A Bentley 4½ Litre owned by marque saviour Woolf Barnato is to be sold by H&H Classics this October, just in time for Bentley's 100th year anniversary
A 1929 Bentley ‘Le Mans’ style 4½ Litre style first owned by billionaire racer and legendary 'Bentley Boy' Woolf Barnato is going up for auction with H&H Classics at IWM Duxford this October.
Barnato funded Bentley's factory effort at the Le Mans 24 Hours between 1927 and 1930, winning the race himself on three consecutive occasions, a feat unmatched for over three decades. The Automobile Club de l'Ouest, which runs the iconic race, calls Barnato 'Mr 100%' due to his run of three wins in three starts.
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One of just two normally aspirated 4½ Litre cars that Barnato took delivery of, the other being the 1928 Le Mans winner that was turned into a single-seater known as Old Mother Gun, ‘GU 1927’ has huge historical value to the Bentley marque.
Barney Barnato became a billionaire in today's terms when he sold the Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company to Cecil Rhodes' competing De Beers firm in 1889. His son Woolf Barnato was born in 1895 and was educated at Cambridge University. He fought in the First World War, rising to the rank of Captain in the Royal Field Artillery.
Woolf had to take legal action to access his inheritance, and after doing so became one of the UK’s richest men. Barnato was proficient in multiple sports, and his motorsport exploits led to friendships with Sir Malcolm Campbell and Ettore Bugatti.
Barnato’s first Bentley purchase came in 1925 and he was soon part of the factory team. Speed records for 1000km and 24-hour distances were set in September of that year in a Bentley 3 Litre, before saving Bentley from bankruptcy through a £100,000 (c.£6,000,000 today) cash injection. He invested a further £175,000 over the next five years and was made chairman.
The car on sale was built with a Vanden Plas Sports four-seater bodywork and a C-type gearbox. Barnato covered nearly 10,000 miles in it; by 1929 it's documented that the car was fitted with new Dunlop tyres and a new clutch, and is thought to have been sold by Barnato soon after. It's had several owners since, with the current owner having bought it in 2011.
An extensively restoration was completed by John James Pennington in the 1960s, and it was then refurbished two decades later. The refurbishment included a mechanical rejuvenation by Wiltshire-based Bentley specialist Tony Townsend and the fitting of a new Vanden Plas-style ‘Le Mans’ body by H&H Coachworks. It's more recently had an engine overhaul, work on the steering, brakes and suspension and a realignment of the drivetrain. Through all of this it has kept its original registration number.
The auction will take place at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, Cambridgeshire on October 17 this year. The former RAF base is home to Britain's largest aeronautical museum, and has hosted Formula 1 straightline testing throughout the last decade. More details on the H&H website.
Next year will be Bentley’s centenary, which will no doubt include extensive celebrations and a desire to see the 4½ litre in action.