Meet ‘Mr Fred’, one of only two 4 1/2 Litre drophead sports coupés still in existence with bodywork by Salmons & Sons, the legendary Newport Pagnell coachworks that was to become the home of Aston Martin. What’s more, this beautiful 1928 aluminium-bodied automobile was the personal car of company owner Mr Fred Salmons – giving rise to its affectionate name. I was fortunate enough to see and picture this beautiful Bentley at the Concours of Elegance in 2020.
Founded in Buckinghamshire in 1830 by Joseph Salmons, the coachworks progressed from creating high-quality horse-drawn coaches and dog carts to bodying some of the earliest and finest cars for all makes of automobile chassis from 1898 onward. Its bespoke workmanship was much coveted, and by the 1920s a steady flow of well-heeled customers came through its showrooms in London’s West End.
Fred Salmons chose OX 8415 as his personal car, acquiring the 4 1/2 Litre from the first owner while it was still under the Bentley Motors guarantee. He bodied it with this lightweight coachwork in 1932 – the same year in which he competed in the world-famous Monte Carlo Rally with Dr Morris.
Despite his company’s success, Fred Salmons remained a grounded industrialist. He was often on the shop floor, and insisted on never being called Mr Salmons. Indeed, he was known in the works as Mr Fred; a moniker his Bentley inherited. Salmons the company was acquired by Aston Martin in 1955 primarily for its aluminium-panelling expertise, which would play a key role in the prestigious sports car marque’s success over the coming years.
This 4 1/2 Litre’s front wings are a wonderful example of the type of elegance and form in aluminium for which Salmons was known, while its distinctive mother of pearl instrument panel is a thing of delicate beauty.
In later life, after spending ten years in America, Mr Fred the drophead sports coupé was returned to England, and in the 1980s it was sent back to the original Salmons building in Newport Pagnell for restoration. This time, however, it was under the auspices of the Aston Martin Works restoration department, which renovated the Bentley to as-new condition.
4.5-litre, four-cylinder, 110bhp, OHC
Front-engine, four-speed manual transmission, no synchromesh, rear-wheel drive, separate chassis, semi-elliptic springs front and rear, drum brakes all round