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1939 Bentley 4 1/4 Litre Vanden Plas Open Tourer ‘Honeysuckle’

  • 1939 Bentley 4¼ Litre ‘Honeysuckle’
  • The very last Bentley Vanden Plas four-seater tourer
  • Extensive documented history
  • Fully restored by Frank Dale & Stepsons
  • Eligible for the world’s leading concours d’Elegance

Thanks to its stunning Vanden Plas bodywork, distinctive colour scheme and illustrious ownership history, Honeysuckle is one of the most recognisable of all Derby Bentleys. The Classic Motor Hub is proud to offer for sale this famous piece of marque history, which has starred in numerous Bentley books and has been collecting concours silverware for well over 60 years.

Its extensive history file shows that Honeysuckle – chassis number B154 MR – was ordered on 26 October 1938 by Captain Edward Molyneux, with a quoted delivery date of the end of January 1939. Molyneux was a remarkable character who was awarded the Military Cross during World War One for continuing to lead his company ‘with great skill and courage’ under heavy fire, even after he’d been wounded.

Already a well-known fashion designer with Lucile, after the war he set up his own salon in Paris and was supremely well connected. His clientele during the 1920s and ’30s was drawn from the very upper echelons of society.

The Bentley’s chassis was built during December 1938, then fitted with engine number V8 BS, and was sent to Thrupp & Maberly on 31 January 1939 so that it could be given Sedanca Coupé coachwork. It was completed in March 1939 and registered FUU 600, but the Thrupp & Maberly body was removed shortly afterwards so that it could be fitted to Captain Molyneux’s other Bentley 4¼ Litre – chassis number B35 MX.

On 27 April 1939, Vanden Plas was instructed to build a four-seat tourer body for B154 MR, in the Valspar colour of Honeysuckle 5084/7 – from which the car’s famous name was taken. It was ready by June, and this would be the last of only four M-series Bentleys to fitted with that style of coachwork; it was also the final Vanden Plas tourer body fitted to any new Bentley. Red leather upholstery was specified.

It’s thought that actor Hugh Sinclair – who later played Simon Templar in The Saint’s Vacation – fits into the ownership history after Molyneux, but on 26 April 1940, Honeysuckle was sold via HR Owen to Mrs A Smith-Bingham of Oxfordshire. The chassis had been brought up to the latest MX-series specification and a new guarantee was issued on the same date.

The Smith-Binghams were great Bentley enthusiasts and owned a number of them during the 1930s and ’40s. Honeysuckle was used throughout the war before being sold in August 1945 to William Riley, owner of the Birmingham-based Vita Glass company, and it’s thought that he retained it for at least a couple of years.

Its next custodian was The Honourable William Douglas-Home, a noted playwright and brother of future Prime Minister Sir Alec. He kept the Bentley until late 1951, but was forced to part with it – so the story goes – because the family nanny considered Honeysuckle ‘no fit transportation for a wee bairn to travel in winter in.’

Douglas-Home sold it just before Christmas 1951 to Johnnie Green, who later recalled that the deal was done over a ‘most pleasant lunch session’. Green was a Bentley authority who would later write Bentley – 50 Years of the Marque; Honeysuckle was pictured on the front cover. Green ended up owning it for 35 years, but recorded that he spent the first six months or so having the Bentley thoroughly overhauled. According to his hand-written notes, the process cost ‘nearly £300’ and ‘transformed the car’.

Green entered Honeysuckle in Bentley Drivers’ Club and Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club concours during the 1950s and ’60s, and picked up a number of awards, but he also used the car extensively and covered thousands of miles touring continental Europe. In 1960, he even had it shipped across the Atlantic so that he could tour the US and Canada.

Green sold Honeysuckle in 1986 to well-known dealer and collector Charles Howard, who later wrote that he’d first seen the Bentley – and fallen in love with it – at a ‘point to point’ horse meeting in the late 1960s. Green was apparently a regular visitor to CAR Howard Ltd, and its latest owner continued the tradition of continental touring and had a memorable trip down to Biarritz in south-west France.

In 1993, Howard sold the car to Don Williams and Richard Clyne, and Honeysuckle was displayed in their famous Blackhawk Collection until being acquired by Anthony Moody in 1995. Moody entered the Bentley for that year’s Louis Vuitton Concours d’Elegance at the Hurlingham Club, then drove it to Paris for another concours in September.

Like Green and Howard before him, he also it for ‘grand touring’, and wrote the following after a trip around the Loire Valley: ‘As remarkable a car as Honeysuckle is on the autoroutes, it is the secondary roads that truly bring out the exceptional handling and perfect poise, the torque and long third gear being good for 15 to 65mph as it threads its way across country… best of all, this is achieved in a level of comfort that some cars failed to achieve many decades later.’

Always immaculately maintained, Honeysuckle was treated to a full restoration by Frank Dale and Stepsons between 2014 and 2016, the entire process being recorded in the car’s history file. Now presented in immaculate condition, this Derby Bentley is ready to grace the world’s finest concours d’elegance – it was displayed at Pebble Beach in 2019 – as well as cover many more miles touring in unparalleled style and comfort.

Model history

After Bentley had gone into receivership in 1931, Rolls-Royce swooped in to buy the company from under the nose of rival Napier. The first model to be launched in this new era – which saw production moved from Cricklewood to Derby – was the 3½ Litre. The catalogue noted that its introduction ‘proved that performance and peace can now be reconciled… in its docility and absence of fuss under all conditions, it is without a rival amongst sporting cars.’

Its engine was based on the six-cylinder Rolls-Royce 20/25 unit, and chassis development continued through the 1930s, early modifications including a strengthening crossmember at the front end and variable dampers. These handsome ‘Derby Bentleys’ became renowned for their grand-touring capabilities, and offered a level of refinement that the likes of Lagonda and Alvis couldn’t match.

Performance was improved in 1936 with the introduction of the 4¼ Litre model, of which 1241 would be built before the outbreak of war in 1939. As transport infrastructure was rapidly being modernised during that period – especially in continental Europe – manufacturers had to ensure that their cars could withstand sustained high-speed running.

Bentley’s answer was the introduction in 1938 of the M-series ‘overdrive’ cars, which featured revised gear ratios and a longer final-drive ratio. A new Marles steering box was among the other refinements, plus 17in wheels rather than 18in, and 6.50in tyres in place of the old 5.50 rubber.

The camshafts were modified to increase lift, and a thermostat was fitted to the cooling system, which eliminated the old thermostatically controlled shutters in front of the radiator.

The result was arguably the ultimate long-distance cruiser of its day, offered with a range of stylish coachwork, and which remains one of the most coveted of post-vintage thoroughbreds.

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