The most famous prewar cars generally fall into one of two categories: the plain, plentiful, and slow , like Ford’s Model T, or the extravagant, exclusive, and capable, like the Bentley 8 Litre. Jay Leno loves both ends of the prewar spectrum, but in the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage he focuses on the last car that Bentley built before falling into financial collapse.
Founded by Walter Owen Bentley in August, 1919, Bentley Motors produced cars that delivered high performance and luxurious surroundings. The 8 Litre in this episode hails from 1931, an important year for the brand, in which W.O. sold the company to Rolls-Royce. Despite the change in ownership, however, Bentley vehicles showcased consistent quality and attention to detail.
The first 8 Litre appeared at the Olympia Motor Show, in October 1930 and created something of a sensation. Here was a machine offering space for up to eight ladies and gentlemen that could top 100 mph.
Leno’s blue Mulliner saloon is a prime example of a luxury car in the early 1930s. The exterior is subtle; some speculate that Bentley designers intended the 8 Litre to blend in more comfortably with everyday cars on the street. In the throes of the Great Depression, gaudy displays of wealth were rarely in good taste, even if you could afford the extravagance.
The Bentley’s powertrain is a stout 8-litre, inline six-cylinder unit. Those massive pistons are aluminium – a feature that positioned Bentley at the leading edge of engine technology at the time. The twin carburettors are fed fuel by one of the more interesting pieces of prewar automotive technology: a vacuum tank. A small tanks sits on the bulkhead and uses engine vacuum to pull fuel from the large, rear-mounted petrol tank to the small vacuum tank. From there, fuel is gravity-fed to the carburettors.
With about 220bhp, the engine is powerful enough to push the Bentley and its barn-like bodywork to impressive speeds. The four-speed gearbox allows the 8 Litre to exceed 100 mph, something Leno claims to have verified using a GPS-based navigation device.
Leno describes the interior as akin to a rolling library. The 8 Litre perfectly marries style and performance, and it’s easy to drive. What’s not to love? The price tag, of course. Converted to modern standards, this Mulliner cost nearly £220,000. Today it’s likely to fetch closer to one million pounds.
Via Hagerty US