Shopping for a Rolls-Royce (or Bentley)
IF the 70-m.p.h. speed-limit is here to stay (which Castle forbid), there seems to me every reason to travel in dignity and comfort, if one mustn’t travel fast.
So I have re-commenced shopping for a Rolls-Royce, or for a Bentley built by R.-R., which is almost the same thing. In the past I have fulminated against the old-fashioned engineering policy of Rolls-Royce Limited. That has all been swept aside by the fabulous Silver Shadow. But there are people who like a Rolls-Royce to be old-fashioned and when buying a used specimen without multiple-thousands of pounds at stake, very nice too. . . .
This time I went, on the recommendation of a friend who was a great lover of Rolls-Royce motor-cars, to S. P. Broughton and Co. Ltd., who have been specialising in these cars since 1946 and who have big modern showrooms full of well-groomed and polished Bentleys and Rolls-Royces On the corner of College Road and the High Street in Cheltenham, a town which has not changed too much since the Regency era and where such fine cars seem particularly appropriate.
Broughtons of Cheltenham lent me a 1954 R-type Bentley with automatic transmission, taxed to November. The engine, after 82,180 miles, had just been rebored in their own workshops and for some time I kept the top speed to below 45 m.p.h., until the required 500 miles running-in had been completed.
The R-type Bentley is the 4 1/2-litre “big bore” version of the post-war Mk. VI, which became optionally available with automatic transmission in 1952 and used it for all models except the Continental, on which it was still optional, by 1954. The bigger engine gives that extra head of steam desirable for keeping up with modern traffic and, as my friend Bunty Scott-Moncrieff points out, the Mk. VI is a very interesting proposition, because it was planned while the war was on, when Rolls-Royce sagely realised that the cost of man-hours had nearly trebled compared to labour rates in pre-war times and clearly would never revert to the 1930 rate of 1s. 10d. an hour. So they designed a car with this consideration as number one priority. The result is, says Booty, that these Bentleys are the most incredibly easy cars to work on and major operations such as engine overhauls and brake relining take almost exactly one-third the time taken to do the same overhauls on pre-war Bentleys. So, with a not-excessive consumption of the less-expensive petrol, moderate oil consumption and tyres which cost no more than for modern cars of equivalent size, Scott-Moncrieff claims that the Mk. VI Bentley is about the least expensive way there is of indulging in real luxury motoring, especially as serviceable examples can be bought for under £500 and rough ones for in the region of £200. And a Bentley radiator costs less than a R.-R. radiator, of course. . . .
The R-type is the refined version of the Mk. VI; incidentally, I was privileged to road-test its fore-runner, the Mk, V Bentley with its Soft ifs., Miring the war—see Motor Sport dated February 1941, and a new 4.2-litre S-series—see the issue for November 1956.
The B3 series Bentley which Broughtons produced for me—PGF 497—was offered at £1,195 and really was a beautiful car, in excellent order. The 4-door saloon body with the big boot, was in glossy black, lined in gold, this lining being repeated on the wheel discs. The paintwork and plating were faultless, the carpets unworn and scarcely marked, the clean head-lining marred by only a few very minor blemishes. The famous instrument panel was likewise in excellent order, and only the top edge of the high wooden facia sill showed very faint traces of the effect of exposure to the sun, scarcely noticeable unless a finger was rubbed over it.
The seats, with their high-grade hide upholstery, were just nicely mellowed, the leather still shining and unmarked, except for light rubbing across the tops of the front-seat squabs. All the interior woodwork, in R.-R. matching veneers, including the in-built companions in the back compartment, the picnic tables and the pull-out under-facia shelf incorporating a very effective push-button radio, were literally unmarked. As with the bodywork, the bumpers and lamps, including the central spot-lamp and twin Lucas fog-lamps, and courtesy roof-lamp, were in 100% good order—this was a Bentley to Concours d’Elegance standards. Even the original tool-tray, locked under the driver’s seat, was complete with all its inlaid tools, spare bulbs, etc.
PGF 497 was shod with 6.70 X 16 Dunlop Gold Seal tyres on the back wheels, and Dunlop Gold Seal Remoulds on the front wheels (the original size was 6.50 X 16). They had, respectively, 0/s and n/s, 3 mm., 9 mm., 8 mm. and 8 mm. treaddepth and were inflated, “as delivered,” at 24/33 lb/sq. in., front/rear. The spare was a Dunlop Gold Seal Remould with a tread depth of 8 mm. This spare wheel lives under the raised floor of the boot, the light lid of which is self-supporting, and behind the wheel were the special tools, tyre pump, jack and jack handle, oil syringe, luggage strap, etc., all appearing to be in excellent condition.
