• An Introduction To The Derby Bentley

    This web site is dedicated to one model of motor car from one manufacturer, Bentley Motors, built at the Rolls-Royce works in Derby between 1933 and 1940. There were three main variants: the 3.5 litre, the 4.25 litre and the 4.25 litre Overdrive, followed by a few MkVs before War interrupted production. Originally 2,422 examples of what is now commonly known as the Derby Bentley were built. Current research indicates that some 1,800 of these remain extant over 75 years later, a remarkable survival rate of around 75%, given the circumstances.

    The Derby Bentley was the first Bentley produced under the ownership of Rolls- Royce, alongside their smaller horsepower 20/25 and 25/30 cars, from which it was itself developed. The Bentley was far more than badge engineering, however, unlike many of the post war models. Rolls-Royce acquired the assets of Bentley Motors from the receiver in 1931, aware of the magnificent sporting heritage that had been quickly earned by Bentley, principally by five victories at Le Mans, culminating in those of 1927 -1930. The first Bentley to be produced by Rolls-Royce had a considerably more powerful engine than its sibling and an excellent lower and lighter chassis. While enjoying all the benefits of the quality of R-R engineering, the Derby Bentley also enjoyed all the reliability and sporting heritage of Bentley. Thus was born “The Silent Sports Car” (as it was called in contemporary sales literature). These Bentleys are very different from either the Vintage Bentley or the small horsepower Rolls-Royce. Many would argue that they are better than both!

    These motor cars had their chassis and engine built in Derby and delivered to a coachbuilder of the customer’s choice for coachwork to be built to the particular specification of the customer. It is widely acknowledged that the 1930s was the final flowering of the coachbuilder’s art, when the best motor manufacturers still supplied chassis only, providing suitable platforms for the coachbuilders, and when the coachbuilders themselves had perfected the techniques required to body motor cars.

    Derby Bentleys exhibit some of the finest products of the finest coachbuilders of the 1930’s, with the rounded and more sporting Bentley radiator allowing the designers to develop flowing lines, often of unsurpassed beauty.

    The very high survival rate of Derby Bentleys, while strongly indicative of quality and enduring attractiveness, can suggest a lack of rarity and so a lower perception of value. Such an attitude belies a superficial understanding of the situation.

    · Of the 2,422 built, c45% were bodied by Park Ward. The majority of these received standard bodies, either of wood and aluminium or all steel. As a result, many of the surviving Derby Bentleys carry examples of such coachwork which, although of excellent quality, cannot be described as being rare.

    · Not all the products of Park Ward or the other coachbuilders can be described as attractive, at least to the modern eye.

    · However, there are outstandingly beautiful and often unique examples from such firms as Barker, Freestone & Webb, Gurney Nutting, Hooper, Mann Egerton, Mulliner (both A and HJ), Park Ward, Rippon, Thrupp & Maberly, James Young, Vanden Plas and Windovers in England; Kellner, Pourtout and Vanvooren in Paris; and smaller concerns elsewhere in UK and Europe.

    · Sadly, many chassis have had their original bodies ‘untimely ripped’ from them to be replaced by (not so) special, or replica bodies.

    If a rigorous assessment is undertaken, it becomes clear that there are far fewer surviving Derby Bentleys with original bodies that are both rare and unusual and strikingly beautiful, whether of the much-favoured open styles or the saloons or closed coupés. These latter should not be ignored – the famed Embiricos Bentley is of course one such, and a 4¼ Vesters & Neirinck coupé was sold very well within the last five years, showing the demand for such rare and beautiful closed cars. Perhaps 25% of the 1,800 survivors might fall into this category. These “Favoured 400” are then both Rare and Beautiful. If you have a rare and beautiful Derby Bentley, you are fortunate indeed!

    As owners and admirers, we unashamedly want to promote the Derby Bentley in all its forms. We invite owners worldwide to assist us in making this as comprehensive a resource as possible, by becoming members of the Silent Sports Car Club and by supplying us with photographs and histories of their motor cars for display on this site. Please write to with such contributions.

