This 1937 Bentley 4 1/4 Liter Fixed Head Sport Coupe sold for $1,320,000 at the 2009 Gooding and Company Scottsdale Auction held January 17th at the Scottsdale Fashion Square in Scottsdale, Arizona. Its pre-sale estimate was $900,000 – $1,400,000.
On August 9, 1908, Claude Raul Benoit Lang was born into an exceedingly wealthy Belgian family. Both his mother and father were motoring enthusiasts of the highest order, and were often seen around the more exclusive areas of Brussels in their Isotta Fraschini, which was, of course, chauffeur driven.
As might be expected from growing up in such a privileged environment, motorcars became a deep, lifelong passion for Monsieur Lang and at a young age he began cultivating his tastes for exclusive coachbuilt automobiles. When he was 27 years old, he commissioned his first Vesters & Neirinck Bentley, an elegant, four-place coupe that remained in his possession until the 1950s. M. Lang married within a year of his first commission, and his brothers-in-law spurred a competitive spirit of automotive connoisseurship that generated several outstanding coachbuilt motorcars. Remarkably, M. Lang’s extended family by then included renowned enthusiasts Jean and Phillip Levy. During the 1930s, each would commission a fabulous Bugatti: Jean a 57S Atalante and Phillip a 57S Gangloff Drop Head, which today resides in Ralph Lauren’s exceptional collection.
Although M. Lang possessed the means to purchase a similar Bugatti, his marque of choice was Bentley. In fact, his loyalty to the company would span his lifetime, and he became a prominent member of the Bentley Drivers Club. In the late 1930s Bentley’s current offering was the 4 1/4 and it was one of the few cars of the era that could even compare with a Bugatti Type 57. Drawn to the quality, sophistication and incomparable competition legacy of Bentley, M. Lang commissioned his second 4 1/4 in 1937 and again turned to Vesters & Neirinck to execute a one-off body to his discerning specifications. The resulting Bentley proved to be his defining motorcar and one of the finest examples of the Derby Bentley ever to be constructed.
According to members of his family, M. Lang took a hands-on role in the design and construction of his prized Bentley. From the outset, he envisioned a sleek, low-roof coupe design that would seamlessly blend elegant French design with the purposeful, sporting character of a Bentley. The design was a complete success and incorporated a variety of unique features. The beautifully sculpted coupe featured a body made almost entirely of aluminum, an expansive sunroof, unique knock-off hubcaps, a distinctive rear-mounted spare, several hidden storage compartments and an interior luxuriously appointed in rich Connolly leather. Even the most minute details were specified by M. Lang, and the car was equipped with Villoq and Bottin lights, a chromed exterior luggage rack, a lowered steering column and a subtle monogram cast into the delightful, sweeping chrome spear. When the coachwork was completed the car was finished in black lacquer paintwork and the stunning Bentley was delivered to M. Lang on September 8, 1937.
The completed car was a proud showcase for Vesters & Neirinck, whose talents were well known among European automotive aficionados, and this supremely elegant car endowed the Belgian firm with a proud and lasting legacy. M. Lang was equally proud of his Bentley and on August 7, 1939, he showed his car at the exclusive Vichy Concours d’Elegance. A testament to the breathtaking design, the car received the Country Club award – a top honor for a British motorcar.
In the next few years, World War II saw the car go into protective storage, and as would be expected, M. Lang went to almost unheard-of lengths to ensure that nothing would happen to his prized Bentley. To make sure that the occupying Germans would be unable to use his car, he removed its wheels and fitted a secret cut-off switch. Thankfully for M. Lang, no harm was done to the car, and after the war it was carefully recommissioned. After joyfully using it for many more years, he finally parted with the Bentley in 1977, after nearly 40 years of ownership. Coming to the conclusion that he would no longer be able to properly care for his beloved car, it was sold to Monsieur J., who reportedly paid a hefty figure for the privilege of ownership. For the next 12 years, the car remained in his possession. In 1989, this Bentley was sold, along with the entirety of his outstanding collection. When it was sold, the car achieved a record price for a Derby Bentley. Until 2006, the car remained in one of the finest European collections where it was regularly maintained by prominent Bentley specialists and preserved in its impeccable, original condition. During this time, the car was rarely seen and developed a reputation that bordered on mythical. When it was finally sold in the United States, the journey had the distinction of being the car’s first time outside the confines of continental Europe – this was, of course, nearly 70 years after it had been built. In the past two and a half years it has resided in one of the premier American collections and has continued to be carefully preserved.
Today this Vesters & Neirinck Bentley is among the most marvelously preserved original cars in existence. Since it was delivered to M. Lang in 1937, the car has covered just over 35,000 kilometers. It wears the vast majority of its original paint and the interior displays a glorious patina from over 70 years of careful use. Beyond its incomparable condition, the design remains one of the most beguiling automotive forms ever created. It is, after all, a singular design from one of Europe’s great firms and its style and elegance immediately draw comparisons to the great Embiricos Bentley. This coupe is a sensory delight, and there is not an angle from which its lines are unflattering. No wonder that it has attracted an impressive number of compliments, from members of the Bentley Drivers Club to the legendary Paul Frère. This is one of the finest Derby Bentleys ever constructed and, as such, presents an exciting ownership opportunity for the discerning collector.
[Source: Photos by Pawel Litwinski © 2008, Courtesy of Gooding & Company]