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Proper Motoring : Riding in a 3 litre Bentley

Proper Motoring : Riding in a 3 litre Bentley

The sun is shining down on my bare head and the breeze is rustling what little hair I have left. My left elbow is out in the fresh air and my right arm hooked round the back of the driver's seat in what might be considered an over-familiar fashion…except there isn't actually much room for it otherwise. And in any case the lady driver beside me has suggested that's really the best place for it!

  A big 4-cylinder engine up ahead is booming away magnificently, announcing our approach to a beautiful little North Cotswold village and the transmission is giving that happy harmonizing note you can only get with the mesh of large, well machined, well-maintained gears in a car of this vintage. The seat is comfortable, the large flat windscreen keeps the oncoming insects where they should be and in the back seats my two teenage daughters are smiling and waving to anyone who gawps as we pass by. Which is most people. Clearly there will always be a few who take no notice, but we must make allowances for those with an undeveloped soul. 

This is motoring!

My friends Elinor and Clive kindly offered to take my car-enthusiast mum for a run in their Bentley 3 litre back in February. It was a present for her significant birthday (I naturally cannot tell you which!) and all was set fair when I tested positive for covid two days beforehand. Instead of being whisked along in open-topped splendour, she was still at her bungalow deep in the Forest of Dean, and I was confined to the spare room for a week with my girls leaving meals outside the door before retreating to a safe social-distance!   It hadn't gone to plan at all, and I felt like a prisoner.

Fast forward to August and finally a ‘re-run’ slot was available as the car was being taken to nearby Prescott Hillclimb for the VSCC weekend. On the Monday morning thereafter, we rendezvous in a hotel car park in the Cotswold town of Winchcombe for a second attempt. This time both my daughters are able to join in, as it's during the school holidays, taking up station in the back seats with Grannie in the front.  I stand back with Clive while Elinor climbs into the driving seat and fires up “EL” (after it's number plate). The four of them head off for a drive round in the sunshine as the subtly bellowing exhaust note echoes back down the narrow street.


Clive and I retire to the hotel garden for a welcome cup of tea and in due course the unmistakable sound of the Bentley on its return is heard nearby.  Big beaming smiles light up the car park along with excited giggles. They've all enjoyed the experience.  Mum alights and I get in.  

 Having never ridden in a Bentley of this vintage before I confess to boasting a similarly wide smile. If you like old cars and you appreciate mechanical things in general the work of Walter Owen Bentley cannot fail to impress.  The 3 Litre is magnificent (I know, I've used that word earlier, but it's so apt) and this one is a late 1923 ‘Red Label’ Speed Model with twin ‘sloper’ SU carburettors and a handsome open four-seater body by Chalmer & Hoyer - who only bodied half a dozen 3 Litres at the time.  The original owner was F E B Elton from Poole in Dorset who only kept the car a year before passing it on to a new owner in Yorkshire, the unfortunately named Mr Bastard!  Thereafter it moved around a lot, even spending some years in Canada. Apart from having an overdrive fitted at some point and the usual repainting and some reupholstery, it's very original throughout. In appropriate British Racing Green colours, this is everyone's mental picture of the model, and during the summer months gets considerable use, as all vintage cars of quality should. 

Unlike so many cars of its generation it has enormous and effective brakes on all four wheels and a four-speed gearbox. However, the gears do ‘take some practice’ to avoid the crunch of cogs. During the entire trip that followed I heard not a single example. You would never have known it was anything other than fully compliant. At the end of our run, it was wide smiles all round. 

A big thankyou to Elinor and Clive. What a great experience and well worth the wait.