1923 3-litre Bentley No. 276: A short history

I'm neither the owner of the car, not a Bentley historian, so please excuse any inaccuracies that may have crept in to the brief history laid out here: it is my best attempt with the information available to me at the moment.

Three-litre Bentley chassis number 276 is an original Australian-delivered car, first owned by Mr. Massey Burnside in Adelaide, South Australia. It left the factory in June 1923 fitted with engine number 285 and a four seater Vanden Plas body number 3262, both of which are still fitted to the car. I am not sure how many three litre cars preceded it to Australia, but it is certainly among the earliest cars to survive here.

The Bentley Drivers Club of Australia, of which the present custodian was a foundation member and later made a Life Member, knows of at least two other owners: Mr. Don Dow and Mr. Peter D'Abbs.

The photograph and short article below is from Australian Motor Racing Yearbook 1950-51, published by Motor Manual and edited by Theo Van Alkemade. The photograph dates from the D'Abbs period of ownership; it is not know when the car acquired the 21" wheels and the braked front axle. During its most recent renovation, the 21" wheels, on the car when acquired by the present custodian, were replaced with 880-120 beaded edge tyres and rims, and the car is now fitted with a brakeless front axle (see below).

aust-motor-racing-1951.jpg (64225 bytes)

Amongst the series of photographs taken at the same time as the one above there is one of a cravatted Peter D'Abbs sitting at the wheel of the car. D’Abbs was one of the leading motoring and motor racing photographers in Victoria during the 1950s and up to mid 1960s, and clearly he had an eye for a handsome motor car. It is likely that the present custodian bought the car from Peter D'Abbs, if indirectly. Bill Dobson was a member of the Preston MCC and raced Douglas motorcycles. Just after the war he had a garage on Park Hill Rd, Kew, (near the cemetery) where he did some work on vintage cars. One Saturday morning in the early 1950s the present custodian saw the Peter D'Abbs 3-litre Bentley at Bill Dobson's, and instantly fell in love with it. After some negotiation he was able to buy the car; his recollection was that the owner at the time of purchase was Peter D'Abbs, although Bill Dobson acted as an intermediary.

The following snapshots show the car in the condition in which it was acquired:

bentley-three-litre-01.jpg (49274 bytes)


bentley-three-litre-02.jpg (58347 bytes)

An interesting discussion has arisen regarding the front axle of the car. One of the photographs from the D'Abbs period, as well as one of the later snapshots, clearly show the car fitted with a braked front axle, albeit without the mechanism to render the brakes useable. The current custodian's best recollection is that he bought the car with an unbraked front axle, but he does recall the car fitted with a braked front axle, without the brake actuating mechanism attached. Although he thought he might use the car like this, he fairly quickly changed his mind and either fitted an unbraked axle, or refitted the unbraked axle that came with the car - in his 90th year his memories of 60+ years ago are not too fresh. Can anyone suggest where a chassis number might be stamped on an unbraked Bentley axle? If we can find a number perhaps this issue can be resolved.

Shortly (probably only months) after acquiring the ex-D'Abbs 3 litre car, another Bentley was purchased to share the garage: this time an an accident-damaged 4 litre car. Since damage to the 4 was mostly confined to the body, the Vanden Plas 'Sporting Four Seater' body was lifted from the 3 litre car, repainted cream, and fitted to the 4. The result, shown in the photograph below, is a car that was used for a number of years as a daily drive, as well as for vintage car events.

Please note that this car is the 4 fitted with the body from the 3 litre, not the complete 3-litre car that is on offer here.

bentley-four-and-half.jpg (52278 bytes)

The three litre car has not been on the road since its body was removed and fitted to the 4 in the early 1950s.

Before the 4 was sold the body was removed and refitted to the 3 litre chassis on which it was delivered in 1923. At least three of the floorboards carry the Vanden Plas body number 3262 (see photographs), which correspond to the following entry in the Vanden Plas register:

3262 Bentley 3 litre; 276; Sporting 4-seater; Scratched aluminium and Green

Also of note in the photograph of the 4 is the Victorian registration number Vic. 1.170. This number was acquired from "the Godfrey Bentley" - another Melbourne-based three litre that famously carried around some rather oversized coachwork. The registration number 1.170, having already done time on two vintage Bentleys, was also transferred to the three litre car when the 4 was sold.

The number 1.170 is NOT for sale with the car, but should the car remain in Victoria negotiation may be possible.

Leon Mitchell
25 April 2013


3 litre Bentley 1923

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