A British Mystery: 1953 Bentley R-Type Saloon

Every barn find has a story and, sadly, many of them might never be fully told. The location of this 1953 Bentley R-Type Saloon’s steering wheel reveals that it was brought from overseas, likely England. The registration on its tags show that it was last driven in 1970. What happened between is a mystery. This exemplar of post-war British luxury is located in Yonkers, New York, and is advertised here on craigslist for $6,000. Thanks go out to Alex Grishman for the tip!

The history of the car is an enigma: the seller reports that the previous owner rented a garage from them, stopped driving the car in 1970, and disappeared in 1979. All that we know about the car, then, comes from the car itself. The chassis number of B495SP indicates that it was built between January and May of 1953. It’s a Mark VII Saloon, popularly known as an R-Type, which was an evolution of the Mark VI with a slightly larger engine and a much larger trunk. Exhibiting more than a passing similarity to Rolls-Royces of a similar vintage, natural considering Rolls had owned Bentley for over 20 years at this point, the car shares many of the same quirks, such as the pedal-initiated chassis lubrication and the servo-assisted brakes. It’s wearing a Standard Steel Saloon body, the second Bentley after the Mark VI to have the option of standard bodywork from the factory; before the Mark VI, Bentley would supply a finished chassis with mechanicals to a coachbuilder of the buyer’s choice.

The dark, close environment of the building in which the car currently resides does not provide the best lighting, but what can be seen of the interior is not promising. The finish on the woodwork is checked and the upholstery is dotted with blooms of mold. The pedal configuration seems to indicate that this car is equipped with a four-speed manual and not GM’s Hydra-Matic. The manual transmission is a rarity in later examples of this model, and Bentley enthusiasts praise its reliability and smooth operation. The 4 1/2-liter engine– up from 4 1/4 in the Mark VI– provides enough torque that the factory recommended the driver begin in second gear. This is helpful, since, like many British cars of the era, the Bentley lacks synchro on first gear. Owners report that the engine is mechanically simple and well within the skill-set of an experienced amateur mechanic. Replacement parts are available due to the devoted base of enthusiasts. However, said parts are, as one might expect, not cheap.

If you must have a 1953 Bentley R-Type Saloon but this particular example fails to move you, Sotheby’s will be offering a nicely restored example in June: auction estimate of 35,000 to 50,000 Swiss Francs. This translates to over $38,000 at today’s exchange rate, an indication that there might be some money to be made in returning this example to its original glory. Money aside, it might be worth it just to bask in the leather and burl walnut as the huge cylinders of the straight-six power you through a busy day. What better conveyance could there be for brunch at eleven, a late lunch at the club, followed by an evening at the opera? Or perhaps the riddle of the car’s past appeals to you. Either way, there’s no doubt that few things are as eye-catching as a classic Bentley.

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Comments

  1. Husky

    Ready for a Hellcat swap!

    Like 6
    • Chinga-Trailer

      In my garage at this moment sits one with a supercharged (GMC 6-71 Blower) Chev 350 and Ford 9 inch rear end.

      Like 6
  2. bobhess bobhess Member

    When the engine compartment looks better than the interior then you have a bunch of work ahead to get it back to it’s “former glory”. A good look underneath should tell prospective buyers whether it’s worth the work or not.

    Like 6
  3. Martin Horrocks

    Good source of all parts for Bentley Special, if body is not economical to repair. If remnants were parted out, they would have value to someone.

    Like 3
  4. Rod

    There’s a very clean manual 1951 R type going for $17k in the UK now. No way this venerable wreck would be worth restoring unfortunately.

    Like 7
  5. Rodney - GSM

    Very much like a basket of fried chicken.
    It’s just parts.

    Like 5
  6. Haynes

    Saloon? Where’s Miss Kitty and Marshal Dillon?

    Like 2
  7. Bob W. I.C.E man

    Tough call on making a decision about restoring this Bentley. My best shot on the cost of bringing this wonderful car up to a decent driver runs between $25K – $30K. Based on no surprises, like a frozen engine, frame rust through etc. interior work will need a dedicated shop who have a lot of experience.
    A buyer with some love of Bentleys and the $$ would have to expect to hang onto this car for 7-10 years before seeing any kind of return on his investment. That places the buyer into the bracket of loving the car versus flipping it.

  8. Robert White

    It’s Art Deco, and I’d snap it up for sure if I had dough.

    Nice car needs love.

    Bob

    Like 4
  9. Steve Clinton

    50+ years in Yonkers and it’s still in one piece? Wow.

    Like 3
  10. Steve Clinton

    The first thing that came to mind was “Pass the Grey Poupon”. Or possibly “Pass the WD40”.

    Like 4
  11. Ken Carney

    Saw one with a 454 rat motor in it 30 years ago. It was stock outside with that big ol’ Chevy in the engine bay.
    Think the tranny was a T-400 but after all this time I’m not sure. This car reminds me of the episode of The Twilight Zone where the guy hated
    machines so much that his Bentley
    did him in by pushing him into the pool.
    Would be fun to do if you had deep enough pockets to pull it off. Me, I’ll
    pass.

