13th July 2020

The Vauxhall 30/98 – The Bentley Beater from Bedfordshire

With the introduction of the E-type 30-98 model in 1913, Vauxhall produced one of the world’s first true sports cars. It’s a tall claim, but it would be years before Bentley could better Bedfordshire’s finest.

Designed in 1913 by Laurence Pomeroy, the car was conceived after car dealer and competitor Joseph Higginson asked Vauxhall to provide a car capable of taking the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb record.

Vauxhall duly delivered and not only did Higginson set the fastest time, it stood for the next eight years. Based on the chassis from a Vauxhall Prince Henry, the early cars (known as Os) used a 4.5-litre engine, which produced 98bhp at 3000rpm. Only thirteen 30-98s were made before the Great War, and nearly all competed in some form or other, but production resumed in 1919.

Fast forward to 1923 and enter another racer; Major L. Ropner. Legend has it that his letter to The Autocar’s editor, complaining that he was unable to buy a road car that could cover a flying mile at more than 100mph, inspired the 30-98 OE - a 4.2-litre model with 112bhp.

In late March that year Vauxhall delivered the first car to Ropner, but not before factory test driver Matt Park proved the car’s prowess. At the famous Brooklands racetrack in Surrey it managed a flying lap at an average of 100.7mph, despite the fact that it had a windscreen and was fully road legal.

This cemented the 30-98 as the first British production car with an official top speed of 100mph. Vauxhall were justifiably proud of this fact and offered a warranty to that effect - as long as the car had the correct ratio rear axle and pared-back coachwork.

The nascent British motoring press and wealthy enthusiasts loved the car, and further improvements, like the addition of a balanced crankshaft, allowed up to 130bhp from the 4.2-litre. All this meant that the model became a regular feature on the hill-climbs of the day, competing successfully at Brooklands on numerous occasions. In total around 280 OE versions were built before production finally ended in 1927.

So how does this compare with that most famous of British marques, Bentley? Well, despite the fact that it didn’t have a string of headline grabbing Le Mans wins, or a gang of well-healed racing patrons, the 30-98 was well ahead in terms of outright performance.

W.O Bentley didn’t introduce his 3-litre model until 1921 and, even then, it was about 400 kg heavier than the Vauxhall and only had 70bhp - compared to the 30-98’s 98bhp. This meant that it was easily outclassed by the clearly older car. It would take the 1927 launch of the famous Bentley 4.5-litre for the firm to match their rivals’ 130bhp - an even then that level of performance was the reserve of Bentley’s racing version.


What are your thoughts on the Vauxhall 30-98? let us know in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Vauxhall Motors.