1919 – EXP2 3 lITRE – BM 8752

EXP2 is the oldest surviving Bentley, the second ever made and the first to win a race. EXP (for ‘experimental’) is the prefix given by Bentley to all pre-production models, and EXP2 had a long and varied life as a test bed for the 1921 Bentley 3 Litre model before passing into private ownership.  It was acquired by the Bentley Heritage Collection more than 25 years ago.

The Bentley 3 Litre

In March 1919 The Autocar announced: “Captain WO Bentley MBE, RAF, is engaged on the design of a new sporting model…intended to appeal to those enthusiastic motorists who desire a car which, practically speaking, is a true racing car with touring accessories.” The Bentley 3 Litre drew on W.O. Bentley’s pre-war competition experience, when he pioneered the use of aluminium pistons. Its 3 Litre monobloc engine featured four valves per cylinder, twin spark plugs, twin magnetos and made extensive use of aluminium and magnesium. This was an advanced specification for the time, particularly for a road-going car, a fact reflected in its 1923 price of £425. Like every Bentley since, the 3 Litre developed generous amounts of torque from low rpm, was durable, strong and capable of high performance.

The EXP Prototypes

Bentley made three prototypes for the 3 Litre. EXP1 (EXPerimental No1) was built at New Street Mews off Baker Street and first ran in October 1919, after which it was stripped down for parts. EXP2 was built at Bentley’s new works in Cricklewood and made its debut at the 1919 Olympia Motor Show with a plain 2-seat body, though due to the late arrival of some engine components it was a static display model. EXP2 was rebodied in March 1921 by coachbuilders JH Easter; its experimental engine was replaced in 1922 by a spare TT racing engine and again in August 1922 with production engine 144. The car was given a complete rebuild during the 1990s, restoring it to the original 1921 race-winning specification.

Racing Pedigree

EXP2 made an appearance as the first ‘works’ racing Bentley in the 1921 Essex Car Club and Whitsun meetings at Brooklands on 16 May, when driver Frank Clement won the Junior Sprint Handicap. WO also used EXP2 for practice in the 1922 Isle of Man TT. By the time it was sold to lorry manufacturer JE Foden in 1923, EXP2 had achieved eleven first and seven second places. 

Date Produced1919
Chassis/Engine No.EXP2, engine no. 144
BodyTourer; two doors, four seats. Chassis weight 658 kg; 1,200 kg with Easter body
Engine2996cc four-cylinder; four valves; twin spark plugs; hollow overhead camshaft; aluminium crankcase, cast-iron non-detachable cylinder head
Power70 bhp @ 3,500 rpm
Chassis35 tonne pressed steel channel section frame, 4 riveted forged cross-members and 2 tie bars; half elliptic leaf spring suspension. Brakes: 15.75 in (40 cm) drums at rear
DimensionsWheelbase: 112 in (284.5 cm); track 56 in (142.2 cm)
PerformanceTop speed 79.3 mph (127.3 km/h)



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