What Makes the 1937 ‘Derby Bentley’ So Special?

Billed as the ‘Silent Sports Car’ thanks to its ultra-smooth six-cylinder engine and full-syncromesh gearbox, which made it far more refined than other sports machines of the era, the ‘Derby Bentley‘ is one of the most desirable icons of 1930s motoring. All of them were built at the Rolls-Royce works in Derby between 1933 and 1940, following the company’s purchase of Bentley from receivership in 1931. There were three main variants: the 3 1/2 Litre, the 4 1/4 Litre and the 4 1/4 Litre Overdrive. A total of 2422 Derby Bentleys were made before World War Two stopped production.

The car was the first of many Bentleys to be produced under the ownership of Rolls-Royce, alongside the latter company’s 20/25 and 25/30 cars, from which the Derby Bentley was developed. The Bentley models had considerably more powerful engines than their cousins, though, plus a lower and lighter chassis. They always came with sports car bodies, too. Each chassis and engine was built at Rolls-Royce, and these were then delivered to a coachbuilder of the customer’s choice for coachwork to be created to a personal specification. This was an era in which the best motor manufacturers still supplied chassis only, providing suitable platforms for the coachbuilders to make highly personalised cars. 

Of the 2422 Derby Bentleys built, around 45 percent were bodied by Park Ward, including this one pictured at the Hampton Court Concours of Elegance in 2020. These smaller-volume models are highly sought after today, and this wonderful Vanden Plas-bodied example is one of supposedly only 11 made by the London-based coachbuilder. 

Chassis no. B98 LS is totally original. It has not had restoration work, nor to the owners’ knowledge has its engine ever been dismantled. The paintwork is all authentic except for repairs to the wings, while the leather trim, hood and tonneau are all original from new, giving this example a unique and wonderful patina. The Bentley Vanden Plas has been thoroughly maintained and drives beautifully. It has been in the ownership of the same family for 39 years, and is arguably the best-preserved and most original Derby Bentley with a Vanden Plas body in existence.

ENGINE

4.25-litre, straight-six, twin SU carburettors, 125bhp

CONFIGURATION

Front engine, four-speed manual transmission with full syncromesh, rear-wheel drive, frame chassis with leaf springs and solid axles, hydraulic brakes.

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