Few people will not have noticed it: Bentley was founded 100 years ago. Attention is paid to this at numerous events and in magazines and newspapers. So do we, but in our way. We focus at the most expensive Bentley cars sold at auctions and also address a shift in the interest of Bentley enthousiasts. But first of all a brief history of the brand, which was founded by Walter Owen Bentley.
Walter Owen Bentley started selling cars of the French brand DFP just before the First World War. To encourage sales, his cars took part in competitions and tried to improve the performance of the cars. Shortly after the war the car trade experienced a big boom and in 1919 Bentley decided to make his own cars and founded Bentley Motors. He established his company in Cricklewood. The 3-liter appeared in the same year. Because it took time before the cars could be put into production, it took until 1921 before the 3-Liter was ready for sale. Soon Bentleys successfully participated in hill climbs and races at Brooklands. After achieving fourth place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1923, the brand triumphed in this race in 1924. Partly due to that success, more than 400 Bentley 3-Liters were sold in that year. To cater for customers who wanted fast, comfortable cars, Bentley decided to develop the six-cylinder 6.5-liter. Other models that appeared afterwards were the four-cylinder 4.5-Liter, the 4.5-Liter “Blower”, the Speed Six and the six-cylinder 8-Liter.
Thanks to participation in competitions and the successes achieved in them, Le Mans was written in the name of Bentley five times, Bentley’s reputation increased. The often wealthy owners who took part in competitions with their cars were called the “Bentley Boys”. The most famous are Woolf “Babe” Barnato and Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin. Barnato won the Le Mans 24 Hours three times and Birkin developed the Blower Bentley. Yet all the successes in competitions and the sale of cars could not prevent the factory from being constantly financially weak. When the global economic crisis broke out in 1929, the company got it increasingly difficult. In 1931 the factory was sold to Rolls-Royce and the period of W.O Bentley period in Cricklewood came to an end.
Due to the success of the Bentley cars in competitions in the 1920s, enthusiasts remained interested in the old cars of W.O. Bentley. In particular, the rarest of them, the cars that had participated in Le Mans and the Blower Bentleys, were highly souhgt after throughout the years. These cars also became increasingly expensive. Below is a list of the 15 most expensive WCO. Bentley cars sold at auctions.
A few comments must be made. Obviously, many more rare Bentley cars have been traded in recent decades that are not mentioned in this list. This is because the list could only include auctioned cars, of which the sales results are known. It can not list the cars sold by well-known dealers. We are aware that a result of that, only part of the most expensive Bentley cars could be included in the list.
Not included: the Speed Six “Blue Train”.
Not included: 4.5-Litre Blower ex-Company Demonstrater, auctioned by Coys in 1994 for £385,000.
Another point is that some cars were auctioned a long time ago, when cars were sold for less high amounts. For example, in December 1984, Sotheby’s auctioned the Gurney Nutting Bentley Speed Six “Blue Train” Coupe for £ 270,000. This was at the time a new world record for a Bentley. Adjusted for inflation, it was nearly £ 875,000. The car was not sold at auction again in later years. There for the car does not appear in the list below. However, had this Bentley been sold at an auction in recent years, it would have been in the top fifteen. This also applies to the 4.5-Liter Blower Vanden Plas Tourer that Coys auctioned for only £288,000 in May 1988 (now £771,184), the 4.5 Liter Blower Vanden Plas Tourer, ex Company Demonstrator that Sotheby’s auctioned for £385,000 in May 1994 (now £748,622) and the 4.5 Liter Blower Racing two-seater Vanden Plas, ex Tim Birkin, that Brooks auctioned in June 1999 for £285,000 (now £478,800). All these cars are missing and so the list looks like this:
Top 15 W.O. Bentley:
15: 1932 8-Litre Open Tourer by Vanden Plas (YX5118)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,369,000
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,303,900
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,705,000
Auction: 08-2016 RM Sotheby’s
This is one of 35 short chassis Bentley 8-Liters. Few unsold, complete, not-yet-bodied chassis were sold to dealers, after the Rolls-Royce take over. This was one of them. The Bentley was sold to Sir Everard Talbot Scarisbrick in Lancashire, having a four-passanger Open Tourer body by Mayfair. It was later sold to Mr. J.C Babcock in London, who had a new, modern coachwork made by Vanden Plas in 1938. To rebody a chassis in later years was not uncommon in those days. This is the reason this car looks more modern than other W.O. Bentley cars. At the time the Bentley was auctioned in 2016, it had only had five previous owners.
