Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance judges, after keeping the crowd in suspense for nearly 45 minutes while missing ballots were hunted down, awarded its 2019 Best in Show award to a 1931 8 Litre Bentley. That’s because the entire week preceding the show had been a celebration of Bentley’s 100th anniversary, with pre- and post-war Bentleys seen everywhere on this gilded peninsula throughout the week leading up to the Concours.
That fact may have given the car a little boost, acknowledged the car’s owner, Sir Michael Kadoorie, the Hong Kong-based billionaire hotelier and investor. “The fact that it’s the centennial may have helped” sway the judges, Kadoorie said, adding that the 8.0-liter was also the fullest expression of Bentley founder W.O. Bentley’s ambition to build a Rolls-Royce competitor. “It was guaranteed to go 100 mph and it was the ultimate Bentley for W.O.,” said Kadoorie, who plans to keep the car at his Pebble Beach house for awhile before shipping it home to England.
Kadoorie’s black Gurney Nutting-bodied Sports Tourer represented one of the last of the original Cricklewood factory Bentleys to be built before the company went bankrupt and was sold to its arch nemesis, Rolls-Royce. The dual-cowl body with detachable rear windscreen is thought to be the sole surviving example of this particular body style.
While most people think of these early Bentleys as “blowers,” in fact none of the 3000 or so cars that emerged from Cricklewood were supercharged (customers supercharged a few for racing). W.O. Bentley wasn’t a fan of supercharging, believing the best way to boost engine output in those early days of motoring was simply to increase displacement. After building 3.0-liter and 4.5-liter engines, eventually Bentley debuted its first 8.0-liter engine in 1930.
Thus the “8 Litre” with its 7983-cc inline-six engine was the best-distilled example of W.O.’s vision before the company passed from his hands, in that it directly targeted the then-new Rolls-Royce Phantom II. Kadoorie, who has owned the Bentley nine years and calls himself “just a caretaker,” said it had been in restoration for four years when he bought it, and he finished it off in six months. “I never thought it would make Best in Show,” he said.
Fittingly, on Bentley’s centennial, it did just that.