By on June 16, 2009

Only Paris is worthy of Bentley. Only Bentley worthy of Paris

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.

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28 Comments on “Flashback: 1955 Bentley S1 Fastback Mulliner...”


  • avatar
    ruckover

    By definition, rugby players and fans cannot be hooligans. I think you might have mistaken hooligan-like actions for true hooliganism.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Yes, it truly is one of the most beautiful cars ever made. There’s nothing like it.

  • avatar

    Speed matters little if you are not in a race. A Camry may beat it to the next stoplight, but really, does it make the Camry better in any meaningful way?

    The world is a better place due to the presence of the occasional work of Old Masters still on the road. Be it from the works of W.O. Bentley, Sir William Lyons, Enzo Ferrari, or even Henry Ford or Carroll Shelby.

    In 2060 will anyone be lusting after a Camry?

    –chuck

  • avatar
    Hank

    Beautiful car. But then, I’ve always been a sucker for all things Bentley, past and present.

    (Chuck, no one even lusts after a Camry now. Well, there could be an ascetic or two, but their lust would be hypocritical.)

  • avatar
    JMGoeckel

    I detail a 1963 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud and they are truly pieces of art. All the body panels were rolled by hand! And still seems to float away when your driving it.

  • avatar
    pista

    Not just a great car but what a fantastic bit of illegal parking. Most impressed.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    If I’m not mistaken, this was the original Bentley Continental.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    It’s always cool to see rolling artwork in the real world. I was thinking about it just this morning as I paced alongside a Jaguar XK-E (top down, of course) on my morning commute. Quite rare to see in action around here.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Ah, the uneducated youth.

    You’ve “discovered” perhaps the most iconic early postwar classic. And it deserved its reputation: the fastest four passenger car in the world.

    Who gives a f##k if a Camry can do 0-60 faster? In its time, it wafted well-to-do travelers from London to Paris (or Monte Carlo) in unmatched speed, comfort, elegance and atmosphere.

    It might well be an R-type Continental from 1952-1954; not easy to tell the difference.

  • avatar

    I’ve always been a sucker for all things Bentley
    The name is Bond, James Bond.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Mike,

    Remind me to have my son look you up for his first summer assignment next year…he’s inducting into the USAFA next week!

    Oh, and that car…in Paris…in spring…simply wonderful!

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Mike: Thanks for the Report.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Not just a great car but what a fantastic bit of illegal parking. Most impressed.

    My friend used to call that “The Policy”

    If your car was more awesome that 99% of the cars in a given area, you can park wherever you want. It’s all relative, so for the policy to work in Paris you would need something pretty incredible.

  • avatar
    Fred C.Dobbs

    Beautiful car and one of my favorites.
    The Bentley Continental R manufactured from 1952-1955. Apparently this one was coachbuilt by HJ Mulliner,Ltd. From 1956 on the fastback design was based on the new SI Bentley saloon. Makes anything made today look really pathetic.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    They were referred to as the ” Silent Sports car”

    RR had took it over way back since the early 30s.
    When Wolf Barnato who couldnt keep pouring more money into W O Bentley and it had to go Chpt 11.

    RR bought it and rendered her uncompetitive to RR.
    The 8 litre of Bentley were something else.
    Even Bugatti was worried refered them as ” Very fast lorries “.

    WO Bentley was very much a head of its time, he had OHC , belts or chain were not used, they use a triple crank to turn the Cam shaft, 4 valves head were also employed.
    Bentley did took 3 or 4 wons at Le Mans for old Blighty.

  • avatar
    cjdumm

    Illegal parking? Technically maybe, but the real mortal sin would be dragging this work of art behind a Chicago tow truck.

    I’d be happy to see a few free public parking spaces reserved for rolling masterworks like vintage Bugattis, Duesenbergs, Auburns, Cords, etc.

    Just seeing one on the street makes the whole city seem classier, and in Paris that’s saying a lot.

  • avatar
    kkt

    What a gorgeous car. Thanks for posting.

  • avatar
    tiger260

    ….this may be little off topic strictly speaking, but I have to totally agree with the comment from ruckover – rugby fans are almost exclusively NOT hooligans by nature. They may be a little inebriated, they may be a touch loud, but they are famed for their general good humor and camaraderie with the opposition fans. Just count the number of police officers on duty to maintain law and order at any major rugby match (a handful) compared to any soccer match.

    …oh, and as for that Bentley – yes that is beautiful. Sadly in the realms of the unaffordable for 99.9% of the population, when new and now as a classic car – but a true work of art.

  • avatar

    @ Threer,

    Congrats on your son making it. I graduated from that fine institution in 2003, so I know exactly what he will be going through. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me at “LtSolo03 at mac.com”. Fill in the at with an @ (to avoid spammers).

    Always there to help out the new cadets… especially since it will be one of the most volatile times in their (and your) lives.

    @ ruckover,

    the rugby fans were everything you described, and threw a great party under the Eiffel tower. We just weren’t sure, since none of us have ever played rugby… just soccer… and those guys are NUTS!

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Uhhmn, this may be apocryphal, but I read some where that the tail end of this car was borrowed from a ’49 Chevvy Fleetmaster. In the 40s, GM produced some lovely “sedanettes”
    Fastbacks are my favorite body style

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I’m not very good with english cars, and this is the first time I have seen one of these. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • avatar
    ruckover

    Mike, I do hope you had fun. I played for 16 years, and I met nothing but great folks.

    Very impressive graduating from the USAFA. Each one of our military academies are top notch, and they get to choose their students from the absolute cream of the crop.

  • avatar
    aus_am

    Detroit-Iron :

    Not just a great car but what a fantastic bit of illegal parking. Most impressed.

    My friend used to call that “The Policy”

    If your car was more awesome that 99% of the cars in a given area, you can park wherever you want. It’s all relative, so for the policy to work in Paris you would need something pretty incredible.

    “The Policy” is apparently the actual law in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but the competition is much stiffer. I’ve never seen something this awsome there, however – this guy would certainly win.

    And Mike, I totally would have pegged you as a rugger.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    Hate to rain on your parade but that is most definately not an S1 Fastback. Nor is it a 1955 model.

    It is in fact an 1953 R-Type Continental. It was completed on the 12 March 1953 and was delivered to its new owner a couple of weeks later on the 31st March. Although it would have left the factory with a 4.5litre engine this was later swapped in this car for the more powerful 4.9 unit fitted to later Contis so the article is correct in that assertion. R-Type Contis are capable of 120mph by the way.

    This car was originally painted black when first delivered but the interior is still the original beige colour.

    A curious pecadillo you also might have noticed on this car, is that it does not have a flying ‘B’ radiator mascot. In it’s place is a bust of Lenin proudly reviewing the plight of the French proletariat.

    By the way the owner who alledgedly chased you away is Alain Rouhaud, who is actually a rather nice chap.

  • avatar
    Dangerous Dave

    I saw a few of these Bentleys at the Rolls Royce Owner’s Club national meet. There were about 1200 Rolls & Bentleys there, and this style Bentley was one of my favorites. These cars are truely a work of art, but to keep a classic like this roadworthy cost a small fortune. It’s worth every penny.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Nicodemus, Thanks for the detail info. I thought (and said so above) that it was an R-type Conti. One of my all time favs. Right color too.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    No worries Paul. BTW there’s two easy ways to tell the difference. First is the side on which the fuel filler flap is placed. R-type Continentals have it on the left, whilst S1s (&S2&S3s) have them on the right. The second way to tell (from the front) is the shape of the air vent under the headlamps. The R-types have round ones whilst the S series (and the RR Silver Clouds on which they’re based) have long oval vents.


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