14: 1931 8-Litre Open Tourer by Harrison (YR5076)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,456,750
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,103,600
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $2,200,000
Auction: 03-2008 RM Sotheby’s
Only one hundred copies were made of the Bentley 8-liter. And of those, only sixteen had an open body. That were six Drophead Coupes and ten Open Tourers. The coachwork of this Bentley is original and made by the British coachbuilder R. Harrison and Son. The 8-Liter was delivered to Mr. W.B. Henderson of Somerset. The car was shipped to the United States in 1953 and returned to the United Kingdom for several years in 1995. In 2006 the car was back in the United States. The Bentley was auctioned at Pebble Beach in August 2008 for more than a million pounds and is listed with this amount in this list. Two years later, in October 2010, the car was again sold by RM Sotheby’s, this time at the London auction. The car then yielded less, it was £756,000.
13: 1929 4.5-Litre Open Tourer by Vanden Plas (KL3584)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,608,200
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,386,400
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $2,145,000
Auction: 01-2012 Gooding & Company
After the 3-Liter, the Bentley 4.5 Liter is the most produced model of W.O. Bentley. Equipped with a light open body, it was a formidable participant in competitions. But at the same time, the car could also be fitted with a comfortable closed body and offer passengers comfort and speed. This Bentley, with a comfortable open body by Vanden Plas, was sold to Capt. P.R. Sold Astley of Portland Place. Later this car went to the United States. In March 1995, Christie’s auctioned the Bentley for $365,500 or £215,650 (now adjusted to inflation £407,600). The car has an original bodywork by Vanden Plas, a specific model the company didn’t make much of. Both factors largely determined the value of this car. The value increased to £1,3 million at the auction in 2012. Four times more than in 1995.
12: 1931 8-Litre Coupe by Gurney Nutting (YR5088)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,978,800
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,815,400
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $2,956,00
Auction: 02-2014 Artcurial
Introduced to the public at the 1930 London Motor show, the Bentley 8-Litre was at that time the biggest-engine car made in the United Kingdom. Having a closed coachwork, it was capable of reaching a speed of 100 mph. This car was made for the wealthy Scotsman Mr. John Moller. The car survived having its original coachwork. After restorarion the Bentley won several Concours d’Elegance in the 80s and 90s. In the past twenty years, the Bentley has been auctioned for three times. In July 1999 Christie’s auctioned the car for £278,800. Seven year later it was sold by RM Sotheby’s at an auction in March 2006 for $ 1,485,000 (at the time £ 849,600). The car doubled in value at the auction of Artcurial in February 2014, as it was sold for more than £1.8 million.
11: 1931 4.5-Litre Blower Open Tourer in style of Vanden Plas (SM3925)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £2,017,500
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £2,017,500
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $2,654,600
Auction: 07-2018 Bonhams
The Bentley 4.5-Litre Blower is one of the most sought after models. Only 50 were made. This Bentley was sold new to Mr. Terence Byron having a Saloon coachwork made by Freestone & Webb. In 1935, after an accident, the car returned to Bentley Motors for repairs. Like many other Bentley cars, in time the car later lost its original coachwork, engine and other parts. In the 80’s a project was started to return the car in it’s former glory. The Bentley now has the original engine a period chassis and an original supercharger. The coachwork is in Vanden Plas Team Car-Style and the car is accepted as one of the 50 “Blower” Bentleys. This is the most recent auctioned car in the list.
10: 1929 Speed Six Grafton Coupe by Freestone & Webb (FR2630)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £2,050,000
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,830,400
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $2,860,000
Auction: 08-2013 Gooding and Company
To increase the winning possibilities in competitions, the Bentley Speed Six was more powerful than the 4.5-Litre (and the standard 6.5-Litre). The Speed Six took victories at Le Mans in 1929 and 1930 and many others at Brooklands. (See car number 3 in this list.) Although the Speed Six was very successful in races, most cars produced (182 in total) were fast road-going vehicles having closed coachwork. Only a few were orginally supplied having an open coachwork. After the war, many had the original body removed and were fitted with a replica Vanden Plas Open Tourer body. Therefor a Speed Six having the original closed coachwork is now very rare. This Speed Six Grafton Coupe is highly original and therefor very rare.
