Information on all Vintage Bentley cars ever produced  
Home Articles Bentley Clinic Galleries Newsletter Subscribe to Newsletter Advertisements Links  Submit Info Contact
1928 Bentley 3 Litre    
Original 1927 Numbers
Chassis No. BL1604
Engine No. BL1605
Registration No. TD 8966

  This car - updated
Chassis No. BL1604/DN1731 (see text)
Engine No. -
Registration No. TD 8966

(Updated with information from Bonhams. - September 2017)
September 2017
Click on thumbnail for larger view

September 9, 2017: Sold for £357,660 inc. premium

Found on Bonhams website on September 8, 2017

Lot 210
The ex-Lieutenant-Commander Christopher Tomkinson/Darell Berthon

9 Sep 2017, 13:00 BST

1927 Bentley 3-litre Speed Model Sports Two-Seater
Coachwork by Corsica

Registration no. TD 8966
Chassis no. BL1604/DN1731 (see text)
£250,000 - 300,000

*The archetypal Vintage sports car
*One of 513 Speed Models
*Rebuilt to the best specification possible in the 1930s
*A Vintage Bentley with period competition history

After nearly 40 years out of sight, this Bentley 3-Litre Speed Model was rediscovered in 2005 in the ownership of one David Roberts. This car originated as chassis number 'BL1604' in April 1927 and was sold new to a Miss J Kerr. It was delivered fitted with unusual three-seater 'cloverleaf' coachwork by Vanden Plas (body number '1368') and featured a black oxidised screen and accessories, and two spare wheels. These details are recorded in Brian Smith's book, 'Vanden Plas – Coachbuilders', where it is illustrated, and also in Michael Hay's 'Bentley – The Vintage Years'. The Bentley was registered in Lancashire as 'TD 8966'.

It is not known when for certain, but probably no later than the mid-1930s, that 'TD 8966' was rebuilt on the chassis of a later 3-Litre, 'DN1731', as recorded by Hay. It is believed that this work was carried out by famed Bentley specialists, McKenzie Garages of London (service records show they had worked on the car since 1933). This is also supported by the fact that the car now carries the rear axle banjo from 'PB3543', the 4½-Litre that McKenzie converted in a similar manner to 'TD 8966' for noted Bentley collector Forrest Lycett in 1936. The rear springs were also out-rigged at this point, with a bracing bar across the chassis added also. At the same time the car was fitted with the stylish Corsica two-seater body it carries today, again very much in the style of the famed Lycett 4½. It is believed that this rebuild was carried out for Mr S A M 'Stanley' Bartlett; certainly his Bentley Drivers Club Application form from 1937 listed the car as completely rebuilt as a two seater.

By 1938, 'TD 8966' had passed to Lt Commander Christopher Tomkinson, who raced and rallied the car, taking part in the Lewes Speed Trials, racing in 1938 at Donington Park, and participating in the RAC Rally in 1939 among other events (see photographs and results on file).

At some point, it is believed during the late 1930s, the D-Type Bentley gearbox from the prototype 'Blower Bentley' chassis 'SM3901' was fitted. Tomkinson was a very good friend of fellow Bentley owner Lt Colonel Darell Berthon (author and later secretary of the Bentley Drivers Club) and they agreed that should either of them not return from the war, the others Bentley would become the property of the survivor. Sadly, Lt Commander Tomkinson would never enjoy the Bentley again in peacetime, being posted missing while serving aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious in the Pacific in March 1945 (see biography). Berthon acquired the car in 1946/47, and with his wife Barbara continued to rally and race the car (as illustrated) up to 1956. 'TD 8966' passed in 1956 to David Roberts.

The car is mentioned in the December 1956 issue of the Bentley Drivers Club Review where Roberts - out for the first time in a Bentley - achieved 3rd in the Stapleford hill climb. In September of that year, David Roberts attended the Brighton Speed trials, achieving an average speed of 59.56mph (see certificate on file). Documentation on file relating to Roberts' period of ownership includes McKenzie Motors invoices for changing the original Corsica helmet wings to the more Spartan cycle wings the car currently wears (1956) and fitting Delco distributors (1961), and a Tim Abbott invoice for changing the brakes to hydraulic (1990). Also later recovered from Roberts' garage was a signed and dated copy of Darell Berthon's book 'The Racing History of the Bentley' dated by Darell 27th March 1956.

The current vendor purchased 'TD 8966' at auction in December 2005. Having bought the Bentley, he was able to contact David Roberts' family and visit the garage where it had been stored since 1956. In this garage he found a quantity of the original brake components and other parts belonging to the car.

The current owner is indebted to Darell Berthon's son, Tom Berthon, for many of the period photographs and for assisting with the history. In 2008, Tom donated a side screen from his father's collection of parts that he had dutifully kept; astonishingly, this has been found to fit the car. By time of sale the original mechanical braking system will have been reinstated (still requiring final setup). During David Roberts' ownership, the cone clutch was replaced with a Borg & Beck plate-type clutch (the cone clutch was found in the garage together with another spare). The original hood frame and hood is offered with the car together with two rebuilt magnetos.

