1936 Bentley 4¼-Litre Airflow Saloon by Gurney Nutting
Amelia Island - A Gentleman's Collection: The Pride & Passion of Orin Smith
- Gurney Nutting’s 1936 Olympia Motor Show car
- Well-known long-term ownership history
- One of two examples built to this exceptional streamlined design
- Showstopping lines and proportions, beautiful from any angle
The Airflow saloon on the Bentley 4¼-Litre chassis was drawn by A.F. McNeil, Gurney Nutting’s immensely talented chief designer, and creator of such famous bodies as the Maharaja of Indore’s Duesenberg Model SJ. McNeil was a pioneer of British streamlining and created several handsome, flowing designs on a variety of chassis, in particular sporting Bentleys. Only two 4¼-Litre chassis received this particular Airflow saloon design, with the car offered here, number B118HK, originally having open rear fenders (without “spats”) and a single side-mounted spare, the latter of which it retains today.
Originally finished in “steel dust” with grey leather upholstery, the car was exhibited on Gurney Nutting’s stand at the 1936 Olympia Motor Show, an appropriate locale at which to show off the latest styling advances. The presence of the car at Olympia was confirmed by Bentley historian Michael Ellman-Brown, and the car pictured in the 14 October 1936 edition of The Motor, as well as described in that year’s Olympia program.
Following its exhibit at Olympia, the Bentley was delivered by The Car Mart, Ltd., of London to its first owner, Major C. Watson Smythe of “Venaur” in Lelant, West Cornwall, in March 1937. It subsequently passed in 1940 to the second owner, C.J. Oppenheim, and in 1943 to the third owner, V. Motion, also of London and at the time a Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force. Photocopies of the original British registration documents show a succession of future British owners through the early 1960s, including, briefly, the famous broker “Bunty” Scott-Moncrief.
In 1967 the car was sold by London dealers Frank Dale & Stepsons to Art Mullaly of Carmel, California. Mr. Mullaly would own the car for 14 years before selling it to the well-known West Coast Bentley collector, Gary Moore. It next passed in 1987 to Malcolm Schneer of Newport Beach, who documented the car’s ownership history through the years, and was able to confirm its exhibition at Olympia. Now finished in its striking red over beige livery, it was prominently featured in the March 1989 issue of Car Collector magazine. Mr. Schneer exhibited the car at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1995, and at the Rolls-Royce Owners Club National Meet the same year.
Following another West Coast ownership, the car was acquired in 2010 by Orin Smith and has remained in his collection for the past seven years.
The car presents with its original restoration, with the more recent addition of rear fender “spats,” which are similar to those fitted to the other 4¼-Litre Airflow saloon. The wheels are covered by Ace wheel discs, a distinctive and tasteful touch. Both the paint and interior show considerable patina, as does the interior woodwork, which has dulled but remains solid aside from a replacement dashboard carrying correct instruments and an original “sprung” steering wheel. Overall the car has potential to attract crowds, with sympathetic restoration and mechanical attention, and become a lovely tour car or show-stopper at local meets. Alternatively, and perhaps most tantalizingly, as the recipient of a body-off, correct and complete concours restoration, it would be a surefire contender at any number of national concours d’elegance.
Rolls and Bentley historian Diane Brandon, surveying this 4¼-Litre in the Smith stable, said it best: “It is a stunning car, with no awkward views or angles.” The judges will agree.