Amelia Island

10-11 March 2017

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Lot 266

1928 Bentley 4½-Litre Le Mans Sports "The Bobtail" by Vanden Plas

  • Chassis no. KM3088
  • Engine no. MF8175

$6,500,000 - $7,500,000


Please note that Internet bidding is not available for this lot. Interested parties that are unable to attend the sale may register to bid by telephone or place a commission bid online at rmsothebys.com. Furthermore, bidding on this lot requires a special registration process to be completed no later than 48 hours in advance of the sale. Please contact Client Services at +1 519 352 4575 or clientservices@rmsothebys.com to register your interest.

Est. 150 bhp, 4,398 cc SOHC inline four-cylinder engine with two SU “sloper” carburetors, four-speed manual “D”-type transmission, semi-elliptical leaf-spring suspension with shock absorbers, and four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 130 in.

  • “The Bobtail,” one of the most significant and correct Works Bentleys extant
  • Built for the 1928 Bentley Works season
  • Two-time factory Le Mans entrant, including podium finish in 1929
  • 2nd place at the 1929 JCC Double Twelve
  • Driven by such famous “Bentley Boys” as Sammy Davis, Frank Clement, and Dudley Benjafield
  • Includes detailed historical account by noted marque historian, Dr. Clare Hay


BENTLEY BESTS LE MANS

Coming to the realization that his 3-Litre car was just not fast enough for international competition, W.O. Bentley set about producing a larger-engined vehicle that could be easily modified to compete in the most important international race of the era: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Only slightly modifying the chassis of the 3-Litre, the real emphasis was put into the engine. The bore was increased to 100 millimeters, and the stroke reduced to 140 millimeters, creating a cubic capacity of 4,398-cubic centimeters, a nearly 1,500-cubic centimeter increase from the previous model. Twin SU “sloper” carburetors were added, with ignition controlled by two ML GR4 magnetos.

After an excruciating victory at the 1927 Le Mans, Bentley prepared for the 1928 season with renewed energy. Three cars were prepared in secrecy in a new Racing Shop close to the Vanden Plas’ Works, the second of those being chassis KM3088, fitted with engine MF3175. After being built by the Chassis Shop, KM3088 was sent on to the Racing Shop to be outfitted with the special racing modifications and newly designed body. These modifications included non-self-wrapping front brakes, additional shock absorbers, and the new single-plate clutch. The engines were tuned to enable speedy pit stops, with a reserve oil tank controlled by a driver-operated tap on the nearside of the car allowing for the required 20 laps between fluid replenishments.

The body was built by Vanden Plas, a firm with roots in the aircraft industry, with long experience building coachwork for racing Bentleys. The surviving build record gives little information, instead noting the specification as “job 1477,” referring to KM3088’s sister car, KM3077. The new design was created specifically to meet with the strict regulations of the Le Mans race; a four-seater with a short and rounded back, a near-vertical spare wheel, and the “bobtail” cowling, which gives the model its nickname. The windscreen was wire-mesh, and an extra “Cyclops” Marchal headlamp was fitted to give better vision during the long hours of night driving. Finished in green fabric with matching Parson’s Napier Green paintwork and upholstery, the Vanden Plas record shows that the body was completed on 25 May 1928, allowing Bentley plenty of time for testing before Le Mans.

RACING WITH THE BENTLEY BOYS

Entered in a team of three 4½-Litres for the 1928 Le Mans, KM3088 was allocated race #2 and driven by well-known Bentley drivers Frank Clement and Dr. J. Dudley “Benjy” Benjafield. The race was off to an astounding start for Bentley, as The Motor notes “Clement, on his very first lap, had beaten all existing records for the course . . . averaging 72.7 mph from a standing start!” Several hours in, #2 led the race, with a second Bentley not far behind.

Disaster would strike for the Bobtail as dawn approached – a loose water pipe emptied the radiator, resulting in extreme overheating. The culprit was a cracked chassis frame, causing the vehicle to sit unevenly and misalign. Clement could do nothing more than drive the car into the dead-car park, and hope that the other two Bentleys held on for the remaining hours. In the end, an overheating “Old Mother Gun” limped to a 1st place finish.

Post-Le Mans, KM3088 was repaired by Bentley Motors, though it is uncertain whether an entirely new chassis frame was fitted. After a run at the 1928 Shelsley Walsh, coming in 3rd, the 4½-Litre was advertised in The Motor on 21 August, and sold to “Bentley Boy” Sir Ronald Gunter, who maintained KM3088 at the Racing Shop until February 1930.

The 1929 season saw KM3088’s finest moment with its inclusion as a Works entry in the brand-new JCC Double Twelve. Driven by Sammy Davis and Gunter as #6, the Bobtail was firmly in 2nd place by the third hour, battling against the Alfa Romeos. With the early retirement of the Works Six Speed, it was up to Davis and Gunter to bring home the win for Bentley. As the second day dawned, all eyes were locked on the fight between KM3088 and the Alfa 6C 1500 driven by Giulio Ramponi. Pushing the car to its limit, Davis drove at a staggering 90 mph just behind the leading Alfa, slipping around the turns on the wet track. Despite giving it his all, Davis finished just behind the Alfa; handicap records show a margin of just 0.003.

The hard battle of the Double Twelve showed itself later that season, when KM3088 was entered last minute in the 1929 Le Mans, driven by Benjafield and Baron André d’Erlanger, now dressed as #10. During the race, problems arose with the battery, water pump, and lights. Indeed the front brakes were so worn that the mechanics were forced to disconnect them entirely – a decision which led to Benjafield not returning the vehicle to d’Erlanger for the final push. In the end, however, Bentley crossed the line with a historic 1-2-3-4 finish, with KM3088 finishing 3rd amongst the pack, despite its mechanical problems. For the third year running, Bentley proved its status as the best motor vehicle manufacturer in the world, and the Bobtail was a major player in the feat.

THE BOBTAIL

After its second grueling outing at Le Mans, KM3088 was sent to Kensington Moir’s showroom, and sold in the first half of 1930 to Lauchlan Rose. Rose wrote two articles for the Bentley Drivers Club Review detailing his early ownership, which included the fitting of the new “D”-type gearbox in September 1930, along with his change to a glass windscreen. At the end of 1933, Rose passed the 4½-Litre to then-RAF Ground Instructor Lewis Rivers Oldmeadow, a decision Rose regretted immediately. Oldmeadow maintained the Bentley as it was, except for the fitting of a new steering wheel. As he reports in a September 1944 Motor Sport article, the war caused him to sell in 1939, and KM3088 fell out of sight. The last maintenance reported on the Service Report is a new throttle cable, fitted January 1939.

In a miraculous twist of fate, KM3088 was discovered after the war by none other than Lauchlan Rose. He records his first sighting of his beloved car in a September 1949 article in the BDC Review, noting the poor state of his once pristine motor car. “The car nearly brought tears to our eyes. It was evident that she had spent much of the war in some damp place, as mildew and rust could be seen in various corners.”

Dr. Clare Hay, in her initial report of KM3088, queries as to whether it was during this time when the engine was tampered with—producing the odd stamping now seen. Though thought to be original for many decades, the crankcase was discovered to be stamped with MF8175, not the original MF3175, upon the removal of an earth strap during the later restoration. Hay does note that the cylinder block looks to be the original racing block, complete with the RAC scrutineering stamp.

Rose set about rescuing KM3088 and commissioned a restoration by Bill Shortt, with further work by Tony Townshend’s Elmdown Engineering returning the Bobtail to its original Le Mans glory. The Bentley remained with the Rose family for another 25 years, until passing to noted pre-war collector Bill Lake. KM3088 was in good company, as Lake also owned GF 8507, the Six Speed team car. Upon his passing in 2004, Lake’s son sold the Bobtail. The new owner undertook a preservative restoration by VBE Restoration to return the historic specification of the Bentley. Invoices for this work are maintained in the history file and show the incredible amount of detail and time that was committed to this project.

The Bobtail was acquired by the current owner in 2012 and has been beautifully maintained, having been recently described as “like going back in time.” It shows the proper patina of its age and significance, as neither restoration detracted from its original beauty.

As one of precious few Bentley Le Mans Works Team cars, and one of even fewer with such a prestigious race record, KM3088 would certainly be the prized possession of any important collection the world over. The chance to buy such a car does not present itself often and certainly should not be taken lightly. It is, quite simply, one of the most authentic and storied Works Bentleys in existence – known and beloved to enthusiasts worldwide as “The Bobtail.”

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more