1923 3-litre Bentley

Perhaps it's best to start with a disclaimer: I'm not a vintage Bentley expert, but rather an enthusiast with reasonable knowledge of things vintage. I'm helping out with the disposal of this car in an unpaid capacity. My approach is to try to describe the vehicle as accurately as possible, and to answer any questions to the best of my ability. It is possible that I might make a mistake or two in this process; for any such mistakes I apologise in advance but accept no responsibility. Before acquiring the car, it will be your responsibility to ensure that it is as described. No warranty will be given.


The car was acquired by the present custodian in the early 1950s. Although the purchase proceeded through Bill Dobson, it is believed that the owner at the time was Peter D'Abbs. After purchase the car was used on the road for only a short period of time; perhaps a few months. The Vanden Plas body from the car was then transferred to a 4 1/2 litre Bentley that was used for many years as daily transport and for vintage vehicle events. At this time the body was painted cream. Before the sale of the 4 1/2 litre car, the body was returned to the 3 litre chassis on which it was acquired.

Chassis Number: The chassis number 276 has been located stamped on the left side of the front cross member, the bonnet hinges, and the Smiths switch panel. The steering box carries a number which is close to but different from the chassis number of the car (278 I recall). A Bentley expert has told me that he believes that it is possible that the car left the factory with this steering box. The custodian has no recollection of the steering box being changed during the 60 years the car has been in his possession.

Engine Number: The engine number 285 (originally fitted to chassis 276 according to various Bentley records) is stamped on the left rear of the crank case and also on the front bevel housing between the magnetos.

Vanden Plas Body Number: The body number 3262 is stamped under at least three of the floor boards. To date it has not been located elsewhere on the body, but it may be revealed by cleaning. The book on Vanden Plas lists body 3262 as "Bentley 3 litre; 276; Sporting 4-seater; Scratched aluminium and green". Despite the time spent on the 4 chassis, this body is the one fitted to the car when it was acquired in the early 1950s, and, from the body number, is the body fitted when it left the factory in 1923.


Earlier this year (2013) I spent about 4 hours with a Bentley expert, familiar with restoration of vintage Bentleys, going over the car paying particular attention to completeness. At the end of this exercise the car was deemed to be "essentially complete", with only a small number of "nuts and bolts" type items obviously unaccounted for. These my yet be present in the shed.

Parts not present in the photographs, but neatly stacked on a shelf and included with the car:

  • Radiator (in excellent order, believed ready to fit)
  • Bonnet (aluminium, numbered 276, painted green, seems straight and solid)
  • Two magnetos (reconditioned)
  • Starter motor and drive gears (reconditioned, new gears)
  • Smiths carburettors (the original plus another identical)
  • Exhaust manifold, exhaust pipe flanges, original muffler parts (endcaps etc.)
  • Water gallery pipes
  • Smiths switch panel with chassis number 276; miscellaneous dash items
  • Pair of front seats, upholstered in red, useable as is
  • Seat rails
  • Hood and hood bows
  • Head lamps (Lucas) and running lights
  • Crank handle and fittings
  • Drive from rear of camshaft to reconditioned Smiths generator
  • Drive from front of camshaft to tachometer (includes 90-degree gearbox)
  • And more; please ask

Parts possibly missing

  • One magneto drive block (easily copied from the one that is there)
  • Smiths tachometer (likely not present when car was acquired; Jaeger available)
  • Some exhaust pipe bends are present, but other parts to be remanufactured
  • Various small parts: e.g. acorn nuts for water gallery
  • If any other part is missing, all reasonable attempts will be made to locate it in the shed!

Restoration completed

The current custodian began restoration of the car when he retired after a lifetime working on other people's vintage and thoroughbred cars. The restoration has a strong focus on originality, and the work was carried out with passion and the desire to give the car "the restoration it deserved". To some extent the restoration could be deemed "old school", eschewing recent trends to use remanufactured parts in the place of genuine Bentley items. A marvellous example of this is that the universal joints in the drive train have been carefully rebuilt as original, rather that adapting modern components as is the norm in the majority of restorations. The same philosophy is seen elsewhere in the restoration: the motor uses fully reconditioned Bentley parts throughout. All elements of the motor, drive-train, suspension, steering and brakes have been completely restored. The major electrical components - two magnetos, fire-wall-mounted Smiths generator and starter motor - have also been rebuilt.

By the time of the D'Abbs ownership c1950 the car was was fitted with "modern" 21" rims and tyres. These have been replaced with wheels and tyres more in keeping with an early car such as this: the four road wheels and the spare are now fitted with 880-120 beaded edge rims and tyres.

The paint and plating on the restored part of the car is serviceable rather than stunning; perhaps much as it was when the car left the factory in 1923. Enthusiasts in search of mirror finish coatings will have to allow for refinishing; or perhaps better to ponder just what it is about an early vintage Bentley that provides its allure. I suspect it's not the paint, as even in its present state this car has a captivating charm that was obviously there in the early 1920s and remains there today. I'm not sure where the Bentley Zeitgeist resides, but it is present in bucketloads in this car.

Study the photographs in a quiet, semi-dark room. You'll know you understand the car when all thoughts of two-pack have gone, and you're beginning to wonder how the body would look in hand-brushed satin-gloss enamel...

If the restorer's numerous other efforts are any indication, the mechanical part of the chassis should provide many years of reliable motoring at vintage touring speeds.

Leon Mitchell
22 April 2013

3 litre Bentley 1923

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