1931 Bentley 8-Litre Sedan
October 28, 2007 9:00 PM
Walter Owen Bentley, known primarily as W.O., began his career as a British railway engineering apprentice with a penchant for racing motorcycles. In 1912, Bentley and his brother H.M. formed a company named Bentley and Bentley to sell French DFP cars. Unsatisfied with the car’s performance, W.O. employed aluminum, then a revolutionary material, to redesign their pistons, and soon broke several records on the race track. These lightweight pistons were to become one of the secret ingredients of Bentley’s future success, but the advent of the Great War delayed his plans. Accepting a government commission to power the Sopwith Camel, Bentley design two aircraft engines, which were credited with Allied dominance of the sky. In his later years, Bentley would admit that no other accomplishment had given him greater pride.
The roaring twenties was Bentley’s decade of glory and great adventure, and the earsplitting roar of his cars became synonymous with the devil-may-care attitude of that time. After the war, W.O. founded his own company, Bentley Motors, to live his dream of building a car that would satisfy his own expectations.
Produced to compete with Bentley’s arch-rival, Rolls Royce, the 8-Litre was introduced to the public at the London Motor Show of 1930, and was heralded as one of the finest automobiles ever. It was meant to be the halo car, making Bentley the utmost car manufacturer in the world. The last of the great Bentleys, its massive overhead cam inline 6-cylinder engine with four valves per cylinder and dual carburetors was capable of producing 220 hp at 3500 rpm. The four-speed manual gearbox powered the rear wheel, while four-wheel servo assisted drum brakes stop as well as hydraulics. The car was capable of 100 mph, while the competing Rolls had trouble hitting 90. Its 156-inch wheelbase made it the largest car ever produced in the UK.
Although the 8-Litre was an overnight success, the Great Depression slowed sales to a dribble. Despite attempts to save the company, Bentley was forced to sell to an anonymous holding company in 1931. According to legend, W.O. unhappily found out that the unknown company was actually Rolls-Royce several days later, when his wife overheard that tidbit at a cocktail party.
Only 100 8-Litre Bentleys were manufactured. Jay found his on top of a mountain in Chile, where it was used as a chicken coop. Formerly owned by the British Ambassador, the car has been driven in the ground and abandoned. It took a while to drag it back to Big Dog Garage and refurbish, but now it looks just like it did when it rolled out of the factory, with the exception of a modern filtration system under the hood.