It was the last of the line – arid the most impressive. The 8 liter Bentley made its debut at the Olympia Motor Show in 1930 and caused a sensation. It was the largest car hitherto made in Britain and a serious competitor for the Rolls-Royce Phantom II.
This was W O Bentley’s shot at producing a headline-stealer that would catapult him to the top of the luxury car league, thus stealing Rolls-Royce’s mantle and rescuing Bentley from financial difficulty.
The ploy was a gallant failure. Only one hundred 8Ls were produced and by mid-1931 Bentley Motors was bankrupt. W O Bentley thought the receiver’s sale would see Napiers of Acton emerge with the assets and was already planning a Napier-Bentley with his new partner. But Rolls-Royce, slyly acting through an intermediary, outbid Napier and promptly killed off the 8L.
It was a clever move. The 8L was a formidable challenger for anything Rolls-Royce made. A state-of-the-art engine offered innovatory features like twin-spark ignition and four valves per cylinder, plus a sturdy chassis with servo-assisted brakes all round, making this an exclusive but expensive vehicle. Bentley Motors supplied a rolling chassis (in short or long wheelbase) and the customer was required to employ a coachbuilder to add bodywork.
Famous names like H J Mulliner, Gurney Nutting and Barker duly obliged, creating a variety of body styles. Most were built on the long chassis, with relatively few buyers choosing the short version. Although the idea was to compete with the luxury saloons of the era, around 20 8Ls were finished with stunning open-topped bodies and even the limousines tended to have racy lines. Whatever bodywork was chosen, the package offered incomparable smoothness and quietness of ride and these magnificent machines are a pleasure to drive, now as then.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1930 (until 1931)
7,983 cc Straight Six
Over 100 mph (161 km/h) with the heaviest limousine coachwork.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
With their exemplary build quality, many of the Bentley 8Ls that were manufactured are still around, but such is their cachet that well-restored examples sell at auction for up to $1.5 million … and beyond.