  • Owning A Derby Bentley


    The Derby Bentley, however clothed, remains a potentially most enjoyable prospect to own and drive. If in close-to-new condition, the chassis is excellent; the engine has massive torque and is capable of maintaining speeds of 60-70 mph at 2,500 rpm reliably on unleaded petrol; the gearbox is smooth and easily operated, particularly in 3rd and 4th with the benefit of both synchromesh and the engine’s torque; the brakes are reassuringly strong thanks to servo-assistance.

    Derby Bentleys were originally chosen by such famous owners as Sir Malcolm Campbell, Wolff Barnato, Mrs Bugatti, Raymond Mays, Prince Bira, George Eyston, Leonard Lord, Tony Vandervell, Archie Frazer-Nash, David Brown and many other motoring enthusiasts. They can, and should, still be driven and enjoyed today.

    For the unwary, a Derby Bentley acquired in poor condition can today be a source of much heart-ache and penury as restoration of a complicated piece of machinery is expensive if placed in the hands of specialists. Such a project requires a variety of skills: sound mechanical experience for rebuilding of the engine, wood working for replacement of ash framing (given the age of the cars, if this has not been done previously, it must be a fair presumption that it will be required soon), electrical expertise (as rewiring is now probably also essential for safety reasons), painting, rechroming, interior trimming (with work on leather seats, headlining and carpets and the wood veneers of the dash and door cappings). Some work will often have to be sent to specialists, such as the white-metalling and line boring of the main bearings. There are several good specialist restoration firms, links to whom can be found in our Club section. Will Fiennes of Fiennes Engineering manufactures many of the parts that will be required to maintain or rebuild your car mechanically.

    Suffice to say that ownership can be a costly pastime! It is important to choose carefully when purchasing a Derby Bentley. Buy in haste and repent at leisure! Consideration of all aspects of condition is required to gauge the possible future foreseeable levels of expenditure required. The Favoured 400 alluded to earlier will command higher values than other cars in a similar condition. Thus, it makes sense to seek out one of these to ensure that as much of your future expenditure as possible is recoverable, if you come to pass on title! The only sensible way to buy a more common (but still intrinsically excellent) example such as a standard Park Ward or Thrupp & Maberly saloon is to look for a fully and properly restored example. You may pay a bit more initially but it will probably be far less than it cost the previous owner to carry out the work.

    We would urge anyone contemplating purchase of an example today to have a reputable restorer or specialist examine and report on the candidate before any serious negotiations are pursued. Also, many existing owners are only too happy to help another like-minded soul to a satisfying ownership experience.

    The variety of coachwork available is enormous: anyone unfamiliar with Derby Bentleys and intending to become an owner should research carefully what styles of coachwork they may wish to search out as candidates for purchase. A good starting point is a copy of our book, Bentley Beauty, which describes and illustrates the wealth of coachwork possibilities, giving a good idea of the production numbers of most styles. A modest initial investment in a copy of this book will avoid post-purchase regrets! A few new copies remain available for purchase through this website, see the Book section for more details.

    The rewards of driving a well-sorted Derby Bentley are not primarily financial and are so great that they should be enjoyed as frequently and as widely as possible. It is also worth pointing out that each car is different and is likely to have unique driving characteristics.

    Having taken two drophead coupés to Le Mans in 2001, this was borne out by the reactions of the four drivers: The 3½ litre Park Ward (B73 FC, with later overdrive) was universally praised for involving the driver in the whole experience and for the sharpness of handling and general fun. The 4¼ Overdrive H J Mulliner (B81 MX) was praised for its smoothness and comfort and was seen as a grand tourer rather than a sports car. If ownership is contemplated, not only the body style of the particular example but also the particular driving characteristics should be carefully considered.

    We invite you to share with us and others through this website your ownership experience, both in anecdote and with photographs.

    Many owners have derived great pleasure and interest in researching the ownership history of their cars. Please give others interest and pleasure by putting this on public record through the Silent Sports Car Club on this website.

    Many current owners use their Derby Bentleys extensively. Not all take their car on the Round the World in 80 days Rally as Chris and Jan Dunkley and Richard and Judy Ingham did in 2000 or as Richard and Elizabeth Brown did from London to Peking, all without serious mishap. A friend and I drove B73 FC some 750 miles in 15 hours from Marbella to the Costa Brava in March 2008. In June 2013, a group of Derby Bentleys recreated the Bill Boddy run of 1938, from the Houses of Parliament to John O’Groats, a distance of 702 miles which he covered in 15 hours 14 minutes in a new Vanden Plas drophead. While most completed the run in 2013 over three days, Jeremy and Margaret Oates did it in their 1939 Park Ward saloon in 15 hrs and 3 minutes. This is what these cars are still capable of, when maintained in good condition!

