In order to show visiting US Air Force Academy cadets the wonders of Europe, I ditched my Carrera, whose back seats are merely a nice gesture, for a lumbering Mercedes-Benz GLK. After four hours of driving the speed limited Autoroutes, we arrived at the Eiffel Tower, to throngs of drunk rugby fans celebrating the USAP win that day. Leaving the Mardi Gras spectacle we wandered around the veritable maze of streets that constitute the Seventh Arrondissement. Dodging rugby hooligans whose intentions seemed suspect (as some of us were wearing the opposing team colors), I never expected to stumble upon something so beautiful, so elegant, so alien as a 1955 Bentley S1 Fastback Mulliner parked on a curb in a hidden away section of Paris.
The lines of the car stood out amongst the dented French hatchbacks strewn down the boulevard as if Parisians hadn’t a care in the world, least of all parking etiquette. Even a nearby Alfa Romeo Brera looked like the jilted prom date in comparison. I stopped in silence, unable to conjure thought to even recognize what it was until one of the cadets shouted out “OH, WOW! A Duesenburg!”
Well, not quite, young grasshopper. The pronounced fenders, the swept back end resembling a Buck Rogers space ship, and the intricate chrome work rivaling Tolkien’s elves all spoke post-War, bespoke coach builder awesomeness. It wasn’t until we meandered around to the upright grill that we realized it was a Bentley, with its wings proudly mounted on the prow of the road-going automotive artwork.
Using that wonderful invention called the iPhone, which has Google, I discovered it was an incredibly rare Bentley manufactured from 1955-1959 under the auspices of Rolls-Royce. The coupe version by Mulliner Bodyworks the rarest of all, to the tune of fewer than 200 examples ever built. Underneath the impossibly long hood lay an engine block designed soon after the war, the first war. Originally powering the Rolls-Royce 20, from 1922, the 4.9L straight-6 produced enough power to waft 0-100kmh in 13 seconds to a top speed of 103mph. Which immediately underwhelmed me.
The profile, the lines, the 1950s sci-fi tributes all made it seem as if it should at least have the balls to outrun a 4-cylinder Camry, or at least a Peugeot 106 diesel.
And then, as the owner shooed us away, started up a beast of primeval origins, and literally glided down the street as if possessed by the souls of Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart, I realized, the Bentley didn’t need horsepower. It exuded that intangible prowess every car ever to call itself “passionately styled” (cough, BMW, cough) has attempted to ingrain in its exterior.
I for one count myself lucky to not only have seen but to have heard and witnessed one in motion. I salute the owner, who not only drives such a fantastic piece of history, but parks it on the street as if its only a “normal” car, instead of having it interred at the Louvre, in the English art section.