Motoring | Features

1938 Bentley Embiricos

After Rolls-Royce snapped up Bentley, the latter started to produce rather more elegant cars than those focused on speed. The Embiricos changed all that

  • By Imran Malik, Sub editor, wheels
  • Published: 11:32 August 23, 2012
  • Wheels

1938 Bentley 4 1/4 Litre Embiricos
  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • 1938 Bentley 4 1/4 Litre Embiricos

The home of Bentley motor cars is the place to be this month for making a historic appearance in Crewe, England will be the magnificent 1938 4 1/4 Litre Embiricos one-off special.

This, one of the rarest and most valuable Bentleys in the world, will take pride of place at the Lineage Showroom in the firm’s Pyms Lane factory. Heck, it’s worth flying out to the UK for, but if you’re not willing to shell out Dh4,000 on a plane ticket (that’d be crazy…) then this little piece will have to do.

Back in the Twenties, Bentley was building some truly quick cars and was regularly taking the honours at Le Mans. However, when Rolls-Royce bought the carmaker in the Thirties, it began to suffer in terms of performance.

When a 4 1/4 Litre Bentley was tested at the Bristol wind tunnel, it was here that engineers discovered that the car was more efficient when going backwards. The problem was its large grille. It was causing a tremendous amount of drag, but customers loved the opulent look of it. So Bentley decided to experiment a little and when they received backing from Greek shipping magnate/racer, André Embiricos, the boys went to work on a new low-drag 4 1/4 Litre model.

The emphasis was on performance and the car you see pictured was the result.
Penned by Georges Paulin of French coachbuilder Pourtout Carrossier, he designed a striking body, which would help the 4 1/4-Litre cut through the air better.

The fastback featured teardrop shaped fenders while the rear wheels were covered to help lower the car’s drag. It did the trick as the split-window Embiricos with a tweaked 4.3-litre straight six, larger carburettors that bumped up the horses from 125 to 142 and riding on stiffer shocks and reached 184kph at Brooklands.

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It was the fastest saloon in Britain before the war. The one-off model had achieved its target and André parted with it to HSF Hay who competed with it in three post-war Le Mans 24 Hour races.

The car swapped hands a few more times where it was even painted a shade of blue. It’s since been restored to its original gun-metal silver and even though it was never put into production the importance of the Embiricos is undeniable.

It was way ahead of its time and allowed Bentley to explore similar, swoopy designs such as the 1952 R Type Continental. It helped shape the company’s design ethos and its DNA is still evident in today’s models.

It hadn’t been since for years until making a sensational return at the 2001 Meadow Brook vintage car show where it won Best of Show. Fans had to wait eight years when it took the headlines at Pebble Beach in 2009 during Bentley’s 90th anniversary celebrations.

Who knows when and where it’ll be seen after it is done showing off at Crewe. Hmm, suddenly that ticket to the UK doesn’t seem so crazy after all…

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