Indeed, the car was virtually faultless, and quite free from rattles. The doors had dropped somewhat, and the keeps of the front ones did not work, but they shut and locked impeccably. They are noisy if slammed, a penalty of the all-steel body which Rolls-Royce resorted to after the war, when they deemed coachbuilt carriagework impracticable. Everything on the car that I tried, including the sliding roof, worked, but the rear blind was sometimes reluctant to fully retract. There was rear-window demisting, and the quarter-lights had simple gutters formed of bonded-on Perspex. The rubber mud-shields on the front wings were in place, and, of course, the back doors are so formed as to shield mud on the back wings front the clothes of those entering the car, and these rubbers were also intact.
The general layout was, of course, common to any R-type. There is a 110-mph. Smiths speedometer before the driver, matched by a combined dial containing fuel gauge (supplemented by a discreet warning-light and with Minimum oil-level reading), oil gauge, temperature gauge and ammeter, with the lockable Bentley switch-panel between them. There are total and trip-with-decimal mileage readings and all dials have slender white needles and lettering; a slightly casual aspect is that the “B” signifying Bentley is at the top of the speedometer but in the centre of the dual dial. . .
Naturally, heater, de-mister, 2-speed wipers, and screenwashers were fitted and there were door-type scuttle ventilators, and adjustable door arm-rests. An open cubby hole before the driver is matched by a lidded cubby with Yale lock, its lid fitted with an accurate clock, and the screw-thread fuel filler, also with Yale lock, is hidden beneath a flap in the n/s rear wing, released by a flush-fitting push-button. There was no rust within this compartment. The car has its original instruction book.
On the road the R-type Bentley was extremely pleasant, and in spite of its age and size, could be cornered fast without anxiety. The i.o.e. 92 X 114 mm. (4,566 c.c.) 6-cylinder engine started immediately after a night in the dewy open, and ran silently, the car being extremely quiet apart from tyre noise. It would readily reach 70 m.p.h. and hold to this speed in 3rd gear, and although I did not press it to full speed, 80 would come up without anxiety in the 3.73 to 1 top gear. The automatic transmis.sion, if more forceful than modern systems, is particularly well contrived, a push-button protecting the “N ” position of the r.h. stalk-lever, in which the engine is started, and the car being driven thereafter on the small treadle accelerator and normal size brake pedal with the lever at “4.” For increased acceleration it can be flicked down into “3,” which is as silent as the other ratios, and second is obtained by going round a gate on the quadrant into “2”—so that this fully-automatic gearbox can be used like a normal 3-speed box if desired. Reverse is protected by the aforesaid press-button on the tip of the lever, but there are no hill-holds in the forward gear positions. There is no need to quote the speeds at which the gear changes took place, or were held by the kick-down—it’s all in the handbook.
The brakes, assisted by the famous R.-R. mechanical servo which has been used for every model front Silver Ghost to Silver Cloud III, are hydraulic on the front, rod-operated on the back wheels. They were fully up to the weight and speed of the car, pulling it up efficiently but unobtrusively and in a straight line even on wet roads. The lag sometimes apparent applied only when braking in reverse on this Bentley. The r.h. pull-out toggle handbrake was never in the way.
Oil pressure varied from approximately 2 1/2 lb./sq. in. at idling r.p.m. to approximately 25-28 lb./sq. in. at 50 m.p.h. (the book gives 4 to 25 lb. as correct), and a water temperature of about 85° C., the normal thermometer reading being 80 to 85° C. The dynamo gave a healthy 10 arnp. charge. I did not check petrol consumption, but it was roughly 15 m.p.g., the clean engine, stove enamelled, with is twin S.C. carburetters, accepting mixture grades and using no oil in a distance of 285 miles. The tank holds 18 gallons. There is the progressive rear suspension damping control on the steering-wheel boss, labelled “Riding—Normal-Hard,” and the high scuttle line and “snug ” width of the body are typical of these Crewe-built cars. The steering (three turns, lock-to-lock, discounting sponge) is very heavy for parking, otherwise perfectly satisfactory and possessing scarcely any lost-motion at the big three-spoke steering wheel.
Accessibility of the engine, the rump of which had been filled with B.P. Energol 30, is obtained by lifting the sides of the bonnet, the handles of which are simplicity itself to operate, either when opening or closing the bonnet. Chassis lubrication is on the one-shot system.
Acceleration is not to be despised, but the real pleasure of driving this R-type Bentley was that of sitting high and comfortably behind the long, shapely bonnet, beyond which the “winged-B ” radiator mascot rode so steadily, motoring serenely and silently in dignified surroundings very few modern cars, and none of the mass-produced ones, can emulate.
I enjoyed PGF 497; it is certainly an extremely fine example of a 12-year-old R-type; apart from its road manners, everything functions so nicely, seats adjusting smoothly, minor controls, of black lettered knobs, well-placed and pleasant to use. . . . The body now carries Broughton’s name-plates, but there is evidence that the original supplier was Jack Barclay Ltd.—W. B.