Rumblings, December 1970



An open Mk VI Bentley.—The other day we received an invitation from Major C. W. Lambton to try a Bentley which he and John Llewelyn have had built and which can be described as a Bentley with a difference, or, more specifically, an open touring-bodied version of the Mk. VI, conceived by these two motoring connoisseurs as a fresh-air fun car embodying their own ideas of how such a car should be constructed. We were told they would not be in the least worried what we thought of it, provided that we realised that this open post-war Bentley’s possible resemblance to a vintage car is purely a coincidence and not an attempt to make a bogus vintage tourer.

Having the greatest possible aversion to mock oldsters which seek to provide the prestige of vintage or Edwardian car ownership with few of the hardships, not even the hard ride that proper enjoyment of pre-1931 motoring entails, we were glad to have Major Lambton’s assurance on that point. In fact, this highly individualistic Bentley could hardly be said to ape cars of an earlier era, because it is a bog-standard 1948 Mk. VI Bentley mechanically and although now endowed with a new open four-seater body, the only vintage-like feature it displays are exposed headlamps and its running-boards and simple mudguards.

The idea, indeed, is in keeping with the earlier Bentley image, when a gentleman ordered his chassis from Derby and had coachwork built to his personal requirements by a specialist coachbuilder. Lambton and Llewelyn have merely extended the recipe a decade or two, with a quite pleasing outcome. In appearance, at all events as far back as its scuttle, there is a whiff of Ford V8 or, perhaps Batten Special, about this dark blue Bentley with short, centre-hinged bonnet and painted radiator grille. Thereafter such resemblance ends, for the car has the mechanical perfection of a 1948 Mk. VI, bought, incidentally, for £75 with a rod out of the crankcase, but extensively overhauled after the aluminium d/h body, which had badly decayed, had been removed. The perpetrators call the car in its rehabilitated guise a lidless 2 + 2, the front seats, which are from a Fiat 125, being more accommodating than the rear compartment, although one could be very comfortable therein because heating and radio are provided in both the living quarters. (At present the front seats are too close-set, so that their cushions rub and render adjustment far from easy.)

The body was built as an ash frame by Colin Glass and given its I6-gauge alloy panelling by Dick Brockman of Reading. The resultant four-door tourer was then trimmed by Jim Pearce of Pulborough, who provided a hood which stows away in a neat bag, fully tonneau covers, etc., and luggage boot covered in leathercloth, which is loaded via a lockable flat-top panel ahead of the folded hood. The spare wheel is fitted in its own compartment under the luggage space, together with an impressive tray-load of Bentley tools.

To obviate wind-buffeting the single-pane screen is quite high and has glass side-panels and, incidentally, base-glasses to its frame, in the best Vanden Plas fashion. The leathercloth-covered facia carries speedometer, tachometer, thermometer, fuel gauge, clock and ammeter, a convenient self-cancelling indicators’ control and a long-handled switch for quick lamps’-flashing which, moved upwards, sounds a burglar alarm. Inspection lamps are fitted in the boot, under the bonnet and on the dash, the radio is a Radiomobile, and a useful accessory is a lockable box securely bolted to the floor of the front compartment, in which passports and the car’s documents can safely be left when the Bentley’s owner is engaged on the Grand Tour in foreign parts.

The engineering side of the conversion was carried out by Nedloh Motors of Reading, and entailed using a modified Land Rover radiator matrix behind the wire-meshed Bentley grille, in conjunction with a longitudinal header tank and abbreviated fan. The Bentley steering wheel is retained, but cut down a few inches in diameter, which gives the effect of higher-geared steering, but the suspension is unaltered, apart from the removal of the packing pieces from under the front coil springs to lower the car. No attempt was made to reduce the already very low noise level, except for the use of two 3.8 S Jaguar silencers. Otherwise the specification is as original, save perhaps for a fractionally higher c.r. as the cylinder head was planed in the course of the overhaul, but performance is enhanced due to the weight saved by the body change. The bogy of lost rigidity when a closed body is discarded has been obviated by A-bracing in the region of the thin duralumin dashboard and by the support provided by a substantial between-seats wooden bulkhead. The rear fuel tank, with a Waso lockable filler cap, has been retained, the scuttle incorporates the air inlets for the front and rear heaters, and screen vents offer warm air around the driver’s shoulders rather than de-misting the glass. The standard axle ratio and 6.70 x 16 Dunlop Gold Seal tyres are retained. The hardest task was the wiring, done effectively by Malcolm New, to the highest commercial vehicle standards, with Bentley’s comprehensive system of fail-safe fusing. The headlamps are Cibie, with Hella quartz halogen spot lamps. Two-bar American-style tubular bumpers protect the Bentley’s extremities.

A short but exhilarating drive in this refined touring car proved that it handles very well, which is more than can be said of most Crewe cut-and-shuts when they are used on the road. The pleasure of using the r.h. gear-change and the excellent Bentley mechanical servo brakes is enhanced by the unusual character of the car and the fresh air that accompanies its quiet and refined mode of running. Acceleration is useful, even if the engine ran out of “steam” after 70 m.p.h., due to worn S.U.s. The steering suits the handling demeanour and the driving position is dignified and comfortable, the high-set seats giving command over the controls and a delightful glimpse over the hedgerows.

Altogether, this open Mk. VI impressed us as a pleasing exercise in how to deal with a quality car with derelict bodywork. It is a far more fitting use for a Bentley chassis, even if this is a Crewe and not a Derby product, than cutting and shutting the frame to form an imitation racer, and if built in small batches might become a series-production car of unique flavour.

The Bentley tourer apart, when we called on Major Lambton we were able to take a short drive in his Peugeot 504 saloon, to which he has applied his own effective through-flow ventilation system, with body vents, a non-buffeting sun roof, a steering wheel which is a vast improvement on Peugeot’s thick-spoke variety, a screen sill-mounted tachometer and other practical improvements.

Ultimate speed.—Just before winter closed in on the Bonneville Salt Flats, in the USA, two Americans set up new out-andout land speed records, one with a rocket-fuel propelled three-wheeler projectile, and the other with a two-wheeled motorcycle-engined streamliner. The fastest speed on land stood to Craig Breedlove driving his jet-engined four-wheeler at 600.63 m.p.h. set up in 1965, and it was Breedlove who had previously set the ball rolling with jet-propelled vehicles when he beat existing four-wheel records with his three-wheeled vehicle, thus causing the FIA to re-write the rules for land vehicles. Breedlove’s 600 m.p.h. record was made with his four-wheeled “Spirit of America” during his fantastic record-breaking battle with Art Arfons and his “Green Monster”. For over a month, from mid-September last, Gary Gabelich had been trying to beat Breedlove’s record, driving a new form of land vehicle in that it was powered by liquid combustion, burning oxygen carried in the fuel and not taking in air from outside; in other words, a pure rocket motor. It was, in effect, a 38 ft. long rocket with a single wheel under the nose and two wheels at the back mounted on outriggers, all propulsion coming from the thrust of the rocket motor, the driver sitting above the rocket just ahead of the high tail fin and was appropriately christened “The Blue Flame”. After a number of attempts during which he achieved over 600 m.p.h.. but not by a sufficient margin over the old record to comply with the rules laid down by the FIA, he finally put in two runs that settled the matter conclusively. In one direction he did 617.6 m.p.h. and on the return run did 627.3 m.p.h., giving him a new land speed record of 622.4 m.p.h. In Europe this was considered even more significant than just a new record, for it was the first time a speed of more than 1,000 k.p.h. had been passed, the average being 1,001.727 k.p.h. Next year, in Great Britain, when we change to the metric system this will become more significant!

The other American record-breaker was Cal Rayborn who established a new ultimate speed for motorcycles riding a Harley Davidson-powered streamliner, with a figure of 265.492 m.p.h. for a two-way run.