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1927 Bentley 3 Litre Speed Model

Sports Two-seater Coachwork by Corsica

  • Formerly the property of Lieutenant-Commander – DFC – Christopher Charles Tomkinson & Darrell Berthon – both early stalwarts of the Bentley Drivers Club
  • Raced & rallied by Tomkinson & Berthon in the UK throughout the 1930’s
  • Expertly restored & with utmost sympathy by William Medcalf Vintage Bentley
  • Engine rebuilt to 4.7 Litre spec & carefully upgraded for vintage rallying
  • Available with supporting Clare Hay report, restoration records & historical documentation – an unrepeatable W.O. Bentley

This 3 Litre Speed Model was first registered as ‘TD 8966’ on chassis number ‘BL1604’ in April 1927 and delivered to Miss Jessie Kerr Waddell of Lancashire. Fitted with one-off three-seater ‘cloverleaf’ bodywork by Vanden Plas.

By the mid-1930’s ‘TD 8966’ had been acquired by early Bentley Drivers Club member, Mr S.A.M ‘Stanley’ Bartlett whom in his application to join the BDC had listed his Bentley (‘TD 8966’) as a two-seater sports model. Famed Bentley specialists, McKenzies Garage, London had rebuilt ‘TD 8966’ on a 3 Litre chassis – number ‘DN1731’ – the chassis it retains to this day. London coachbuilder Corsica were responsible for the stylish replacement two-seater body which included ‘helmet’ wings, the Bentley was duly painted black. Other notable work carried out by McKenzies included the fitment of a ‘D’ type gearbox from chassis number ‘SM3901’ – the first ever production ‘Blower’ Bentley.

By 1938, ‘TD 8966’ had passed into the ownership of Christopher Tomkinson who would keenly race and rally the Bentley at events including Donington Park, the RAC Rally in 1939 and numerous BDC races. Tomkinson was a close friend of fellow Bentley owner, Darrell Berthon who coincidentally was also well known within the BDC and later became the club’s secretary. Both Tomkinson and Berthon saw active service in the war, and it is believed that they had a gentleman’s agreement that should either one of them not return from war that the other would inherit his Bentley. Tragically in 1945, the Vought-Corsair aircraft Lieutenant-Commander Tomkinson was flying during Operation Iceberg over Eastern waters suffered damage from ground fire, and the Vought-Corsair crashed into the sea, Tomkinson was never recovered. Berthon duly became the next custodian of ‘TD 8966’ and his wife, Barbara, continued to race and rally the 3 Litre. Touchingly the Berthon’s donated the ‘Christopher Tomkinson Memorial Trophy’ to the Bentley Drivers Club and the trophy is still awarded annually by the club to this day.

In 1956, David Cleaton-Roberts of Richmond, Surrey, bought the Bentley and entered both the Stapleford hill climb and Brighton Speed trials – a copy of Cleaton-Roberts’ certificate from Brighton is contained within the history file. Cleaton-Roberts would keep possession of the 3 Litre for some 49 years alongside his 8 Litre Bentley and 4 ½ Litre Bentley. There are numerous invoices and letters addressed to Cleaton-Roberts which document his ongoing maintenance and ownership within the file for the car.

In 2005, the auction house, Christie’s, consigned ‘TD 8966’ to their December sale and the Bentley was featured on the cover of the catalogue in remarkable original condition – bar the fitment of cycle wings (fitted by McKenzies Garage in 1956) in favour of the handsome Corsica helmet wings and hydraulic brakes. Mr Adrian Parker purchased the 3 Litre from the Christie’s sale and went about contacting previous owners; Cleaton-Roberts and the Berthon family to research more about the Bentley and was kindly given various parts and documentation for the car. The 3 Litre remained largely untouched during Parkers twelve-year ownership with attention paid to just a few areas until he consigned the Bentley to a Bonhams auction held at the Goodwood Revival in 2017.

Fortunately, ‘TD 8966’ found the right home and was spared a ghastly restoration in favour of a sympathetic re-build by renowned W.O. Bentley experts William Medcalf Vintage Bentley. It was agreed that the car would be stripped back to a bare chassis and mechanically rebuilt whilst keeping as many original parts as possible but left aesthetically as how it arrived from the auction room, with no external body repairs or paintwork unless essential. The handsome Corsica helmet wings would be remade to replace the non-original cycle wings and the engine would be rebuilt and converted from 3 Litre to 4.7 Litre specification to suit the requirements of the new owner who wished to use ‘TD 8966’ as a fast road car and to take part in the occasional vintage rally.

During the re-build the following items were attended to;

-Removal of the body from the chassis – at no time was the dashboard removed from the body (the temperature gauge and wiring were disconnected).

-Rolling chassis stripped, with items bagged and labelled.

-The engine, gearbox and rear differential were removed as complete units.

-The chassis was media blasted, inspected, etch primed, geometrically assessed, and then hand painted to keep its original appearance.

-Rear axle disassembled and steam cleaned.

-The gearbox was stripped and rebuilt using the original gearset (from the first Blower Bentley) and the rear differential was rebuilt using new components and to 3:1 ratio.

-The engine was converted from a 3 Litre to a 4.7 Litre as follows; New steel crankshaft, Custom con rods, 4 ½ Litre block, bored and honed to +20, Competition pistons, Billet aluminium mains caps, New shell bearings, 1:1 oil pump rebuilt, New water pump fitted with ceramic seal, Original ‘sloper’ carburettors and inlet manifold overhauled, Turret assembly rebuilt with new cross shaft gears and located top bevel assembly, New 3” blower exhaust manifold, Existing coils refitted with automatic advance / retard & a Lightweight flywheel.

-A new 3” diameter exhaust system was fabricated and fitted.

-The rebuilt engine was run on a dynamometer for 8 hours prior to being refitted.

-The steering box was stripped and overhauled using 4 ½ Litre spec steering gears.

-The braking system was reinstalled with new brake drums and hubs. Perrot shaft assemblies were renewed, and brake shoes were relined.

-New road springs and bushes were fitted, axels remounted, and rally specification half shafts were installed.

-A 4 ½ Litre specification fuel tank was sourced with the original components swapped over from the original tank and then brush painted.

-Some minor repairs to the wood of the body at the rear wheel arches was carried out.

-Shock absorbers rebuilt.

-A new radiator with interleaf core was installed.

-A full re-wire was carried out and the overhauled dynamo and original 2-point fuse box was retained.

-The only modern addition has been the fitment of a Monit rally trip meter and a useful 12v socket including a USB outlet hidden under the dashboard.

-The interior has been retrimmed in black leather (the original was beyond repair) and new carpets have been fitted. A dual tonneau and a new hood have also been fitted to the original hood mechanism.

This entire rebuild has been carefully documented through photo books, videos and invoices with paramount attention being paid to retaining as much originality as possible without detriment to the reliability of the Bentley. The resulting work has proved faultless with trouble free runs on the Shamrock Rally, Carrera Iberia, and the Carrera Italia rallies.

In October 2021, the Bentley benefitted from a service which included new fluids, filters and spark plugs along with a new set of Blockley tyres before being fully detailed upon its arrival at Henderson Fellowes.

Many original parts accompany ‘TD 8966’ including; a McKenzies Garage stamped engine block, original fuel tank, radiator, seats and interim fitted cycle wings. W.O. Bentley authority, Clare Hay, has inspected ‘TD 8966’ and a copy of her inspection report is contained within the file.

Photo Credit: Riiko-Andre Nuud, Riiko Photo

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