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The ex-R M 'Bob' Gilbert; highly successful historic racing 1936 Bentley 4¼-Litre Racing Two-Seater Coachwork by Shapecraft Registration no. JR 5544 Chassis no. B186HK Engine no. D5BF

Sold for £103,500 inc. premium
Lot 281
1936 Bentley 4¼-Litre Racing Two-Seater
Coachwork by Shapecraft Registration no. JR 5544 Chassis no. B186HK Engine no. D5BF

The ex-R M 'Bob' Gilbert; highly successful historic racing
1936 Bentley 4¼-Litre Racing Two-Seater
Coachwork by Shapecraft

Registration no. JR 5544
Chassis no. B186HK
Engine no. D5BF

• Rebuilt as a competition car in the late 1980s
• Extensively campaigned in VSCC and BDC events
• Podium finisher at Le Mans in 2006
• Well known and well documented


In the previous vendor's ownership for 33 years, chassis number 'B186HK' was originally completed by Park Ward as a four-door sports saloon and first registered on 27 October 1936. The original registration document does not exist but a continuation document issued on 1 December 1958 records a Capt Maurice Herbert Cousins of London SE 12 as its owner. The Bentley was later acquired by a Mr Stanley Aston of Hall Green, Birmingham (in 1960). The last evidence of its road use is an MoT certificate dated 28 April 1965. After that the car was left in an orchard in Wythall near Birmingham for 18 years. It was acquired by the previous owner on 28 March 1983.

The Bentley was in a very sorry state (see pictures on file) and was completely beyond restoration in its then condition. At the same time a friend and colleague of the then owner acquired a similar car in a similar state. With the help of VSCC member Mr Bruce Spollon (subsequently the Club's President) work started on building two identical cars with the aim of competing in VSCC and other historic racing events. The other car was subsequently sold to a German competitor who unfortunately wrote it off at the Nürburgring. 'JR 5544' is the sole survivor of the two identical cars.
The aim was to build cars that were both beautiful and looked the part, and the 'bare metal' restoration of 'JR 5544', which is fully documented and photographed, took some six years to complete. The car retains its original engine, gearbox and drive train while incorporating minor modifications as suggested by Rusty Russ-Turner in an article in the VSCC bulletin. Hass Motorsport completely rebuilt the engine.

Chassis modifications involved a reduction in wheelbase of 10" by 'cutting and shutting' the original frame, while the front and rear track were widened by 1½" and 2" respectively. The original-pattern lever-type shock absorbers were retained, as were the standard drum brakes, though the original lever/rod mechanism was replaced by a twin-circuit hydraulic system.
An aluminium two-seater body was produced by Shapecraft of Northampton to the owner's design and specification, using the original cast bulkhead and reconstructing the engine cover and bonnet around the original item. The interior was re-trimmed and re-upholstered by Ray Banks who, interestingly, was the designer and supplier of many upholstered props in the original 'Star Wars' films. The car was granted a VSCC eligibility certificate in August 1991.

'JR 5544' was subsequently campaigned extensively in VSCC hill climbs and race meetings, being always very competitive and much admired. Over the years it has been considerably modified as a racing car, although it is still road registered. The modifications include 2" SU carburettors, gas-flowed stainless steel inlet and exhaust manifolds. A new cylinder head was specially manufactured by Bentley specialists, Fiennes Engineering. Subsequently the car has been extremely quick and trouble-free.
'JR 5544' has competed extensively in VSCC and Bentley Drivers' Club events, nearly always being in the top three of any race in which it competed and often winning. It was also part of the winning team for two successive years in the VSCC's endurance race at Donington Park.

This car is featured in Ray Roberts' book 'Bentley Specials and Special Bentleys' where he describes it as the best Bentley special he had ever seen. Despite competing, the car regularly won the BDC's Concours d'Élégance prize at its annual race meeting, and on many occasions won the award for the car BDC members would most like to take home.

The car's last major competitive outing was in 2006 when it was invited to run in the 100th Anniversary race at Le Mans where, fittingly, it repeated the result of the works entry driven by Eddie Hall in 1936 by finishing 3rd and on the podium.

The current vendor purchased the Bentley at Bonhams' sale at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June 2016 (Lot 239), since when it has benefited from some mechanical refurbishment but has seen hardly any use. New Lucas headlamps and sidelights have been fitted, the radiator recored, brakes overhauled, the engine received a new alloy 'head and valves and its been returned to standard compression ratio. The engine will now require careful running in.

The car comes complete with the special Bentley tools to remove the hubs and access the brakes. 'JR 5544' has a V5C document, VSCC eligibility papers and an FIA passport (which will require renewal) making it eligible to race in many historic events overseas. Numerous photographs exist of its original restoration and competition outings, together with all the original documentation relating to expenditure on the car over the years.

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