The Bentley remains as purchased in 2005, aside from the brakes, the only changes being the seats, which have been re-covered (original upholstery offered with the car). The engine was run in 2006 and the car driven prior to the removal of the braking system, but it has not been used since and will require a rewire and full re-commissioning.

As presented today, this 3-Litre retains many key components from 'BL1604', including the engine ('BL1605'), front axle, instrument cluster and, of course, the registration mark 'TD 8966'. As previously mentioned, the car is fitted with the original gearbox from the very first 'Blower Bentley', chassis number 'SM3901' which is clearly historically significant in its own right. The rear axle 'banjo' is from chassis 'PB3543' the ex-Lycett Corsica bodied 4½, its nosepiece being numbered 'BL1611'; this car was owned by Darell Berthon, so it is very possible it was swapped while in his ownership. It is also apparent that at some stage the block has been skimmed to increase the compression ratio (probably for competition purposes), which has since been lowered using a compression plate. Renowned marque specialist Clare Hay has prepared a typically thorough report on this fascinating vehicle, which it is strongly advised interested parties read prior to the sale. This vehicle is also offered with the following spare parts: cylinder block, wheels, fuel tank and others.

The story of 'TD 8966' is a fascinating one, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that researching its pre-War history will unearth further interesting information. Either way it represents now as it did in the 1930s: an eminently usable and effective Vintage Bentley, eligible for many of the world's most prestigious historic race and rally events.

Lieutenant-Commander - DFC - CHRISTOPHER Charles TOMKINSON

Arch Bentley man Christopher Tomkinson was born on September 14, 1916, only son of Major Herbert Tomkinson OBE TD and E.P. Tomkinson of Pool House, Astley, Worcestershire. His father headed a family carpet manufacturing business in Kidderminster and his mother was a member of the Thornycroft family whose companies built motor vehicles, engines and Royal Navy coastal warships.

Educated at Winchester College followed by Magdalen College, Oxford. He was an enthusiastic member of the University Air Squadron, and joined the Civil Air Guard , learning to fly at Doncaster Aero Club.

In 1939 he volunteered for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and early in 1940 joined the Fleet Air Arm, as a trainee pilot. .

Firstly flying a Supermarine Walrus flying boat then a Sea Gladiator biplane and Blackburn Skua fighter/dive bomber aircraft Christopher then became operational on the Grumman Martlet Hellcat Mark I. He was posted to join HMS Illustrious in the Indian Ocean - saw action in the Madagascar landings against the Vichy French, shot down a Potez bomber and two Morane fighters becoming the most succesfull WW2 pilot in a Martlett / Hellcat . In June 1943 aged just 25 he became a Squadron Commander. He spent time on a course at Quonset Point, Long Island, USA, graduatting from a Martlet IV to a Chance-Vought Corsair aircraft, [ a large rotary engined American fighter plane ] and in 1944 leading his squadron of 18 Corsairs flying from HMS Victorious he flew top fighter cover for the successful attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz which had taken cover in a Norwegian fjord.

Continuing his war activities Christopher with his squadron sailed on the Aircraft carrier HMS Victorious to the Pacific, flew operationally in attacks on Sumatra and then as part of the Operation Iceberg landings on Okinawa, on March 26, 1945, Lieutenant-Commander Tomkinson led his Vaught Corsair squadron in an attack upon a Japanese aerodrome on Ishigaki island, west of Okinawa. His aircraft was damaged by ground fire and crashed into the sea five miles off Miyako island. He was observed in his life jacket in sight of land, but despite a search was not found and - aged 28 - was posted "missing presumed killed". He has no known grave, but his name is inscribed on the FAA Memorial, at Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire.

100 of Christopher's war letters survive and within these he mentions the time when his plane fuel tanks were leaking and with fuel shortages he saw no reason to allow the fuel to be wasted – collecting the fuel he was nearly court martialed when he tipped this into his Bentley, also there is mention of him having the Bentley emblem on his plane . Christopher considered the Corsair to be a very powerful fighter plane but disliked the fact that when flying upside down oil from the engine covered the windscreen.

The Christopher Tomkinson Trophy cup – donated to the Bentley Drivers Club the time of Christopher's death by Darrell Berthon – is still challenged for each year.

This car is for sale as of September 8, 2017

  Source: Bonhams
Posted: Sep 08, 2017
In England in 2006 / Owned by a BDC member
Click on thumbnail for larger view

2005 Christies Auction

  Source: Christies
Posted: Dec 03, 2010
Click on thumbnail for larger view

"Formerly the property of C.C.Tompkinson and Lt.Col.Berthon. One owner for the last 49 years.

