Bill’s beloved Bentley fetches £150,000 at auction

rare Bentley
rare Bentley
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A RARE Bentley car with strong Borders connections has been sold at auction for £150,000.

The three-litre Speed Model Tourer, built in 1924 and first registered in Peeblesshire, had been in the family of veteran car and motorcycle collector Bill Martin of Ayton in Berwickshire for 56 years.

Mr Martin, well-known in rallying circles across the region, died in 2009, aged 102, having passed the vehicle to his enthusiast son in 2001.

Known by its chassis number of 804, the Bentley was put into a special sale of collectors’ cars, organised by auctioneers Bonhams and held at Mercedes Benz World at Brookfield in Surrey earlier this month, with an estimate of £100,000-£120,000.

“I’m not surprised it fetched more than the estimate, because it was a simply stunning car and very much a tribute, I’m sure, to the loving care extended to it by Bill Martin,” said Ancrum’s Mike Povey, joint organiser of the region’s biggest annual rally of veteran, vintage and classic cars and bikes in Selkirk.

“Bill and his 1924 Speed Model were well known for many years at rallies across the Borders, including at Mellerstain, although in his later years he preferred to travel in his Mark 5 Bentley from the 1950s.

“I knew Bill for 40 years and he was the epitome of a gentleman who admired the finest mechanical engineering. He also had a wonderful collection of motorcycles, including a Brough, just like the one on which T. E. Lawrence [of Arabia] died in an accident in Dorset in 1935.”

Mr Martin, in fact, bought his first three-litre Bentley for £30 in 1933, having raced motorcycles with some success during the previous decade.

He also served as secretary to the Winfield Joint Committee which ran motor racing events at the Winfield (near Paxton) and Charterhall (near Duns) airfields.

The 804 was a regular sight at these events and was actively campaigned by Mr Martin in Bentley Drivers’ Club gatherings, including the Whit weekend runs and many other vintage events in the Borders.

The model became a must-have car after Frank Clement and John Duff steered it to victory in the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1924, having finished fourth in the inaugural event of the previous year.

That win and further successes at Brooklands earned valuable headlines for W. O. Bentley’s infant company and his Speed Model of 1924 featured a high compression engine, four wheel brakes, twin ‘Sloper” carburettors and a close ratio gearbox, all assembled on a chassis one foot shorter than standard models.

The new version did not go unnoticed by a Major E. G. Thomson of Ainslie Place in Edinburgh, who ordered 804 through long-established coachbuilders and carriage makers John Croall of the city’s Castle Street.

The car was first registered DS 1453 with Peeblesshire County Council on February 2, 1925.

The coachbuilder of the car is not noted in factory records, although it is believed it was delivered as a roll cage and chassis to Croall – a forerunner of the Croall Bryson motor engineering and car dealership, so well known in Hawick and, even today, in Kelso – who completed the coachwork.

Bentley records show the engine was decarbonised and new piston rings were fitted to 804 in 1928, two years before the car moved to England, passing through various hands before returning to Scotland when Bill Martin bought it in 1954.

“It is one of those rare cars that has a continuous history, retaining matching engine/chassis numbers and has been continuously used and maintained in running order from new,” said Andrew Currie of Bonhams.

The value of 804 was further enhanced by three old-style buff logs books, correspondence from the W. O. Bentley Memorial Foundation confirming its history, a copy of the factory records – as well as an MOT certificate until May next year and a current road fund licence.

Mr Povey told us: “While it’s sad to see such a great car leave the Borders, the sale serves as a tribute to Bill’s unassuming passion.”