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Coachwork by Vanden Plas
Formerly the Property of Gerald T.S. Bevan and Anthony Bevan
Gerald Bevan and his son Anthony were members of the elite group associated with English motor sports and the Bentley Boys. Friends with Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin, Anthony Bevan found himself at the wheel of a number of Bentleys, including Birkin’s own works 4 1/2 Litre as his entry to the 1931 24 Hours of Le Mans. A competitor in his own right, Anthony favored Bentleys for racing and piloted several of them quite commendably, frequently at Brooklands.
￼Gerald and Anthony were also keen early collectors of motorcars. In the years surrounding Bentley Motors’ sale to Rolls- Royce, Birkin and Mike Couper established a service center at Birkin’s racing workshop (where he had designed and built the Blower team cars). During that period, Birkin sold his Number 3 Blower (YU3250) and his Works 4 1/2 Litre (YV7263) to the Bevans. The cars remained stabled there for a number of years, finding regular use and service, standing as all-too-recent relics of a fantastic era. However, the Bevans’ taste for significant Bentleys was not limited to factory team cars, having also purchased a production 4 1/2 Litre, MF3153.Originally intended for export to José Shepherd & Bell of Argentina, MF3153 was specified with a Vanden Plas Sports Four-Seater (body no. 1457). The standard Vanden Plas body was uniquely fitted with a windscreen featuring extended irons, which swept forward along the metal-paneled scuttle. This was a feature only known to be implemented on a handful of 3 Litres and 4 1/2 Litres bound for Argentina, specified so by Vanden Plas. As expected, the remainder of the body was finished with Weymann fabric.
It was often the case that the cars delivered to José Shepherd & Bell were used for racing by their Argentinean clientele. For unknown reasons, however, MF3153 and two other 4 1/2 Litres ordered by José Shepherd & Bell in 1928 were returned to the UK a little over a year later. The cars received some minor servicing and were then sold as new, with guarantees.
At that time, MF3153 was bought by Gerald Bevan and, by association, his son Anthony Bevan. With their stable of Le Mans team cars, the Bevans made the decision to significantly upgrade MF3153. With the help of the factory, his friend Tim Birkin, and the Birkin and Couper racing and service workshop, the 4 1/2 Litre was fitted with numerous Le Mans-specifications features. Chassis MF3153 received a stone guard affixed to the radiator and a quick-release radiator cap, as was standard for team cars. A large-diameter rev counter was fitted to the dash – a very rare option. Furthermore, a Le Mans-type petrol tank with quick-release cap was fitted, significantly raising the fuel capacity – something needed for competition, but not at all standard. The Le Mans tank required the relocation of the rear-mounted spare wheel to the side of the car as with Le Mans chassis. Subsequently, it is believed that the fenders were changed to the cycle type now seen on the car.
Most notable of the work carried out, however, was the fitting of the magnesium, or Elektron, blower crankcase, SM3905. As an early blower crankcase, and originally used for display in the Olympia Motor Show Supercharged 4 1/2 Litre, the unique item was a desirable component among the racing shop’s many spares. Furthermore, the 4 1/2 Litre was fitted with the magneto turret out of Bernard Rubin’s own 4 1/2 Litre (HM3187), which was rebuilt as the first “Blower” Bentley. Having originally been equipped with “Sloper” SU Carburetors and other late-production components, including the aluminum sump, MF3153 became the ultimate specification 4 1/2 Litre (un-supercharged).
Once completed, Bevan’s new tourer had every bit of the look and feel of a proper Le Mans team car. Regardless of intent, MF3153 was a menacing road car and a capable race car. Fittingly, it is believed that Bevan went on to race the car at Brooklands in 1931 in the Warwick Junior Long Handicap and the Second Easter Mountain Speed Handicap.
In September 1931, the 4 1/2 Litre joined a fleet of two other Vintage Bentleys purchased by Sir Guy Domville Baronet, a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and a renowned bridge player. Service records for the car continued; and, in 1932, the Bentley found a new owner in Mr. L. Edwards. During Mr. Edwards’ ownership of the car, work was undertaken by McKenzie Motors, including the replacement of the gearbox. Mr. Edwards retained the car until William Francis Forbes-Sempill purchased the 4 1/2 Litre later that same year. Lord Sempill was a decorated, record-breaking aviator with links to the royal family, although he was later forced to retire from the Royal Navy. Having broken numerous air records in some of the era’s finest equipment, the Le Mans-specifications Bentley was unquestionably a familiar sort of machine.