  12. Arby

    License starts with WF – should be WTF..

    Like 3
  13. Chris

    This is tragic. The costs of restoration would far exceed the value at the end of the process.

    Like 3
  14. Bill McCoskey

    Over the last 40+ years I’ve owned several Mk VI and “R” type Bentleys, 1947 to 1954 [as well as quite a few Rolls-Royce vehicles]. Sadly, due to the high costs of restoration, this car is suitable for spare parts or perhaps one very interesting street rod.

    As for assuming the car was from England as it has RHD steering, that’s sometimes risky & can be expensive. Many years ago I sold a 1952 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn to a man who came over from England specifically to buy this car. It was RHD, so he assumed it was a UK car when new, & would be considered a “returning vehicle”, and therefore not required to pay the rather high road tax. Had he looked at the copies of the original factory “chassis card” info I provided, he would have discovered it was sold new and delivered to Switzerland. It had not set foot in the UK since it was first built. No UK vehicle tax had been paid back in 1952.

    The new owner called me in a panic when he realized the car’s history, explaining that the UK government now wanted “back vehicle taxes” as well as new import taxes, together totaling almost what he paid for the car! All I could really say was that I had provided him with the history of the car when it was new.

    While I felt sorry for him, I think he was in a hurry to close the deal before someone else came along. As the majority of the Silver Dawn production [only 760 cars] were LHD vehicles and destined for north America, a RHD version has always brought an increased value in the UK. I suspect the buyer was only thinking about how much more he could re-sell the car once it was back in England.

    Like 5
  15. Kenn

    I’m reasonably sure during the negotiating process he mentioned the UK tax on returning vehicles and you “forgot” to tell him where the car actually came from Bill. That’s the sort of memory loss that gives used car salemen a bad rep.

    • Brakeservo

      I don’t know Bill McCoskey, (although it appears we both owned the same Soviet Gaz Chaika at different times) but I think your slam is totally uncalled for, quite ungentlemanly and inappropriate. I too have sold quite a few cars back to the UK and it simply isn’t my (or his) duty to explore the taxes, duties and other financial ramifications that accrue to a buyer upon re-importing a car. It’s the buyers responsibility. It’s called “Due Diligence” and it is the buyer’s sole responsibility.

      Like 3
      • Kenn

        It’s called “Buyer Beware” and yes, it is, the buyer’s responsibility. Certainly a seller need not offer information not requested.

      • Bill McCoskey

        Brakeservo,

        Thank you, my friend.

        Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey

      Kenn,
      You are so wrong. This guy called me and flew in from London the next day, and a few hours later we were signing the paperwork at the shipping company in Baltimore. There was little time to talk about the car’s history. And one of the first things I did was present him with the chassis card copies I had, and he looked them over, but very quickly, as he was in a huge hurry to get the deal done so he could head back to the UK in the afternoon.

      You don’t know me. We’ve never met, yet you are suggesting I deliberately withheld the info from him. If that was my evil intent, I would never have even suggested the chassis cards were in my hands.

      My business was in restoring other people’s cars. I was NOT in the vehicle sales business. I was not a “car dealer” I sold this car out of my PERSONAL car collection, and it was registered in my name. The buyer and I happened to first meet at the big Beaulieu Autojumble in southern England a few days prior to him coming over to buy the car. It was never even advertised. We met because he had a handwritten board on his back that mentioned he was looking for a RHD Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn.

      And for the record, I’m not a used car salesman, never have been. I HAVE been a collector of unusual and odd vehicles, and at one time I owned over 50 vehicles. These were owned by myself, not “re-sold” with a flipped title.

      I hope the next time you choose to accuse someone here on Barn Finds, you first do your due diligence. My email is my name [without the space] at AOL.com, should you wish to discuss this further.

      Like 4
  16. Jerry

    Biggest problem for me would be the title. Where is it? In what country was it last titled (apparently NY, USA if the license is valid)? Would be a fun car but way too expensive for what you would end up with.

  17. Mike

    Hard to believe Gullwing didn’t swoop in and grabbed it before it got posted to CL. Maybe they know something?

    • Bill McCoskey

      Mike,
      Gullwing [and other dealers specializing in Bentley cars] knows the asking price is at or above retail value. The interior restoration alone exceeds the value of the car once it’s been restored to a high quality level befitting it’s name.

  18. Kenn

    Bill, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “The (man) doth protest too much, methinks.”

    Like 1
    • Chinga-Trailer

      Grow a pair and apologize to the guy . . . don’t keep making it worse.

      Like 3
  19. Shawn

    I know it’s only $6000 for the car, but sellers really would do themselves a better service by pulling the car out, hosing it off, and snapping pics outside. Sure, in place pic are great, but anyone willing to invest the money to start this project would be a lot more willing if they knew what they were getting into.

    Like 1
    • Rod

      Absolutely, and jack it up for pics of frame, floors, etc.

      • Rodney - GSM

        Buyers advantage. When the number of photographs goes down so does the price.

  20. Bill McCoskey

    Chinga-trailer,

    LOL, thanks!

    Like 2

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