Brainchild of Race Car Driver
Bentley automobiles are a time-honoured classic in the world of cars, and are the third most represented car manufacturer on the list of 100 most expensive cars sold at auction, behind Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz. The brainchild of the race car driver, W. O. Bentley (known only as W.O.), began his journey as a designer with studies in design through an apprenticeship with Great Northern railway. Later, he studied theoretical engineering at King’s College London. He and his brother, H. M. Bentley, opened their first auto dealership in 1912, selling French DFP cars. W. O. was dissatisfied with the performance of the cars, mostly because of the use of cast-iron or steel engine parts, which made them very heavy and slow. This dissatisfaction eventually inspired him to design the use of aluminium alloy as the material for the engine pistons. After the DFP was fitted with the new pistons and a modified camshaft, the car took several records at racing tracks.
The Bentley Boys Begin
With the outbreak of World War I, W. O. saw an opportunity to offer his unique piston design to the military, and was subsequently commissioned in the Royal Naval Air Service to pioneer the design of airplane engines. Following the war, W. O. and his brother decided to form their own auto company in 1919. Called “Bentley Motors Limited,” the focus of the company was to design touring and race cars of high quality. Bentley’s motto, “To build a good car, a fast car, the best in class,” gave him the vision needed to design and build cars that not only looked good, but also consistently won races. The drivers of these amazingly light, yet durable race cars were aptly named, “The Bentley Boys.” These men were responsible for helping to put the Bentley name on the map of the auto-racing world, especially Woolf “Babe” Barnato and Sir Henry Birkin. Barnato won the Le Mans 24 Hour race three years in a row, and Birkin was responsible for helping to develop the supercharged “Blower Bentley.”
Woolf Barnato eventually bought the company from W. O. and his brother in 1925. As the chairman, Barnato pushed the company into the global spotlight. Naturally, with a history as rich and storied as the Bentley, it is no wonder that it is a treasured collectors’ car to this day. Below is a list of the most expensive Bentleys sold at auction.
5. 1931 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre SC “Blower” Sports 2/3 Seater Boattail “The Green Hornet”
This Bentley was the beloved property of E. Ann Klein, who was known for her love of all things Bentley. Some remarkable features of this vehicle include a fairly straightforward stewardship of 54 years, making it very easy to track the history of the car. It is exceedingly rare with matching numbers, an original body and original fabric covering, and is included as among the finest of the 50 factory blowers produced. This car was sold by the Gooding & Company auction house in August 2007, in the US for $4,510,000.
4. 1931 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Le Mans
This supercharged Bentley, also known as a “Blower” Bentley, was proudly owned by British ex-patriot Charles R.J. Noble. It was one of the original “Blowers,” and only one of just three that were supplied with chassis specifically geared towards the famous Le Mans races. This particular style of car was conceived by “Bentley Boy” Sir Tom Birkin, but sadly never actually won a race at Le Mans. The car was offered for auction by Bonhams in the US in August 2013, and sold for $4,647,500, which resulted in a new auction record for a production blower Bentley.
4. 1930 Bentley Speed Six Tourer
This 4-cylinder, overhead valve, manual 4-speed has been considered a racing vehicle since its inception in 1927. It was the third Bentley model and was considered just below the 6 1/2 litre, and the successor of the 3-liter engine. This little beauty was sold in July 2004 by Christie’s in France for $5,658,536.
2. 1928 Bentley 4 1/2 Liter Le Mans Sports ‘Bobtail’
Sold by Gooding & Company in 2012 for $6,050,000, this race car was a two-time entry at Le Mans, won 2nd overall at the 1929 Brooklands Double Twelve, and is the only remaining “Bobtail” 4 1/2 litre Bentley left. Considered one of the greatest Bentleys in existence, the car has been through extensive restoration. This car was dubbed, “Old Mother Gun,” by the racers.
1. 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged ‘Blower’ Single-Seater
This race car was owned and driven by Sir Henry Birkin himself. Setting a lap record of 137mph in the 1931 Brooklands Outer Circuit, this car was later purchased by George Daniels, who was known for both his ground-breaking work in horology and his love for all cars classic. The car is a single-seater and has no storage space, which makes it a perfect example of a true racing car, but a very inconvenient mode of transportation for lengthy journeys. Bonhams chief executive officer and auctioneer for the sale stated that George was, “also a car connoisseur held in immense respect throughout the vintage motoring world.” Painted a bright red and boasting the supercharged “Blower” Bentley engine, this vehicle was the fastest car around the high banks of Brooklands. It was sold in June 2012 by Bonhams for $7,906,745.