Jay Leno’s 1931 Bentley Mulliner Sedan Is 8 Liters of Class

As luxurious as its modern models are, for some Bentley’s classic models are among its most impressive. The Blower Bentley, for example, is such an icon that the British automaker is making some brand-new continuation versions. But it’s not the subject of Jay Leno’s recent video. Instead, Leno presents what he claims many consider to be one of the brand’s greatest achievements: a 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Mulliner.

The 1930-1932 Bentley 8 Litre was W.O.’s last independent masterpiece

A black 1930 Bentley 8 Litre in front of a 2011 Bentley Mulsanne on a forest road
1930 Bentley 8 Litre with a 2011 Bentley Mulsanne | Bentley

Bentley has a somewhat complicated ownership history. In the late 1990s, ownership passed to Volkswagen, which still owns the British brand. It’s thanks to VW that we got the modern Continental GT, for example. However, before that, Rolls-Royce owned Bentley. And that was in part due to the last car founder W.O. Bentley designed: the 1930 8 Litre, Automobile reports.

Ironically, the 1930 Bentley 8 Litre was supposed to be a Rolls-Royce rival, Car and Driver reports. Unfortunately, it was introduced right before Wall Street crashed in 1929. The financial combo hit left Bentley bankrupt, and Rolls-Royce swooped in to scoop it up, Automobile explains. But, while the economy hamstrung the 8 Litre’s chance to compete, the car was well-prepared for the task.

The side view of a 1930 Bentley 8 Litre
1930 Bentley 8 Litre side | Bentley

As its name suggests, the Bentley 8 Litre has an 8-liter straight-6 engine, which boasts cutting-edge contemporary technology, Hagerty reports. It has aluminum pistons, twin spark plugs and four valves per cylinder, and a magnesium-alloy crankcase, The Drive reports. There’s also no head gasket to blow because the head is built into the block. It only makes 220 hp, sent to the rear wheels via a 4-speed manual, RM Sotheby’s reports. However, there’s plenty of low-end torque, Road & Track reports.

More to the point, for the time the Bentley 8 Litre was an extremely fast and comfortable grand tourer. As was customary at the time, the 8 Litre is a coach-built car: Bentley supplied the powertrain and chassis, but a separate company, such as Mulliner, installed the body and interior. But regardless of the bodywork, each 8 Litre was guaranteed to do 100 mph, making it the fastest production car in the world at the time, Bonhams reports.

Jay Leno’s 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Mulliner can still hit 100 mph in luxury

Jay Leno can attest to that 100-mph claim with his own 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Mulliner sedan. He has the GPS-verified data to back it up. And he reports that, with lighter coachwork, these vintage cars can do 125 mph. In short, the 8 Litre is an antique that can still keep up with modern traffic.

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Naturally, the 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Mulliner shows its age in other ways. Gas goes from the fuel tank to the carburetors via gravity feed and a vacuum tank rather than a pump. And, in a nod to W.O. Bentley’s start as a locomotive engineer, the engine’s camshaft doesn’t have a chain, a belt, or even gears. Instead, train-like ‘con rods’ open and close the valves. Also, because of how it’s laid out, if you want to change the fan belt, you have to pull the engine out.

But once it’s moving, Jay Leno reports “it’s a fascinating car to drive.” Not least of which is due to this 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Mulliner’s history. It used to be an ambassador’s car in Chile, but for many years it was a chicken coop. Until Leno rescued it, of course.

The brown-leather rear seats of a 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Sedanca de Ville
1931 Bentley 8 Litre Sedanca de Ville rear interior | Bonhams

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Driving the Bentley 8 Litre reveals that it’s still a great GT; Jay Leno describes it as “driving a library.” It’s easy to get in and out, and the down-filled leather seats are very comfortable. There’s also plenty of space and storage areas. While the brakes are vacuum-assisted drums, they feel almost like hydraulic ones. And the steering, though heavy at rest, lightens up well as you’re moving.

Little wonder, Jay Leno muses, that Rolls-Royce bought Bentley: it didn’t want the competition.

Good luck trying to get one today

The Wall Street crash didn’t help the Bentley 8 Litre’s chances, and neither did its original price. Back in 1930, it cost the equivalent of $293k, Jay Leno reports. And that’s without any bodywork or an interior. Bentley only made 100 examples before it went bankrupt.

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As a result, these cars are highly valued today. Examples regularly sell in the $800,000-$1,000,000 range at RM Sotheby’s and Bonhams auctions. So, your best odds at seeing one, outside of Leno’s video, is visiting a Concours event.

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