One of the most awaited motoring events of the year is the Salon Privé Concours d’Elégance presented by Aviva. From August 31 to September 2, the last of four Bentley 3-Liter experimental cars to be produced will be showcased at the event which will be held at Blenheim Palace.
Marque expert William Medcalf recently finished restoring the example after it spent 50 years in he Schellenberg Collection. After a 70-year hiatus, Jonathan Turner, the current owner of the EXP4, has now brought the car back to the racetrack. Since then, it has participated in different events like the Goodwood Revival. It also participated at the Benjafield’s 100 race at Silverstone which is a perfect tribute to its pre-war competition history when it was driven by Margaret Allan, the first woman to claim victory at a scratch race at Brooklands.
In the early 1920s, before chassis number EXP4 was racing in Brooklands, it was pivotal in Bentley Motors’ transition to four-wheel braking. In 19220, it was originally built as a 3-liter model with a touring body, but Bentley’s chief engineer Frank Burgess used the EXP4 to prove the safety benefits of placing brakes on the front and the rear axle.
There were a lot of apprehension to Burgess’ idea, with the public, the press, and event W.O. Bentley himself thinking that such a system would post danger and discomfort to the passengers. To prove his theory is correct and that it could stop a much quicker car when all four wheels are stopped, he created a device for the EXP4 that used a whitewash-soaked paintbrush mounted under the chassis to mark the road when the brakes are applied and when the car is stopped. He was then able to prove that the braking performance of the EXP4 was much better when all four brakes were applied compared to the rear-only brakes that were previously used on the 3-liter. Eventually, Bentley adopted the system he worked on.
Burgess developed a close bond with the EXP4 and eventually used it as a personal car. Its development role was not finished, however. So, it was not surprising that when Bentley started working on the new 4 ½-liter engine, the EXP4 was again used as a test subject. They used the Exp4 as a ‘mule’ for the bigger powertrain. It was the first short-chassis Bentley that underwent this experiment. In the end, the car was equipped with a 3-liter chassis matched with a 4 ½ Liter’s bulkhead and radiator.
Towards the end of its development life. The EXP4, it was re-bodied as a saloon. In 1929, Burgess who owned and used the EXP4 as a family transport, passed away. It was rebodied two years later using a tourer body designed by Park Ward. In 1933, it was purchased by Margaret Allan, who was the heir of the Allan Line Steamship Company.
At the time, Allan was already an accomplished racing driver. She had already received the coveted 120mph badge after she ran at 122.37mph in a Bentley 6 ½ liter. She was also already successful in scratch racing at the circuit.
After purchasing the EXP4, it was immediately raced it at Brooklands, claiming victory with the Junior Long Handicap on July 8, 1933. The EXP4 was also successful in other circuits like the Surrey track. Allan frequently reached 92mph in the Bentley and normally placed in the top four in races. She competed in a variety of events like the Glasgow Scottish Rally and Brighton Beer Trial. The EXP4 was also Allan’s daily driver and the cushion she used to have a more comfortable driving position is still in the EXP4 today.
After almost two decades or ownership, Allan entered the EXP4 in the 1950 Circuit of Ireland Rally. In her last race in the car, she claimed victory in the Ladies’ Cup. She then sold the EXP4 to Keith Schellenberg who added the car in the Schellenberg Collection and preserved it, using it only minimally.
In 2015, it was acquired by Jonathan Turner.
The EXP4 has currently been restored back to its former glory when Margaret Allan was campaigning it back in the 30s until the 50s. For a year, William Medcalf worked meticulously on the example to ensure that the originality of the car is kept at all costs. Medcalf shared, “The body is the one it raced with. (It’s) a 3 Litre body with a 4½ Litre bulkhead, so the scuttle is different.”
The main problem that Medcalf faced was figuring out what seems to be ‘wrong’ with the car. A lot of changes were done by the factory when the EXP4 was used as a development ‘hack’. Medcalf’s team had to make sure that they don’t simply remove parts in the car that were non-standard as there is a huge chance that it is part of the car’s rich and unique history. “Some (parts) we can explain, some we can’t. The wing irons, for example, are all in different places….Then there’s the handbrake. It’s unique, forged and with a big boss… (and) every vintage Bentley bonnet has 12 louvres on each side. This has 13,” Medcalf added.
The EXP4 is sure to be one of the main attractions in the comping Salon Privé Concours d’Elégance presented by Aviva, thanks to Medcalf’s sympathetic approach to restoring the EXP4 back to its former glory.
Andrew Bagley, Salon Privé’s chairman, is one of the many guests that are looking forward to seeing the EXP4 during the event. He shared, “This car represents an important part of Bentley’s engineering history, and was the lynchpin for two significant technical advances: standardising four-wheel brakes, and the introduction of the 4½ litre engine. That it’s been so painstakingly returned to the race car that it went onto be in later life makes it a compelling entrant at Blenheim next month.”
Guests to Salon Privé can look forward to a variety of different programs which include the Ladies’ Day presented by Boodles, Salon Privé Club Trophy presented by Lockton, and Classic and Supercar event.
Salon Privé Week 2022
31 August – Salon Privé Concours d’Elégance presented by Aviva
1 September – Salon Privé Concours d’Elégance presented by Aviva
2 September – Salon Privé Ladies’ Day presented by Boodles
3 September – Salon Privé Club Trophy presented by Lockton
4 September – Salon Privé Classic & Supercar at Blenheim Palace
Tickets can be purchased through the Salon Privé website.