Classic rare Bentley returns to base
In 1930's Britain it was often the habit of those drivers with the wherewithal, to commission specialist coachbuilders with the task of creating something truly individual from the chassis and running gear from more renowned brands like Roll Royce, Lagonda, Invicta and Bentley.
Even the presence of a handful of similar machines was seen as an excuse to create a one-off if one could afford it, and coachbuilders all over Europe and the US made their money and reputation with bespoke bodies based on already rare and expensive powertrains and general underpinnings.
Just such a car is the 4¼-Litre Bentley "Embiricos" special, one of the rarest and most valuable Bentleys in the world, which has just made an appearance at the marque's home in Crewe, Cheshire. Fresh from taking part in the Louis Vuitton "Serenissima Run" in Venice and featuring at the Le Mans Classic as part of the Bentley lineup, this magnificent car takes pride of place in Bentley's Lineage Showroom at the firm's Pyms Lane factory.
Throughout the 1930s Bentley Motors, then owned by Rolls-Royce, was producing fast, refined and well-built grand tourers. While many customers sent their chassis to traditional coachbuilders such as Vanden Plas, HJ Mulliner or Park Ward for elegant bodywork, enthusiasts from across the Channel, where the roads were longer and faster, were eager to explore the new world of aerodynamics.
With the support of the factory, one such owner decided to investigate the possibility of a streamlined, high-performance Bentley. The result was the Embiricos special.
Andre Embiricos was a wealthy Greek racing driver living in Paris. Walter Sleator, the company's Paris agent, put him in touch with Georges Paulin, a designer working for coachbuilders Pourtout Carrossier.
Under Paulin's guidance his company produced a strikingly sleek, aerodynamic body for a 4¼-Litre Derby Bentley that would be suitable for fast touring and track records alike.
To keep weight down the fastback body with a split rear window was crafted in duralumin, an aluminium alloy, that can be age-hardened.
The Embiricos Bentley fulfilled all the criteria for a Bentley high-performance grand tourer, achieving a timed 184.5kmh for more than an hour at Brooklands, and yet was civilised enough for Embiricos to use as a road car. Embiricos sold his unique Bentley late in 1939 to HSF Hay, who raced it in three post-war Le Mans 24-hour races, achieving a commendable sixth place in 1949.
Although a one-off, reaction to the Embiricos Bentley encouraged the company to explore more streamlined styles for future production models. In 1939 Bentley designer Ivan Evernden worked with Paulin on a sleek Mark V prototype called Corniche. Unfortunately it was in France when WWII broke out and destroyed during a bombing raid on Dieppe while awaiting shipment to Britain.
Post-war, many of the lessons of the Embiricos Bentley reached fruition in the lines of the 1952 R Type Continental, and as such continue to be reflected in the shape of the current Continental GT coupe.
Richard Charlesworth, director of Royal and VIP Relations and in charge of the Bentley Heritage Collection, commented:
"It is an honour for Bentley to exhibit this unique Bentley for the first time, thanks to the generosity of its owner. Its sleek form was extremely advanced for the time, and its DNA can still be seen in modern Bentley coupes today."