Black with black wings, green chassis and black upholstery.

Engine: four cylinder in line, overhead valves, 2,996cc, 85 bhp at 3,500 rpm; Gearbox: 'D' 'box, four speed manual, No. 1799; Suspension: front, semi-elliptic leaf springs, rear, out-rigged, semi-elliptic leaf springs; Brakes: four wheel drum with hydraulic assistance. Right hand drive.

After nearly 40 years of hibernation, this 3 litre Bentley was unearthed by Christie's specialists in October. The car as it stands today represents the continuous history of a late 3 Litre Speed model, chassis number BL 1604. The car was sold originally in April 1927 to a Miss J. Kerr, and fitted with unusual 3 seater 'Cloverleaf' bodywork supplied by Vanden Plas (Body No. 1368). It was not only the bodywork which was specific to this car, but also the additional features of twin side mounted spare wheels and black oxidised screen and accessories. This is all confirmed in written form in Brian Smith's Vanden Plas Coachbuilders book, where it is illustrated and also in Johnnie Green's Fifty Years of the Marque. The completed car was registered new in Lancashire as confirmed by its 'TD' numberplate prefix.

It is not known when, but almost certainly no later than the mid-1930s the car was crashed as recorded in Hay's Bentley - The Vintage Years. It was subsequently rebuilt on a shortened standard wheelbase chassis, that of DN 1731, and fitted with the Corsica Two Seater bodywork it still wears today. It is thought that the person who was instrumental in the rebuild was a certain Mr. S.A.M. Bartlett. It then passed to Mr. C.C. Tomkinson in whose hands the car was raced in the late 1930s, its appearances including 1937 at Donington and on the R.A.C. rally in 1939, a photo of which exists today.

The tale that has been passed down through time is that Tomkinson was one of three partners who owned the Bentley at this time and that as they went off to war, they agreed that should any not survive the war, the car would become the property of the others. It seems that one of the others was Lt. Col. Berthon, later secretary of the Bentley Drivers Club, who by 1947 had been deeded the car. Sold in 1950 it passed into the present owner's hands in 1956. A thorough inspection of the car today confirms that it retains much proof of the continuity of the entity including the front axle, engine, instrument cluster bearing 'BL 1604' and of course its registration. Of additional intrigue to the tale, is the fact that at some stage in its 1930s rebuild or later it gained the more robust 'D' Type gearbox which was fitted to the first 'Blower Bentley', SM 3901, a car that was scrapped in the late 1930s, while the back axle 'banjo' is from chassis PB 3543 although its nosepiece is in closer parity to the original chassis number being numbered BL 1611. It is also clear that at some stage the block has been skimmed to increase compression ratio and then later toned down with a compression plate.

Today, technical detail aside, it is clear that the motivation for all modifications was to build a very effective competition racer. It is certainly uncommon for racing cars from this period to survive in the form in which they were originally configured, and rarely do they retain period coachwork both of which are a result of its near half century of current ownership.

With an interesting history and almost certainly more of its pre-war history to be researched, this charismatic Bentley offers an intriguing proposition for any enthusiast of the marque.

Included with the car are, 5 smaller diameter wheels, a flywheel, spare block, track rod, various original brake rods, 2 'ML' magnetos and the original brake drums.

Christie's is grateful to the W.O. Bentley Memorial Foundation, George Klepp and Robert King for their assistance in the cataloguing of this car."

  Source: Practical Classics
Posted: May 27, 2006
Chassis No. BL1604
Engine No. BL1605
Registration No. TD 8966
Date of Delivery: Apr 1927
Type of Body: 3-seater
Coachbuilder: Vanden Plas
Type of Car: SP
First Owner: KERR Miss J
  More Info: According to original Vanden Plas Coachbuilder records, this car was originally fitted with Body No. 1368 with a Speed model 3-seater; clover Leaf, black oxydised screen; 2 spare wheels; 3/1927.

Michael Hay, in his book Bentley: The Vintage Years, 1997, states: "Vanden Plas body 1368. Clover leaf 3 seater, black oxidised screen, 2 spare wheels. Rebuilt as Corsica 2 seater - D Box. Written off - rebuilt on chassis frame DN 1731."
  Updated: Jul 05, 2007
Posted: Mar 01, 2007
Submit more information on this car
Jan 19, 2018 - Info and photograph added for Registration No. GU 858
Jan 18, 2018 - Info and photographs added for Registration No. GP 42
Jan 17, 2018 - Info and photograph added for Registration No. UV 3070

October 2017 issue
Subscribe :: Archives
Upcoming Vintage Bentley Events
For Sale    Wanted
For Sale    Wanted
For Sale    Wanted

Privacy Policy | Copyright & Disclaimer | Sitemap | Contact

Founder & Host: Robert McLellan ~ Editor: Mona Nath ::

Copyright © 2006-2018