A big, beautiful Bentley takes top honors at Pebble Beach

You had the feeling that the outcome was preordained somehow. After all, 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of Bentley, and the grand marque, now owned by BMW, was going all out this year to celebrate its centenary. So you had to think Bentley was going to have a prominent place in the results of this year’s 69th edition of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the world’s most prestigious and exclusive judged car show. Of the invited cars to this year’s event, about a quarter were Bentleys, with the competing cars spread out across six classes. You had the feeling that one of them was going to be recognized in the biggest way possible.

After the show cars were hemmed in by the horde of attendees and it was time for the confetti to fly, the Best in Show winner was a Bentley that aptly hearkened back to the British firm’s most glorious days. The biggest prize went to the 1931 Bentley 8 Liter Gurney Nutting Sports Tourer presented by Sir Michael Kadoorie of Hong Kong. As you can see, it was an absolutely outstanding car from a presentation standpoint. First introduced in 1930, the 8 Liter rode on the largest chassis ever produced at Bentley’s Cricklewood factory in London, with most of the 100 or so examples ever built riding on wheelbases of 144 or 156 inches. W.O. Bentley said that his goal was to produce a silent speedster capable of competing in the marketplace with the best of Rolls-Royce. Bentley specified that the 8 Litre would be powered by a gargantuan straight-six displacing 7,983 cubic centimeters – that’s 487.1 cubic inches – which produced 220hp, and assured that the 8 Litre would achieve 100 MPH regardless of the fitted coachwork. Gurney Nutting was a popular English coachbuilder with both Bentley and Rolls-Royce customers. This car was said to be one of two 8 Liter short-wheelbase chassis fitted with Sport Tourer bodywork by Gurney Nutting; the other car allegedly had its coachwork later transferred to a Rolls-Royce chassis, making the Kadoorie car the last of its kind in the world. It was a bittersweet year for Bentley: Despite building what was arguably the world’s most luxurious sporting car, Bentley went into receivership in 1931, and ended up under Rolls-Royce ownership. The Kimball Studio photo of the Bentley in the victory parade was furnished by the concours, and came to me courtesy of my friend Kurt Ernst at Hemmings Motor News.

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