    What is your experience? Have you some useful tips to pass on to others? Share them through this website. Email contributions to

  • The Literature


    Other than our own contribution to Derby Bentley lore in the form of Bentley Beauty, published in 2004, and still available in limited numbers through this website, over the last 40 odd years there have been several good books devoted exclusively to the Derby Bentley. Much space with many photographs was given to Derby Bentleys in

    Bentley: Fifty Years of the Marque: by Johnnie Green, published in 1969 by Dalton Watson Ltd, London (ISBN 0 901564 00 1) with a further edition published by Dalton Watson within the last few years, with corrections and updates

    That Johnnie Green is one of the earliest acknowledged authorities on Bentleys is shown by this seminal work on all the Bentleys to the end of the 1960’s. He was owner of “Honeysuckle”, a beautiful and highly regarded original Vanden Plas tourer on chassis no B154 MR, from 1951 to 1986. Much photographed and used by Mr Green as a platform to promote Derby Bentleys generally, this motor car was part of the Blackhawk Collection in California and now resides in Hong Kong.

    Derby Bentleys are also covered in

    All the Pre-War Bentleys – As New: by Stanley Sedgwick and Hugh Young, published in 1976 by the Bentley Drivers Club and Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd

    and in

    Bentley- Cricklewood to Crewe: by Michael Frostick, published in 1980 by Osprey Publishing Ltd

    The next milestone work on the Derby Bentley must be

    Bentley: The Silent Sports Car 1931 –1941: by Michael Ellman-Brown, published in 1989 by Dalton Watson (ISBN 0 901564 33 8)

    The first major work devoted solely to the Derby Bentley and written by an owner of several Derbys (including a James Young drophead and the only H J Mulliner Mk V) and an enthusiast of great knowledge, this book carries the imprimatur of a foreword by Johnnie Green and contains much more background information, many photographs and much sensible opinion and commentary. Well produced and carefully researched with most photographs being contemporary. Very difficult to obtain copies now, in the secondhand market.

    This magnificent testament to the Derby Bentley was followed not long afterwards by a work devoted to the Overdrive 4¼ Litre Cars,

    Bentley: The 1938/1939 Overdrive Cars: by Mervyn Frankel and Ian Strang, published in 1994 by Academy Books, London (ISBN 1 873361 18 1)

    This result of research into each of the 200 Overdrive cars, written by the owners of B22MR and B164 MR; and B70 MR respectively, is fascinating and excellently presented. Anecdotes and histories bring alive the ownership experience. There are details of each car, some more extensive than others, framed by interesting articles either reproduced from magazines of the period or written by owners subsequently. Certain names appear frequently, such as Mr & Mrs Way who collected Overdrive cars in Wales in the 1970s and Murray Dewar of Victoria, Australia who had two stunning Vanden Plas dropheads (B42 MR and B203 MX) and a 2 door coupe (B139 MX) penned by the master designer, A F McNeill, then at James Young after moving from Gurney Nutting following James Young’s acquisition by Jack Barclay in 1937.

    All the above books are now out of print and can only be obtained at considerable cost from specialist booksellers.

    An indispensable aid to ownership is

    The Derby Bentley Technical Manual published by the Bentley Drivers Club

    Subsequently a further reference source was added to the list,

    The Derby Built Bentleys: by Bernard L. King, published in 2000 by Complete Classics, with a recently published second edition.

    The information contained in the tables in this book covering, by chassis number, original information as well as references to pictures in subsequent publications and latest owner names and country, when combined with the table of Registration Number against Chassis Number allows immediate identification of any car and is an excellent resource.

    The Second edition contains updated tables and a whole new set of photographs, making the use of both editions valuable for reference purposes, even if the photographic reproduction is of variable quality.

