A Rough Guide to Bentley Identification

Derby Bentleys

After the sale in 1931 of the Bentley company to Rolls Royce, three new Bentleys in succession were designed and produced at the latter's factory in Derby. Production of the WO models for which there were outstanding orders were completed. The Cricklewook factory closed in 1932.

The common factor in the ethos of Bentley and Rolls Royce was reliability, achieved by high quality of design and manufacture. They diverged with respect to purpose: Bentley was driven by a desire to win races; Royce was more interested in selling cars to the rich and famous. He acquired Bentley Motors primarily to kill off the 8 litre, which he saw as serious competition for his Phantom II. He also saw an opportunity to add a range of sports cars to his porfolio and the reputation of Bentley for quality of design and manufacture meshed with RR's.

Accordingly, the Derby Bentleys were marketed as "The Silent Sports Car", presumably to appeal to the sons and daughters of the rich and famous who might themselves be chauffeured around in RR Phantoms.

Many of the surviving Derby Bentleys still have either their original coachwork or new or refurbished bodies in keeping with 1930s motor cars. So if you see a Bentley with closed coachwork, a chrome-vaned radiator and a beam axle at the front, it is quite likely to be a Derby car. A glance at the wheel hub will serve to confirm the identification (see picture below).

Rolls Royce still supplied rolling chassis to coachbuilders of the owners' choice or to dealerships prepared to have bodies made for immediate sale to customers. About half of the Derby cars had their first bodies from Park Ward.

Three models were made in succession: a 3½ litre, a 4¼ litre (enlarged from the 3½) and a Mark V, of which only a handful was made because of the intervention of the second World War. The 3½ engine was a development of the Rolls Royce 20/25 engine; the 4¼ was an enlarged version of the 3½. The Mark V was a completely new car, with a redesigned 4¼ engine amongst other new developments.

3½ and 4¼ Derby Bentleys

A Derby 3½ litre.

The centre-locking wheel nuts of the Derby cars are a Rolls Royce (octagonal) design and serve to distinguish Derbys from W O cars, which had eared spinners and small octagonal dust caps. Radiator shells are chromed and vaned, the vanes being connected to a thermostatic device that opens them as the coolant's temperature increases. Both 3½ and 4¼ cars have a beam axles at the front, which can be discerned in this photograph.

A Derby 4¼ litre. These are not readily distinguishable from 3½s.
Tony Martinez writes: "With respect to the Derby models, the early 3.5 had the front axle tiebar above the shroud, 4.25 models tend to have more rounded bodywork especially those made by PW [Park Ward] that pioneered steel frame as opposed to wood. Many 4.25 used "ACE" sidelamps, and nearly all had a bob weight fitted to the front brake drums to counteract the twisting action of the powerful brakes."

These pictures show the front axle tiebar above the shroud of an early Bentley 3½ and a 20/25 Rolls Royce respectively,
which illustrates the ancestry of the Derby Bentleys.

The following pictures show Bentley and Rolls Royce hub designs typical of the "Derby" era.

For comparison, this picture shows a hub typical of a Cricklewood car.
The finish may be nickel, chrome or black.

Mark V

You will be very lucky to see a Mark V, as only about a dozen were made before WW II curtailed production. Both engine and chassis were redesigned; particularly significant was the introduction of independent front suspension. The Mk V production included the ill-fated "Corniche", with aerodynamic bodywork, which was destroyed in an air raid on Dieppe. I have yet to photograph a Mk V.

There is little point in displaying more pictures here, as the distinguishing features of the Derby cars are evident from the above and much better galleries than mine exist elsewhere on the web.
These web sites have photographs of a wide variety of Derby Bentleys:

The Coachbuilders Encyclopedia is also a good source of information, though it is not at all Bentley-specific.

Back to Vintage Bentleys
Next: Crewe Bentleys - Mk VI to S type

July 2013