- Very rare and desirable authentic ‘Red Label’ Speed Model
- Original 9-ft., 9½-in. chassis, engine, and drivetrain
- Upgraded in period by the factory with Super Sports engine modifications
- Fascinating ownership history, including Southwestern architect O’Neil Ford
- Exceptional older restoration; ideal for numerous driving events
A veteran of designing RAF aeroengines during World War I, W.O. Bentley next created a sporting motor car unequaled in its era. The 3-Litre saw production of 1,624 cars in three wheelbase configurations and three performance levels, including the aptly named Speed Model with its distinctive red radiator badge, or “Red Label.” Quality control was peerless; Bentley preferred customers send their chassis to one of 100 different coachbuilders approved by the company, and then inspected the finished car thoroughly before allowing it to be sold. Each 3-Litre carried a five-year guarantee!
The performance of these cars resulted in the widely accepted practice of considering the chassis and engine as “the car,” and replacing the conservative original bodywork with open tourers so that owners could experience the power and agility that these cars offered. In a period-correct, well-constructed style, no excuses need be made.
Such is the case with this ‘short-chassis’ ‘Red Label’ model, chassis no. AP311, one of just 513 such cars built, delivered new to Sir Harry Warden Chilcott, a journalist and sportsman known for his close relationship with Winston Churchill, and registered as YM 1462. In early ownership it received several Works modifications, including long-skirt pistons (fitted by Bentley at the time of the engine rebuild in 1930), a larger oil sump, and larger oil pump; various factory “speed” parts, including the twin SU ‘sloper’ carbs, close-ratio gearbox, finned brake drums, and twin Bosch magnetos, all spelled out as Works upgrades in period Bentley Drivers Club (BDC) documents. The engine was brought to Super Sport specification, and this is believed to be the only 9-ft., 9½-in.-chassis with such an engine done by the factory.
The car was first registered with the BDC in 1950, when owned by Dr. W. Mayne of Bristol, England. It was later owned by John Douglas, then in 1964 was shipped stateside and sold to O’Neil Ford, the leading mid-century architect of the American Southwest, responsible for the iconic Tower of the Americas created in San Antonio for the 1968 World’s Fair, HemisFair ’68. Ford remains the only individual to have himself been recognized as a National Historic Landmark, in 1974.
Ford maintained the car and two other vintage Bentleys until his death in 1982. Two years later all three automobiles were sold to the late, well-known collector, Richard Burdick. In the early 1980s Mr. Burdick commissioned a high-quality restoration with the current Vanden Plas-style fabric Le Mans tourer coachwork, built by noted British coachbuilder James Pearce. The car has been seldom used but well maintained since, and the restoration is still exceptional, with beautiful, crisp finishes throughout, including Rexine-type body paneling, precisely fit panels, and well-restored trim and fittings. Burdick exhibited the Speed Model in his Central Texas Museum of Automotive History until 2007.
The car retains its original, matching mechanical components, with the exception of the radiator. With a modern electric fuel pump discreetly hidden inside the Autovac tank, assisting in reliable running in all conditions, it is well finished for touring and rallies – a Vintage Bentley’s best possible use. Copies of the aforementioned BDC documentation accompanies the car, as do copies of drawings by O’Neil Ford, and restoration photos.
David E. Davis Jr.’s words are as true now as when first quoted in 1991, in Forbes Magazine, “What is the highest tribute one can pay a noble, inspired . . . classic automobile? Simple, old boy, drive the bloody thing.” That is never more accurate that when describing such a superb W.O. Bentley.