A 1931 Bentley 8-Litre with Gurney Nutting Sports Touring coachwork has won best-in-show at the 2019 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, racking up yet another win for a pre-World War II vehicle at the distinguished event.
The Bentley was one of six different Bentley 8-Litre cars at the show, four of which featured coachwork by Vanden Plas and one with a Murphy body. Only 100 Bentley 8-Litre cars were built in total and they were featured in their own special class at Pebble Beach to honor the brand’s 100th anniversary. The 8-Litre was developed under Bentley Boy Woolf Barnato who in addition to winning Le Mans on three occasions also became chairman of Bentley Motors by the end of 1926. Barnato himself purchased a large portion of the company to save it from financial duress, but ultimately he was unable to turn around Bentley’s fortunes and the brand went into receivership in 1931, when it was purchased by Rolls-Royce. Today, Bentley is part of Volkswagen Group.
Around the launch of the 8-Litre in 1930 at the Olympia Motor Show, company founder W.O. Bentley wrote, “I have always wanted to produce a completely silent 100-mph car, and now I think we have done it.” Compared to the previous Speed Six, the 8-Litre had a new chassis that was lower to the ground for improved handling. This car is one of just two 8-Litre Bentleys built with the short chassis and Gurney Nutting coachwork, but is the sole surviving example after the sister car had its body transferred to a Rolls-Royce Phantom chassis. Ironically, the Phantom was the 8-Litre’s primary competitor in the marketplace.
W.O. Bentley was still very much involved in the brand at the time, though he didn’t command the power he once did. This was most evident by his dismissal of supercharger technology, which Barnato overruled to produce a series of more powerful 4 ½-Litre “Blower” Bentleys to compete with at Le Mans. As it turned out, the supercharged Bentleys were plagued with reliability issues.
Postwar cars have won the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance just seven times in 69 years and only one was a finalist for this year’s best-in-show award: a 1962 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato that was part of the Zagato Centennial Post War class. The other two finalists were a 1938 Talbot-Lago T150C-SS Figoni & Falaschi Teardrop Cabriolet and a 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Erdmann & Rossi Special Cabriolet.