The Derby Bentley

Following in the wake of Rolls-Royce’s contentious takeover of Bentley Motors in 1931, the first new Bentley model to come out of Rolls-Royce’s Derby Works was the 3 ½ Liter of 1933. Rolls-Royce bosses were initially unsure of how to satisfy traditional Bentley buyers, but “the silent sports car” seemed to resonate with a broad audience and sales grew steadily. In this new car, the spirit of Bentley remained, though now with greater comfort and refinement. At its heart was a new inline six, pushrod engine of 3,669 c.c. derived from the Rolls-Royce 20/25. To maintain Bentley’s sporting image, the engine was fitted with a high-compression crossflow cylinder head, a sportier camshaft profile and twin S.U. carburetors. The result was approximately 110 horsepower, which allowed the car (depending on coachwork) to reach a very respectable 90 miles per hour. While it was certainly a far cry from the thundering 8-liter, the new Bentley 3 ½ liter was much easier to drive and maneuver in tighter modern traffic conditions, and it proved to be very popular with buyers, with nearly 1200 cars sold before the revised 4 1/4 liter replaced it.

In keeping with both Rolls-Royce and Bentley tradition, Derby Bentleys were shipped only as complete rolling chassis to be bodied to order by dealers or individual clients. Many buyers continued to favor Vanden Plas, who was W.O. Bentley’s preferred coachbuilder in the Cricklewood days. But with the Derby chassis, a number of other traditional English coachbuilders got in on the action with numerous bodies built by Park Ward, James Young, and H.J. Mulliner. Freestone & Webb would also practice their craft on the versatile 3 ½ liter, however in much smaller numbers than its competitors. Of the 1183 3 ½ liter Derby Bentleys built, just 59 were bodied by Freestone & Webb. Of those, only 9 cars, including our featured example, were built in the fixed-head coupe style.