    And lastly, Dalton Watson have heroically reprinted

    On the Road, Bentley Motors’ set of 13 Publicity Magazines

    originally published in the 1930s to promote ownership of the new Bentley to potential purchasers, using evocative photographs and editorials, written by the likes of Bill Boddy, Geoffrey Smith, Peter Scott and others. If you want to get a feel of what motoring in a Derby Bentley would have been like in the 1930s, these will provide it.

    There are other articles and publications, details of which may be found through the websites of the Rolls Royce Enthusiasts Club (, Bentley Drivers Club ( or the Rolls Royce Owners Club, and its related Derby Bentley Society ( or ).

  • Historical Context

    Historical Background of the 1930’s

    The conclusion of the First World War and 4 years of grinding slaughter left a subdued Germany and a triumphant, if decimated, France and Britain. 10 million young men had died and a further 20 million had been wounded. During the 1920’s there followed a period of rebuilding and also of extravagant good living in the better-off sections of society throughout Europe, known as the Roaring Twenties. Others were less fortunate and found themselves involved in e.g. the General Strike in the UK. There were many changes afoot in the UK: women getting the vote, problems in Ireland, technological advances. Slowly the established social order was adjusting to new norms but remained generally in tact, with privilege still reserved for the few and for the men. By 1925 in Italy Mussolini had become Prime Minister and then Dictator. In Germany national pride had been battered by defeat. It still remained, albeit constrained by the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany’s Weimar Republic was led by von Hindenberg from 1925 to 1933, when at the age of 85 he appointed Hitler his successor as Chancellor.

    One of the defining events of the late 1920s was, of course, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 after a period of what we know now to refer to as “irrational exuberance”. The ensuing loss of wealth, consumer confidence, bank failures and restriction of access to capital precipitated depression in the USA and throughout the rest of the world. By 1932, unemployment in the USA reached 12 million, and was exacerbated by drought. F.D. Roosevelt was elected on the promise of a New Deal in 1933. By 1933 unemployment had reached 6 million in Germany. In 1935, in the UK 200 people marched from Jarrow to London to protest about unemployment. Economic conditions caused extensive hardship among the working classes and provided fertile soil from which nationalist parties gained strength in Europe while Isolationist policies were pursued in America. Outside Europe and North America, there were also beginnings of fundamental change: in India, Ghandi was leading peaceful protests against British rule, with The Government of India Act being passed in London in 1935, allowing provincial councils to be established; in China, the Long March of 100,000 communists led by Mao Tse Tung took place between October 1934 and October 1935, with Japan invading China as well.

    Not all was doom and gloom: Jazz accompanied the Roaring Twenties, and the Big Band Sound the 1930’s. The Bloomsbury Set flourished in the London of the Twenties. The Bauhaus School, founded in 1919 in Germany by Walter Gropius, led on to Art Deco from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930’s. Le Corbusier flourished in France, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van de Rohe changed the face of many cities in the USA: The Chrysler building was completed in 1930, the Empire State Building in 1931. Transport was developing strongly, so that the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932 and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1938. The Hindenberg airship crashed in 1937. In 1938 the Queen Mary crossed the Atlantic in well under 4 days and the Queen Elizabeth was launched. Long distance flying by commercial aircraft was becoming common: Pan American started the first regular transatlantic flight in 1939. 1937 saw Frank Whittle’s first jet engine. In 1935 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced together in Top Hat, Gershwin wrote Porgy and Bess. JRR Tolkein published the Hobbit in 1937. In 1938 Errol Flynn starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood, while H G Welles’ War of the Worlds caused panic when broadcast in the US. Jean Paul Satre wrote Nausea.

    However, the whole of the western world was overshadowed first by the rise of communism in Russia in 1917 to 1919 and then in China, and by the rise of Fascism in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The background of wounded German national pride coupled with the distress of the Depression provided ideal conditions for Hitler’s message to gain mass appeal in the first years of the 1930’s. Mussolini had already paved the way. In 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor by an aged von Hindenberg. The development of fascist control in Germany was swift, while Rolls-Royce was producing Bentleys for the first time:

    1933 the fire at the Reichstag was blamed on the communists, books by opposition elements and Jews were burnt, the first concentration camps were built. The Third Reich had begun. The Fascist/Falangist party was founded in Spain. Oswald Mosley had already founded the British Union of Fascists.

