Bentley Mark V
The 4 ¼ Litre Derby Bentley – advertised as the ‘Silent Sports Car’ – was refined, reliable and loved by owners, among them land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell. But by the late 1930s it had become obvious that its chassis design was becoming dated. Competitors with newer designs were crowding in and sales were in decline. The Bentley Mark V was the company’s answer – but its time was short-lived, as the outbreak of WWII halted all car production until 1946. Following the war the first car to emerge from the Crewe works was the highly successful Bentley Mark VI. This was effectively the fully-developed form of the Mark V, including all the components and engineering revisions originally planned for its predecessor.
Independent front suspension
The Mark V was powered by an OHV crossflow 4257cc six-cylinder engine, similar in concept to that of the 4 ¼ Litre Bentley but substantially revised. A new and robust cruciform chassis featured deep side members, making it stiffer to the benefit of both refinement and handling. Brakes were servo driven and the four-speed overdrive gearbox now featured synchromesh on 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears. But the biggest change was the adoption of independent front suspension with coil springs and wishbones.
Prototypes and one-offs
The first Mark V prototypes were warmly received by the board of directors and a series of Mark V Bentleys were prepared for long-distance testing in continental Europe during 1938. The company also commissioned an aerodynamic version called the Corniche; it was designed by Georges Paulin, creator of the influential Embiricos Bentley, and bodied by Carosserie Vanvooren in France. Unfortunately this ‘missing link’ between pre-war Embiricos and post-war Continental was badly damaged in a crash on 7th August 1939 in France; the chassis was returned to Derby while the entire body was removed and repaired at a local coachworks. The repaired body was later waiting on the dockside at Dieppe when it was caught in a bombing raid and completely destroyed. Another one-off prototype was an eight-cylinder version of the Mark V, nicknamed the ‘Scalded Cat’ due to its electrifying performance.
Ready for sale
According to automotive historian Ken Lea, the Bentley Mark V was ‘probably the most thoroughly developed and tested car the company had seen.’ It was signed off for production in time for its planned debut at the 1939 Olympia Motor Show, where it would have been displayed with bodywork by a number of independent coachbuilders. Following the outbreak of war in September 1939 both production and the motor show were cancelled.
The Bentley Lineage Collection’s Mark V
The Bentley Mark V in the company’s Lineage Collection is one of only seven remaining in the world. Designated as chassis number B-32-AW (with connections for the optional heater) it was ordered by coachbuilder James Young on 7th July 1939 to be fitted with a two-door coupé body for display at the New York World Fair. The order was cancelled on the outbreak of war but the company decided to go ahead with production of a small number of Mark V Bentleys for internal trials. B-32-AW was finally completed in May 1940 by Park Ward with a standard steel four-door sports saloon body. After internal assessment by the company, it was delivered to first owner Geoffrey Smith on the 19th October 1940. Recently, it has been sensitively restored to its original specification by the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust.