- 1938 Derby Bentley 4¼ Litre Paris Salon car
- Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motors ‘Continental Trials’ car
- Second earliest M (overdrive) series car known to exist
- Fascinating history with close links to the Embiricos Bentley
- Original handbook and large tools
- Mechanically restored
By the late 1930’s it was clear to manufacturers that motorists’ expectations were changing. Engines were being exposed to the dangers of continuous high speed driving as a result of the new autobahns and autostradas and something was required which would – at the very least – take the top gear engine speed down a level and therefore out of the danger zone when cruising at prolonged high speeds.
The solution at Bentley was the ‘overdrive’ model or “M” series of cars named after their MR and MX prefixed chassis numbers. Announced in October 1938 in time for the Motor Show, the overdrive models were automatically at the very pinnacle of motoring excellence and have over time become the most sought after of all the Derby Bentley range. The heart of this new model was a completely new gearbox with the top gear becoming an indirect ratio gearing up the input speed. The rear axle assembly was strengthened with larger diameter half shafts and the axle ratio was lowered. The old worm and nut steering box was replaced by a Marles cam and roller system which also gave a slightly lower ratio, lightening the steering and improving the turning circle.
At the same time manufacturers were starting to understand the effects of understeer and oversteer and as a result of much testing carried out on their newly installed skid pan Bentley reduced their wheel size from 18 to 17 inches with 6.50 section tyres in place of the previous 5.50. Resulting in better ride quality and an all-round improvement in the steering. The changes did not stop there, the thermostatic radiator shutters were abandoned and the cooling system was now controlled by a thermostat within the circulation system. The oil pressure and water temperature gauges were combined and the clock became an electric unit instead of the wind up predecessor. The instruments themselves were re-arranged and re-designed to provide better night lighting with a more convenient layout.
THIS MOTOR CAR
One of the very first of the built, B6MR has a fascinating history. Bentley Motors, then under the ownership of Rolls-Royce, had over time developed a very close commercial relationship with Carrosserie Vanvooren in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie thanks to Walter Sleator, a Director of Rolls-Royce and the enterprising owner of Franco-Britannic Autos the Rolls-Royce and Bentley importer for France. Sleator had throughout the 1920’s been the sales director for Vanvooren of Paris and therefore knew everyone of importance in the French motoring industry.
Impressed by the mechanical qualities of ‘the Silent Sports Car’ and with a true understanding of coachwork Sleator was convinced a streamlined body would dramatically improve the all-round performance of the car. He persuaded Rolls-Royce to condone a private streamline project, with full corporate deniability if it was a failure.
Sleator set to work, he contracted the noted automobile designer Georges Paulin exclusively to Rolls-Royce and Bentley and his friend the Greek shipping magnate and amateur racer André Embiricos to provide the funding. The body was to be constructed by Vanvooren given their reputation as innovators in both design and manufacturing methods. However by the time production was to commence Pourtout was engaged for the body being more convenient for Paulin who lived practically next door. This was to become the most significant example to leave the Derby Bentley factory, the Paulin/Pourtout ‘Embiricos’ Bentley B27LE.
To coincide with the Pourtout project B6MR was being prepared at the factory. The Factory Build sheet dated 25th June 1938 specifies ‘for continental trials’ and the following month the completed chassis was shipped to Vanvooren in France where it would be the first ‘M’ series chassis to be fitted with their signature advanced Pillarless Sedan coachwork to design number 7625 with body number 2936. The car was completed in time to grace the factory stand at The Paris Salon of October 1938 where it was exhibited in sage green complemented by tobacco hide interior.
After a number of secret outings and track tests the prototype ‘Embiricos’ Bentley was finally ready to be shared with the media. On 1st February 1939 the Pourtout Streamliner and B6MR assembled outside the Rolls-Royce showroom on the Avenue George Cinq.
An august group of press and motoring luminaries had been invited to wave them off including the founder of the Le Mans 24 hours and editor of L’Auto Charles Faroux. At around mid-day Walter Sleator together with V.E. Morgan of Rueters, Jules le Fevre of L’Auto, John Dugdale of The Autocar and the head of the experimental department at Rolls-Royce W.A. (Roy) Robotham driving B6MR together with a riding mechanic departed from the Paris showrooms to conduct a series of high-speed tests on the new autobahns of Germany.
The testing was clearly also gastronomique and took the party via some highly-rated refreshment stops from Paris to Metz across the Maginot line to the autobahn at Mannheim, described at the time as “a wonder of the world” they continued over the Bavarian Alps through the snow to Ulm and the following day left the autobahn at Karlsruhe and crossed the border at Strasbourg. The entire journey including the refreshment stops was written up in great detail in the February 17th 1939 edition of The Autocar featuring numerous photographs of both cars and over 1000 miles of testing ender their belts. With no equivalent high-speed roads in the UK, continental trials were a large part of Rolls-Bentley development but this event was something of a milestone on the eve of war.
War broke out in September of 1939 and the Embiricos Bentley was subsequently sold to H.S.F. Hay who went on to race it in three post-war 24 hours of Le Mans endurance races and in 1946 achieved a commendable 6th place, 10 years after it was built.
The following year the Vanvooren sedan B6MR was sold by Franco Brittanic to Jacques Rodrigue Periere of 37 Avenue Victor-Emmanuel III, (the road was renamed Franklin D. Roosevelt Avenue following World War II) and in September 1941 it was sold again to Mr. Rolando J. Aguirre, the first Secretary of the Argentine Embassy of Madrid.
After the War B6MR was shipped with the First Secretary back to Argentina and was in everyday use in Cordoba until 1957 when Senior Aguirre sold it to Demitrio Belada of Buenos Aires and the car passed through two further owners before being acquired and laid up as a some time restoration project by Mr. Charles ‘Chuck’ Seguin of Buenos Aires where it remained hidden away and stripped of paint for some 40 years.
After Mr. Seguin’s death his car collection was sold and the Vanvooren Sedan was bought by the current owner as a part-time project for his mechanics for the next decade. Work commenced and the engine and complete rolling chassis were restored but eventually with age and the volume of projects catching up with him the owner has realised that it would be better to concentrate on fewer long term goals and has agreed to pass the car on to the next custodian to complete the coachwork restoration.
Derby Bentley B6MR has recently returned to the UK where it is for sale at The Classic Motor Hub in Gloucestershire. It is the first of just 6 overdrive Vanvooren pillarless saloons, only three are known to have survived worldwide. Still retaining its original engine and gearbox the car is believed complete albeit requiring completion and unquestionably a worthy project for someone that will concentrate on completing the restoration and returning this important motorcar to the road.
Merely 200 ‘M’ series cars were to be manufactured in 1938 and 1939 of which it is thought that a remarkable 80 percent have survived a testament to their standing amongst owners and then collectors as the market matured. Vanvooren were highly regarded by Rolls-Royce Bentley with advanced elements of their designs being copied by the mainstream British coachbuilders of the day and Walter Sleator, a Director of Rolls-Royce was a gifted and influential luminary of the French motoring industry. The combination of all those involved in the creation and history of B6MR deserves expert preservation and this amazing car will be a welcome arrival on international concours circuit.
- 1938-1940 Rolls-Royce Bentley Ltd
- 1940-1942 Jacques Rodrigue Periere
- 1942-1957 Rolando J. Aguirre
- 1957-1967 Demitrio Belada
- 1967-1973 Juan Pablo Spinetto Saenz Valiente
- 1973-2007 Charles ‘Chuck’ Seguin
Now offered for sale and immediate inspection at The Classic Motor Hub.