Having survived the war in the hands of Lord Sempill, the Bentley passed to Terry Breen in 1946. Mr. Breen and his yard in North London became legendary among Bentley enthusiasts who were looking to acquire spares or complete automobiles. Having had numerous Bentleys, Mr. Breen recognized the special nature of MF3153 and kept it as his own. In Mr. Breen’s care, the 4 1/2 Litre saw frequent sporting use, including participation in the 1954 and 1957 Anglo-American Rally. During this time, Mr. Breen saw fit to replace the gearbox with a proper D-type unit. Numerous post-war photos of MF3153 show the car’s presence at BDC and VSCC meetings. It was during this time that enthusiasts became readily aware of the reputation of MF3153.
After nearly two decades of ownership, Mr. Breen chose to part with MF3153, and he listed the 4 1/2 Litre for sale in the April 1965 issue of Motorsport. The car was then purchased by Mr. J. Elvins, marking the start of a 15-year stewardship. The Bentley subsequently passed to Mr. G.R. Crosthwaite for a number of years before Roland Jones purchased the car. Having sold it shortly thereafter to Mr. M. Leake, the Bentley eventually sold to Richard Saunders, the former president of the Bentley Drivers Club and owner of several significant Vintage Bentleys.
Realizing he had made a mistake by selling MF3153, Mr. Jones pursued the car and bought it back in 2002. His intent this time was to have the car restored to a level worthy of the car’s quality. The restoration was conducted at the most impressive level. Richard Cresswell at VBE Engineering undertook the mechanical restoration, while the coachwork and finishing was entrusted to Graham Moss. Tim Houlding was also retained for his expert advice on the project. The collaboration brought together the finest and most respected of Vintage Bentley restorers. The end result was spectacular, and in 2005, MF3153 handily won Best of Show at the annual Bentley Driver’s Club Concours.
For Mr. Jones and MF3153, the culminating victory also marked a parting of ways, and shortly thereafter, the Semi-Le Mans Bentley found a place in a private German collection where it was stabled with some of the greatest purebred pre-war sports cars. In 2011, after finally acquiring a factory team car, the collector parted with MF3153, and it passed to a US collector whose garage has housed a majority of the most important Bentleys extant.
Today, MF3153 remains in exceptionally correct order, retaining its major original components. The chassis is properly stamped in both locations with “MF3153,” as is the front axle and the steering box. Both sides of the original hood are stamped with the chassis number as well. The engine number, SM3905, is properly stamped on the crankcase. The correct VDP body number, 1457, can be found stamped in the body’s ash frame as expected. Bentley expert Clare Hay has further documented the components of the car. Even the rare items, such as the large-diameter rev counter and large-capacity fuel tank, are original to the car. The top bows are the original set as well. Furthermore, the Bentley is accompanied by a tool kit with many original pieces and an original 4 1/2 Litre owner’s handbook.
When driving, MF3153 is notably fast and unquestionably well sorted. The driver is encouraged by the car’s free-revving motor and considerable torque, and then rewarded by its lightness and direct handling. It is best described as an addictive pleasure – among the finest driving Vintage Bentleys.
Visually the car is equally as impressive. With its special coachwork features, cycle wings, Le Mans components, and high level of finish, the 4 1/2 Litre presents as the ideal Vintage Bentley. It boasts a sporting and utilitarian character that only enhances its very striking appearance.
Chassis MF3153 remains one of the best known and most highly regarded 4 1/2 Litres. Given the car’s early associations, unusual Semi-Le Mans specifications, competition history, and known and notable ownership, it is bettered only through its high-level restoration by the marque’s leading specialists. Furthermore, the car is an ultimate- specification 4 1/2 Litre, making it perhaps the most ideal and well balanced of Bentleys. Simply put, MF3153 is a noteworthy example and warrants serious consideration.