9: 1928 4.5-Litre Open Tourer by Vanden Plas (MF3153)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £2,064,000
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,842,900
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $2,750,000
Auction: 03-2013 Gooding and Company
This Bentley 4.5-Litre was delivered new in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It had a coachwork made by Vanden Plas, this open Sports Four-Seater. To make it light, the Weymann patent was used. After a year, the car returned to the United Kingdom and was given a significant upgrade. The 4.5-Litre was fitted with many Le Mans-specifications, including the Le Mans-type petrol tank with quick-release cap and quick-release radiator cap. But also an upgraded crankcase and crankshaft. After the year 2000 the car was restored. Althouth this Bentley did not have much racing provenance like some others, it was factory upgraded. That made it very attractive and a good alternative for those, far more expensive cars.
8: 1931 4.5-Litre Blower sports two seater in style of Vanden Plas (MS3929)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £2,741,150
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £2,565,600
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $4,015,000
Auction: 08-2015 RM Sotheby’s
This 1931 Blower Bentley was delivered new having a four-passenger Tourer body made by Vanden Plas. Although the car now looks very different, the original coachwork still exists. This attractive body was made in the early 90’s. It is a copy of the sports two seater Vanden Plas made for another Blower Bentley, that participated in the 1929 500 Miles Race at Brooklands (number 1 in this list). The original Vanden Plas was auctioned together with the car. At the time the car was auctioned, it had been in the possession of the same owner for almost 30 years. This Blower Bentley also has the original chassis, engine, gearbox and blower. For that reason and due to the presence of the original coachwork, this is a rare car. The Bentley was auctioned in 2015 for £2.5 million.
7: 1930 4.5-Litre Blower two seater by Gurney Nutting, ex Barnato (SM3909)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £2,867,700
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,210,000
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $2,325,500
Auction: 12-1990 Sotheby’s
This Bentley is one of the first 25 production Blower Bentleys. The car was delivered new to Woolf Barnato in July 1930. The sporty boattail body was made by Gurney Nutting. In a declining market and a bad year for auction houses, Sotheby’s sold this Bentley in December 1990 for 1.2 million pounds. That was then a new world record for a Bentley. It broke the old auction record that Sotheby’s had set six years earlier with the Blue Train. Reportedly, the Blower was sold to Japan. Later the car went to the United States. Based on this design, two other, simpler boattails were made by Gurney Nutting. One of them is car number five in this list. Auctioned in 1990, this is the oldest sales result in the list.
6: 1930 Speed Six Sport Saloon by Corsica (HM2861)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £2,996,800
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £2,881,550
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $3,410,000
Auction: 08-2017 RM Sotheby’s
A 182 copies were made of the Bentley Speed Six. Most of them had closed coachwork. But nowadays, most chassis have a replica body. However, just like car number 10 in this list, this Speed Six has also retained the original coachwork. The Sport Saloon was made by Corsica. The first owner was J.W. Bealey of Little Minthurst Farm in Sussex. He bought the car in September 1930 via Jack Barclay of London. The Bentley went to Canada in the 1950s and the car was sold in the 1970s to a collector in the United States. After the year 2010, few Bentley Speed Six models were offered and sold at auctions. This is the most exensive Bentley having a closed body in this list.
5: 1931 4.5-Litre Blower Open Tourer by Gurney Nutting ‘The Green Hornet’ (SM3916)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £3,111,900
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £2,255,000
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $4,510,000
Auction: 08-2007 Gooding and Company
This Bentley Boattail was made after the example of the Boattail for Woolf Barnato, car number 7 in this list. Gurney Nutting later made two simpler ones. One was sold to the Dutchman Eddie Hertzbergen and this car no longer exists. The other is this one and it has the nickname “The Green Hornet”. The car still has the original chassis, blower and body. It’s one of only a the few unmolested and untouched blowers. The first owner of this car was S.B. Peck. He bought the Bentley in December 1931. The car was in the United States in the early 1950s and was given to Ann Klein. She nicknamed the car. In 2007 the car was auctioned by Gooding & Company, for the first time in nearly 60 years. The car was in most original condition and raised $ 4.5 million. In 2012 the car was returned to the auction house. Bidding then stopped at $ 7 million (then around £ 4.5 million), which was too little to be sold at auction.
