Destroyed Bentleys the stuff of legend: Jonathan Glancey on the loss of several 'automotive adrenalin pumps' yesterday

AMONG the Bentleys destroyed in yesterday's fire is the oldest surviving Bentley (chassis number 5, engine number 1), a 3-litre car built in September 1921 and used by Bentley as a demonstrator to sell one of the greatest all motoring breeds to the rich and racey.

The other machines undergoing restoration, rebuilding or simply being stored at Excel Engineering - an expert Bentley restoration outfit - date from between 1922 and 1931. Among them is YV9987, a 1927 4 1/2 -litre tourer: its distraught owner had brought it back to Solihull on Sunday for a 500-mile service after a complete restoration.

Vintage Bentleys are not just valuable, but the stuff of motoring legend on and off the track. These are the great Bulldog Drummond breed of green and black Bentleys that won the famous Le Mans 24-hour race five times for Britain, beating contemporary Bugattis and Alfa-Romeos. Ettorre Bugatti, in a famous quip, described the 35-cwt racer as the 'world's fastest lorry'.

Small wonder Jim Pike and Graham King, joint owners of Excel Engineering, risked severe injury in an ill-fated attempt to save the cars. These were not just any Bentleys, but the real thing: magnificent high-speed machines designed and built by one of the greatest of all British engineers W O Bentley (1889-1971) during the all too brief 12-year history of his headline-snatching, yet chronically underfunded manufacturing company.

Bentley Motors went bust during the Great Slump and was snatched up by its British rival Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royce began making its own Bentleys in 1933, but the cars were softer, smoother and altogether less sporting than W O's automotive adrenalin pumps.

Rarity, racing pedigree and the sheer quality of the engineering that went into their construction have made vintage Bentleys some of the most valuable and sought after of all cars.

The legendary 4 1/2 -litre supercharged Bentleys are worth about pounds 1m today.

Launched in the teeth of the 1929 slump, this model was priced originally at pounds 1,720.

But Bentley dealers were forced to sell the last 50 cars for as little as pounds 950 as buyers for such luxury machines faced bankruptcy. As late as the early Sixties it was possible to buy one of these 110mph Twenties' supercars for well under pounds 600. Since then, prices have shot into the stratosphere.

Real Bentleys are rare because Bentley Motors went bankrupt because it built cars to a standard way above the ceiling of the company's finances.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer / Developer

£12000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: New Full-time, Part-time and Fr...

Recruitment Genius: Multidrop Van Driver

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to rapid expansion, this family owned comp...

Recruitment Genius: Electrical Engineer

£26500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral