewithal for purchasing fair quantities of the beverage should be earned by the aforementioned fitter by
diligent work on the “Blue Label.” There were eight gallons of what had been petrol in the tank, but as it had remained there since December, 1939, we decided that it should only be used for cleaning purposes—its smell and the gummy substance in the bottom of the tank confirmed our decision.
I returned to London and promptly sent off five tyres and a set of Lodge CV plugs. ‘Long reports were given me— cleaning of tank, soldering of autovac, fitting of new carburetter gaskets, cleaning of magnetos, draining and filling of gearbox and back axle and so on. Then the great news per telephone : “It went.” Indeed, everything worked ; even the battery, which had been left on the car since 1939 full of acid, appeared to hold its charge. All lights worked, the electric windscreen wiper worked, the dynamo worked, both magnetos worked, and even the radiator did not leak. The car was driven around the aerodrome and the farm for about 80 miles or so—not much power, but no trouble.
So forthwith I repaired to the D.P.O. and asked to have my “4k-” coupons changed. There was no trouble here, but first I had to get permission from Bristol to bring the car up. Coupons came back from Bristol within three days —I certainly thought that this was real service, and although it is hardly likely to be read by the Bristol people, I should like to express my appreciation of their very prompt attention to my request.
As all leave was cancelled, my friend only had his usual 24 hours off, and it was fixed that I should meet him at Andover. The Bentley had a fracture in the water pipe from the pump to the water jacket, and although a piece of hose had been fixed around it, we decided that a new pipe would be useful, so a visit to Mr. Shortt, at Effingham, was to be made on the return journey, to get a pipe off one of the two 3-litre engines of mine reposing there. With another friend (also a Rapier
enthusiast) I started out for Andover by the “alternative means of transport.” Although Salisbury races were on and the train stopped at several stations not scheduled in order to pick up raeegoers (the policy of the railways is complex), we arrived at Andover only a few minutes behind time, although, of course, somewhat compressed by hordes of humanity bent on gaining bags of gold without working for it.
Arriving safely at Andover we eagerly passed the portals of the station expecting to see the “Blue Label.” Nothing like it in sight, only many Americans, Jeeps and such like. Sitting on a low wall we both started our pipes when, to our horror, we saw the breakdown lorry of the nearby garage start up and amble off in the direction of Salisbury. However, there was no need to fear, for within ten minutes the “Blue Label” appeared— coachwork shining and radiator glistening in the sunlight. After much discussion on the general position, I climbed into the driving seat and headed for Guildford, where we intended to lunch. The “Blue Label” steered perfectly—we touched over 60, and when having to slow down at seine crossroads, the brakes seemed quite adequate. Watching the thermometer fixed in the radiator cap we noticed it was rapidly getting to boiling. After some low gear work, owing to tanks and such like taking up 90 per cent. of the road, things were really boiling. We got out and discovered that the hose joint we had made was leaking badly and that almost all our water had gone. However, a kindly old lady at a nearby house provided the necessary and told us the route for Guildford, which was made safely and petrol put in, as we did not dare run on “reserve,” because this sucked through the dirt which, in spite of flushing, was still in the bottom of the petrol tank. After a good lunch with liquid refreshment we headed for Effingham, having first refilled with water because the leak around the hose was a steady stream. On
arrival at the” Old Barn House,” madame informed me that her husband had been called North, that her telephone was out of order, and that she had written me on the previous Thursday (this was Saturday) saying that I should save my petrol. However, we explained what had happened to the pipe, whereupon Mrs. Shortt took charge of the operations, and with some blackout material, plus a Jubilee clip, a water-tight repair was made. This repair is still functioning in a perfectly satisfactory manner.
There is not much more to tell—the “Blue Label ” is still being used and no trouble has been experienced. After a somewhat hot “4” the 21 miles past Northoft is irksome, and the B-type gearbox is not pleasing ; coupled with no power on the indirects this causes some gloom. However, in top the “Blue Label” will go down to 15 m.p.h. quite happily, and go right up to 71 (on the clock) given enough time and suitable conditions. The other morning Mr. Anthony Heal had the audacity to pass me—however, thanks to the lights being unkind to him, we were able to tag along on his tail until we parted company. I might add that Mr. Heal was mounted on one of those dangerous conveyances boasting but two wheels. I have got so attached to the “Blue Label,” and the body is in such good condition that I think it would be worth doing up—the fitting of an Aor C-type box and a new propeller shaft being essential. I shall be delighted to get my “4k” back, but I shall always remember the “Blue Label” as having filled the breach when badly needed. Moreover, as I have to visit ” doodle-bug ” infested areas the possibility of the loss or damage to the “Blue Label ” can be contemplated, whereas the loss of the “4-” would be most difficult to bear—attachment from old association (I have done just on 100,000 miles in her), plus all Messrs. McKenzie’s and Shortt’s work make her very valuable to me. The “Blue Label” is a 192$, chassis No. 963, engine No. 968, Reg. No. XX9358.