4: 1931 4.5-Litre Blower 40’s Boattail Body (MS3944)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £3,3267,000
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £2,970,500
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $4,647,500
Auction: 08-2013 Bonhams
This 4.5 –Liter Blower is the fourth highest auctioned Bentley in this list. The first owner was Harry Leeson. He was a regular customer of the factory and ordered this Bentley Blower, made to Le Mans specifications. Only three of them were made. The car also had a lightweight Le Mans specification two door open four-seater Vanden Plas body. A year later, the car changed hands and went to the United States in the 1930s. The Canadian William K. Johnson bought the Bentley and he decided to install a different body. The car still has this boattail bodywork from the early 40s. In 1955 the car came into the possession of Charles R.J Noble and remained in the family’s possession for almost 60 years. When the Bentley was auctioned in 2013, the car still seemed to be in the same condition as in 1938.
3: 1930 Speed Six Open Tourer by Vanden Plas, original Team Car, Old Number 2 (HM2868)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £4,191,400
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £2,794,250
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $5,658,500
Auction: 07-2004 Christie’s
This Bentley is one of the most famous cars. It is a original Bentley Le Mans Works Team car and is known as Old Number 2. The car was made in 1930 especially for participation in Le Mans. In this race the car was driven by Dick Watney and Frank Clement. They finished in second place, behind Old Number 1. Prior to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Woolf Barnato and Frank Clement won the Brooklands Double Twelve with this car. The Bentley was sold to Mr. A.J. Stuart of London in the 1930s and sold again after a few months. After the war, the Bentley ended up in the United States. The car was later part of the Bill Lake collection. In July 2004, Christie’s auctioned this Bentley in France at the Le Mans Classic meeting for £ 2.7 million. It was a new auction record for a Bentley. The car then yielded more than double the next car in the list, coming from the same collection and sold at the same auction.
2: 1928 4.5-Litre Open Tourer by Vanden Plas, original Team Car (KM3088)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £4,470,500
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £3,853,850
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $6,050,000
Auction: 08-2012 Gooding and Company
This is one of the Bentley cars to which the factory owes its image. This car has participated twice in the 24 hours of Le Mans. The light body was made by Vanden Plas especially for participation in competitions. The cars having this special kind off coachwork are known as “Bobtails”. In 1928, Clement and Benjafield drove this car at Le Mans. It did not finish due to technical problems. In 1929, when Bentley registered a 1-2-3-4 victory, Benjafield and d’Erlanger finished third with this Bentley. The Works Bentley was sold in 1930. In 2004, Christie’s auctioned this car for over a million pounds. Adjusted for inflation, that was then “only” £1,641,700. The value increased to £3.8 million eight years later. The car was offered for sale again in 2017 by RM Sotheby’s at an estimate of $6.5 to $7.5 million, but did not sell.
1: 1929 4.5-Litre Blower Single Seater racer, ex Tim Birkin (HB3402)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £5,848,150
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £5,041,500
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $7,918,200
Auction: 06-2012 Bonhams
This Blower Bentley was Great Britain’s fastest track racing car of it’s time. It was a multiple Brooklands race winner and holder of the Outer Circuit lap record. Alongside the Blower Bentley road-racing endurance sports cars, Tim Birkin had this special track-racing car developed. The car took part in races at Brooklands for the first time in 1929. Equipped with this new, aluminum body, Birkin raced at the Brooklands Meeting in 1930. As Birkin won the race, it was the first race victory achieved by a Blower Bentley. During the Brooklands Easter meeting, he reached a speed of 135 mph, setting a new record at Brooklands. Two years later he improved his performance with a new record of almost 138 mph. After his death in 1933, the car remained unused and was sold in 1939. Several enthusiasts took care of the car afterwards. Bonhams auctioned this car in 2012, setting a new auction record for a Bentley.