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4¼ Litre 'Embiricos' Special
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  Bentley 4¼ Litre 'Embiricos' Special
 

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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced in:1938
Numbers built:One-Off
Designed by:Georges Paulin for Pourtout
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:December 23, 2009
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Click here to download printer friendly versionAfter being absorbed by Rolls-Royce in 1931, Bentley was but a shadow of its former self. During the 1920s the British manufacturer had built high performance sports cars that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times in eight attempts. The exquisite but not very profitable line-up was replaced with mildly modified and rebadged versions of Rolls-Royce's smallest cars. These were fine cars but towards the decade they lost touch with the closest rivals. Especially on the new highways the very traditionally shaped Bentleys struggled to keep up. To their credit, Rolls-Royce recognised the problem and asked the Bentley engineers to find a solution using the existing 4¼ Litre model.

In order to get a grasp of the situation, one of the 4¼ Litre Bentleys was tested in the Bristol wind-tunnel. Here it was discovered that the car was actually more efficient running backwards. What clearly was needed was a thoroughly different exterior design to give the Bentley any chance of decent top speed. A big problem was the imposing grille, which had the aerodynamic characteristics of a brick wall but was also deemed in intricate part of the brand's image. Fearing a more modern grille would not appeal to the conservative Bentley customers, the engineers were told to find a buyer for an experimental new car first, before the work was started. In Greek shipping magnate, André Embiricos, Bentley found an enthusiastic sponsor for the 'low drag' 4¼ Litre.

For the design and construction of the new body, Bentley turned to France where coach-builders had produced some very aerodynamic shapes. Communication within the two companies was still far from ideal as Rolls-Royce believed that the Bentley engineers had hired renowned aerodynamic expert Jean Andreau but they actually commissioned the work to not quite so well known designer Georges Paulin. Particularly his work on the Darl'mat Peugeots had impressed the British engineers. Paulin penned a coupe shape that was very reminiscent of his 'teardrop' designs for the similarly sized Talbot Lago and Delage chassis. Included were a cowled radiator cover and teardrop shaped fenders. At the rear the wheels were covered to further lower the car's drag.

Before sending the 4¼ Litre chassis over to Paris for the installation of the body, the Bentley engineers first made some minor tweaks. The compression on the Straight 6 engine was increased and larger carburettors were fitted, which resulted in a bump in power from 125 to 142 bhp. A lower radiator was also fitted to accommodate for the new body. The rolling chassis was then shipped to the Pourtout workshop; Paulin's coach-builder of choice. Rolls-Royce, incidentally, believed the work was actually done by Vanvooren. The artisans at Pourtout crafted the body mostly out of aluminium to keep the car's weight down. Even the frames for the seats were constructed from the lightweight metal. Their efforts resulted in saving of over 100 kg compared to a conventionally bodied chassis.

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  Article Image gallery (9) Specifications User Comments (1)