    Bentley Motors launched their Silent Sports Car in October 1933 at the Olympia Motor Show to widespread acclaim.

    1934 sees the Night of the Long Knives when Hitler’s opponents are murdered by the SS.

    1935 Hitler renounces the Treaty of Versailles and starts to rearm Germany. The Nuremberg Laws make Jews second class citizens and signal the start of their persecution. Italy invades Ethiopia to pursue Mussolini’s own territorial ambitions.

    1936 Jesse Owens wins four golds at the Berlin Olympics to the disgust of Hitler and German troops reoccupy the Rhineland. The Versailles Treaty is in tatters. Meanwhile Franco leads a rebellion in Spain at the head of the army against the Republican Government and so begins the Spanish Civil War.

    After having sold over 1,100 3½ litre cars in under three years, Bentley launched the revised 4¼ litre model.

    1937 volunteers travel to fight against Franco’s fascists in Spain and German planes bomb Guernica in support of Franco. Italy lends support, cementing the Rome-Berlin Axis treaty. Pablo Picasso paints his memorable picture as a memorial to the dead. The Nuremberg rally is held as an exhibition of Hitler’s power.

    1938 sees Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Germany. In September of that year Chamberlain signs the Munich Agreement with Hitler, Mussolini and France, ceding the Sudetenland part of Czechoslovakia to Germany, as appeasement. There are widespread and orchestrated riots against Jews in Germany, the Kristallnacht.

    Bentley launch the Overdrive model of the 4¼ litre car at the October ‘38 Motor Show in London.

    1939 by March, the rest of Czechoslovakia is occupied. In Spain Franco takes Barcelona and Madrid surrenders. Europe has by this time taken sides. When Poland is invaded on 1 September 1939, success of further appeasement is no longer credible and war is declared by Britain on Germany two days later on 3 September.

    The last of the 200 Overdrive Bentleys are being prepared for delivery to customers, while a new model, the Mk V is being readied for launch at the October 1939 London Motor Show. Rolls-Royce is developing with Vanvooren in Paris the Corniche variant, a lightweight aerodynamic saloon, designed by Paulin after his radical design for the Embiricos Bentley. Crashed twice while on test in France, the repaired Corniche body was destroyed by enemy action at Dieppe on its way back to Derby, to be reunited with the chassis. There was no London Motor Show in 1939.

    In Britain, while Coalition Governments alternated leadership between Ramsay MacDonald (31-35), Stanley Baldwin (35-37) and Neville Chamberlain (37-40), George V died in 1936, to be succeeded by Edward VIII, who then abdicated and a reluctant George VI was crowned in his place. Luxury motor cars were being sold in the UK not only by Bentley but also by other British manufacturers such as Rolls- Royce (their Phantom II and III, and their 20/25 and 25/30 and Wraith), by Daimler, Alvis, and Lagonda. From France came cars by Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye and Hispano-Suiza. In Germany cars by Mercedes, Maybach (and perhaps Horch) and in Italy by Alfa Romeo and Isotta Fraschini provided comparison and competition. Despite the Depression which claimed WO Bentley’s company after it launched the 8 litre in 1930, in all these countries and elsewhere around the world were customers for cars that in today’s terms would cost between £200,000 – £400,000. These were bespoke hand-built tours de force for a section of society which wanted and could still afford the best, from wealth of royalty and nobility by inheritance; wealth from success in business, particularly in the context of Britain and its Empire; and wealth from the world of the arts and entertainment.

    One can only guess that there remained either optimism about the future in the face of the uncertainties provided by developments in Europe; ignorance of the nature of those events; or a fatalism or hedonism that demanded the enjoyment of the best while it was available and could be afforded; or a combination of several of such attitudes. There must also have been an ability to pursue the conspicuously opulent lifestyle demonstrated by such vehicles when poverty was prevalent in such measure during and after the Depression. A gulf of privilege between the classes was more accepted in the UK in the 1930s than can be readily countenanced by those conditioned by social mores of the post-1945 period. To 21st Century eyes, 75 years later, the Derby Bentley seen in its historical context can therefore be fascinating by reason of the alien nature of that context.

    As Churchill might have said, some context, some car!

    What a legacy for us today!