The car that didn’t save Bentley during the Great Depression

When the Great Depression struck the world, the automotive industry, like other industries at the time, suffered dramatically. It took a serious toll on Bentley; so much so, that it didn’t take long for its finances to fall into shambles, and the company to be placed in receivership. Before that happened, however, Bentley tried to turn things around by introducing the Bentley 8 Litre. It was announced to the public on September 15, 1930, and was the last completely new model from Bentley before the company fell apart and Rolls-Royce Limited took ownership of the struggling company.

Due to the timing of the Great Depression, sales of Bentley’s newest wealthy people hauler were incredibly slow. With only 100 examples produced between 1930 and 1932, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Despite the fact that sales were poor, the 8 Litre was a fine automobile. It featured an 8-liter straight-six, and the chassis came at a cost of about $1,850. The model we’re here to talk about today is a 1932 tourer model that features coachwork by Vaden Plas. To put it shortly, the car is elegant and beautiful.

This specific model just went under the hammer at RM Sotheby’s auction during Monterey Car Week in 2016. We were on the scene and snagged a lot of good pictures of this beauty. So, let’s dive on in and take a closer look at this 1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer by Vaden Plas.

Keep reading for our full review.

  • 1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer
  • Year:
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1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer High Resolution Exterior
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1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer High Resolution Exterior
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1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer High Resolution Exterior
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If you’ve even glanced at the pictures of this Bentley, you don’t need me to tell you how beautiful it is. The front end is embraced by a pair of large headlights, and a pair of smaller driving lights mounted ahead of the grille. The grille itself is shiny chrome and outlined with a red pin stripe. You can find the turn indicator lights perched ever so elegantly on top of the front fenders, which – like other cars of this era – terminate just ahead of the front wheels.

If you’ve even glanced at the pictures of this Bentley, you don’t need me to tell you how beautiful it is

Moving to the sides, those fenders swoop downward toward the bottom of the vehicle and flatten out to provide a step for passengers to get into the vehicle. There appears to be varnished wood placed here – another elegant feature from this era. The long hood is vented on each side to provide for better cooling and airflow, while a leather strap is wrapped around the hood to secure it position. Further back, we see chrome mirror arms that support chromed out mirror housings. As you can see the car has two doors on each side that are hinged in the center, allowing the doors to open against each other. Behind the doors, you’ll find the rolled up leather top and rear fenders that are more dramatically curved than the fronts.

The rear end of this Bentley just screams 1930s perfection. The rear of the car, along with the rear fenders curve downward as a steep grade. A spare wheel and tire is attached to the very rear, which also houses serves as a mount for the taillights and license plate. The gas fill tube sits between the left fender and the body, and each fender features a small red reflector. As you can imagine, these reflectors were much needed given the size of the rear lights and the quality of exterior headlights at the time. A single exhaust pipe runs under the left side of the vehicle and exits straight out of the rear.


1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer High Resolution Interior
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On the inside of this historic Bentley, you’ll find a healthy dose of tan leather. There’s so much leather, in fact, that it covers every interior panel, including the doors, the area around the dash, part of the kick panels on each side, and the seats. The leather seats are a little dated on this specific model, obviously from use, but are far from destroyed. If anything, it adds a little more character to the interior and expresses the car’s age.

The dash panel is made of wood and looks to have the same finish as the wood panels on the side steps of the exterior. The dash houses various gauges, including a speedometer and a clock, as well has the various, but limited (by today’s standards) controls. The steering wheel is a four-spoke unit that is finished in gloss black and features a large, round hub in the center. The carpeting on this model is also tan, matching the leather throughout the interior.


1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer High Resolution Exterior
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The engine hidden under this beast’s long hood is an 8.0-liter straight-six that was designed by Walter Owen Bentley himself. It had a single overhead cam and featured four valves per cylinder, twin SU Carburetors, and a patented triple connecting rod system. The chassis itself was a steel ladder design, which meant that the engine and transmission on this model weren’t used as support devices. The engine had a cylinder bore of 3.9 inches and a stroke of 5.5 inches. Total output was 220 horsepower, which equates to 27.56 horsepower per liter. Power was sent to the rear wheels via a four-speed, sliding pinion manual transmission.

Total output was 220 horsepower, 27.56 horsepower per liter.

Up front, the 8 Litre featured a solid axle while the rear got a live axle. Half-elliptic lead springs handled suspension duties in the front and rear. The car’s wheelbase measured at 156 inches and braking duties were handled by drums in the front and rear that features servo assist. Top speed for this model is said to have been 104 mph with zero to 100 mph taking about 50 seconds. Not too bad for a car built in 1932, right?


1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer High Resolution Exterior
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Much like we find today, not everybody has the kind of cheddar sitting around that warranted ownership of a Bentley. That and the great depression had a dramatic effect on how many of 8 Litres were actually built. It has been said that only 100 of these models were built, and as of 2011, only 78 8 Litres were known to have still been in existence. Most of those have been restored using replica bodies at one point or another, so vehicles that still have an original body are sought after by collectors. Back in 1932, the Bentley 8 Litre sold for about $2,448. That, however, was just for the chassis. The coachwork was an added cost and varied by the taste of the car’s owner. To put that into perspective, in today’s money, that rolling chassis would set you back about $43,000, and you can bet the body commanded nearly as much once everything was said and done.

The model you see here recently went under the hammer at an RM Sotheby’s auction during Monterey Car Week 2016. It changed owners for a tidy sum of $1,705,000.


Peugeot 601

1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer
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The Peugeot 601 came a couple of years after the Bentley 8 Litre and was produced in 3,999 examples between 1934 and 1935. It was Peugeot’s range-topping model and also marked the brand’s return to six-cylinder engines. That engine was a 2.1-liter straight-six that produced just 60 horsepower (sounds just like all the low-powered Peugeot’s we know today, huh?) The car had an overall length of 181.1 inches and tipped the scales at around 3,100 pounds. With that kind of weight and so little power, this thing topped out around 65 mph. No pricing is available that is anywhere near reliable, but it’s safe to say the Bentley was probably a bit more expensive. IT was available in a number of forms including a saloon, limousine, cabriolet, and roadster, among others.


1932 Bentley 8-Litre Tourer High Resolution Exterior
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There’s just something about these old luxury rides that really gets my blood flowing. In a world that is focused on wild and aggressive designs, it’s nice to look back at history and see something that is just as elegant without being so radically aggressive. The smooth contour of the flaps on each side, the wood on the side step, and the gentle vents across the engine hood all serve as a reminder that out concepts of luxury and style have changed a lot over the years.

This model is a gorgeous representation of Bentley history and, with a selling price of $1.7 million in the RM Sotheby’s auction during Monterey Car Week 2016, it just goes to show how valuable this car is not only to history but to collectors as well. We took a number of good shots during the auction’s preview, and you can check all of them out in the Photo’s tab at the top of the page.

  • Leave it
    • A bit too expensive for my taste
    • Only 100 ever built
Robert Moore
Robert Moore
Editor-in-Chief and Automotive Expert -
Robert has been an auto enthusiast his entire life. He started working cars at a young age, learning the basics from his father in the home garage on the weekends. As time went on, Robert became more and more interested in cars and convinced his father to teach him how to drive when he was just 13 years old. Robert continued working on cars in his free time and learned as much as he could about engines, transmissions, and car electrical systems, something that only fed his curiosity more and eventually led him to earn a bachelors degree in automotive technology with a primary focus on engine performance and transmission rebuilding.  Read full bio
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