A clas­sic Bri­tish mo­tor­car with coach­work by a lit­tle-known French con­cern. A mod­ern ver­sion now owned by a Ger­man auto gi­ant. A story to tell your grand­kids

Evo India - - Contents -

We paint the town red with Fer­rari’s V8 mid-en­gine icons, the 348, 355,

430, 458 and V12 599

This is a story best told in doc­u­men­tary film form. There's enough his­tory here to fill one for sure. Nev­er­the­less, we're go­ing to take a crack at it in print and try to do it jus­tice.

Paris, 1934. Bent­ley shows one of its 3.5-litre mod­els at the mo­tor salon. This would be one of the ear­li­est of a suc­cess­ful line of 'Derby' Bent­leys that would make a name for them­selves and the man­u­fac­turer. While we don't have ac­cess to pho­tos of the par­tic­u­lar car from the time, we do know that it orig­i­nally wore a 4-door sa­loon coach­work by Binders, one of the fa­mous Bri­tish coach­builders of the time, with a beige and green body.

Soon after the mo­tor show, the chas­sis was sold to French­man N S Em­beri­cos, who sub­se­quently re­bod­ied it into the form you see on th­ese pages. The coach­builder badge says An­tem, which is one of the less known of the Derby Bent­ley body con­struc­tors. Some trivia here: we are told that by na­ture of th­ese cars be­ing coach­built, they're rare and this par­tic­u­lar French body is only one of two in ex­is­tence as per registries of Derby Bent­leys on the In­ter­net. The other is some­where in Cal­i­for­nia. While it's not the fa­mous stream­lined Em­biri­cos Bent­ley, the story was tan­ta­lis­ing as it un­folded.

Even­tu­ally, it was sold to a Bri­ton at which point the car spent some years in London. In 1942, it was shipped from Southamp­ton to Cal­cutta aboard a troop ship, bound for the es­tate of the Ma­haraja of Talcher. The Ma­haraja’s es­tate even­tu­ally sold it to a fam­ily in Hy­der­abad. Con­sid­er­ing the rar­ity and value of a coach­built Bent­ley of the time, it is likely that the buyer was among the ex­tended fam­ily of the Nizam of the time. By any mea­sure, such a sto­ried his­tory would be enough, but this 80-year-old car has more to tell.

Ul­ti­mately, this Bent­ley 3½ found its way to In­dore and in a lot owned by Sah & Sanghi, avail­able for sale. This is where its present owner, Jagdish Thack­ersey, came to ac­quire it in 1971. One tends to think of vin­tage car own­ers as a cer­tain vin­tage them­selves so it came as a sur­prise to us that Thack­ersey was in his early twen­ties when he ac­quired it. At an age when most young men would

be look­ing for a fast, flashy ve­hi­cle, Jagdish Thack­ersey was on the look­out for a vin­tage car. “They thought I was nuts,” he says of his friends at the time. The Bent­ley, in fact, wasn't even his first choice; he had his eye on a 1934 Jaguar SS Air­line, which was turn­ing out to be too ex­pen­sive and a bit of a project to re­store. It’s im­por­tant to note that in the ’70s, vin­tage cars didn't com­mand the val­ues they do to­day, so the Jag that slipped away must have caused some sticker shock!

Ul­ti­mately, Jagdish Thack­ersey picked up the Bent­ley for what was, at the time, a song. The car was per­fectly func­tional and in good nick re­quir­ing lit­tle in terms of restora­tion. He drove it out with­out know­ing its his­tory or value, the odome­ter show­ing 49,000km. Of course, no vin­tage ve­hi­cle own­er­ship can be that sim­ple. Th­ese cars were bod­ied with an Ash wood frame, over which hand­beaten alu­minium was laid. Some time in the ’70s, the doors started to sag and the frame needed to be re­stored, pulling the car off the road for almost a year. It has also had its en­gine over­hauled once. So how does one over­haul the en­gine of an 80-year-old car? Where do you buy parts? “you don’t. you make them,” ex­plains Thack­ersey. If you're imag­in­ing metal stock painstak­ingly turned into ag­gre­gates, you're ex­actly right. Even the pis­tons had to be made!

The fact that the car is run­ning to this day is a tes­ta­ment to the en­gi­neer­ing and crafts­man­ship of the time, as well as the car and skill of the peo­ple who take care of them. The most re­cent care­taker of this



Bent­ley is Suryakant Chiplunkar, a man who is no stranger to vin­tage ve­hi­cles and their restora­tion. “Peo­ple who worked on th­ese cars are rare,” ex­plains Thack­ersey. “Some of them are no more, and their ap­pren­tices have moved on to mod­ern cars,” he adds, wist­fully.

So what does one do with a price­less car in per­fect shape that needs a ded­i­cated staff to keep in good or­der? “I drive it oc­ca­sion­ally on Sun­days, in Mumbai,” ex­plains Thack­ersey. It’s usu­ally in the early morn­ings and at the oc­ca­sional vin­tage car rally. As a reader of evo, you are, per­haps, dis­ap­pointed that the car isn’t driven more. How­ever, after hav­ing a brief go in it, I can tell you that a few times a year is enough. It is er­gonom­i­cally ridicu­lous, as they Derby Bent­leys of the time were. The gear shifter and hand­brake are on two long stalks cen­time­tres away from your right knee. This is a right-hand drive car, so you ef­fec­tively have to swing your legs over or around the stalks and awk­wardly set­tle into the driver's seat. The ped­als also, by this de­sign, do not fall eas­ily be­low your feet. While this model of Bent­ley was sup­posed to have servo-as­sisted brakes, this early ex­am­ple doesn't, which means it needs solid ef­fort to even keep the car from rolling down a gen­tle slope. Then there's the pon­der­ous turn­ing cir­cle, com­ing from a time when land was mea­sured in large units.

Like mod­ern cars, this Bent­ley also has steer­ing-mounted con­trols. Ex­cept that they're for ignition ad­vance, the choke and the dim/dip for the head­lamps. It even came with me­chan­i­cally op­er­ated sig­nals. Come to think of it, I’m not sure they blinked, but a sleek, il­lu­mi­nated stalk pops out of the body­work on ei­ther side to in­di­cate to fol­low­ing traf­fic where you in­tend to go. Im­pres­sively, th­ese work well to this day. Wipers are elec­tric and op­er­ated in­di­vid­u­ally by sep­a­rate mo­tors. This par­tic­u­lar body style is a con­vert­ible, and in­cred­i­bly, the roof is elec­tri­cally op­er­ated! While the mo­tor mech­a­nism was dis­con­nected at the time we saw it, but we un­der­stand it still works per­fectly!

The Bent­ley 3½ was known as the “silent sports car”, demon­strat­ing sprightly per­for­mance against its con­tem­po­raries while still main­tain­ing the com­fort and deco­rum ex­pected from the mar­que. This ex­am­ple has what I can only de­scribe as an early ex­am­ple of “sport mode”. A solid lever placed where

the shifter would nor­mally be is pulled down to open an ex­haust vent, ef­fec­tively mak­ing the sys­tem free-flow. The dif­fer­ence is re­mark­able, the sound of the Bent­ley go­ing from el­e­gant to en­thu­si­as­tic.

As a con­trast to this ven­er­a­ble Bent­ley (and be­cause it makes for spec­tac­u­lar pho­tos), we brought along the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion Mul­sanne and took Thack­ersey for a ride. As you might ex­pect, the range-top­ping Mul­sanne ac­com­mo­dates ev­ery imag­in­able lux­ury. The in­te­rior is almost en­tirely shod in tan leather and the wood trim isn’t just ve­neer; it’s ac­tual wood. Sin­gu­lar pieces wher­ever pos­si­ble. Metal trim too is ac­tual metal, with none of the clev­erly coated plas­tics you might see in lesser cars. This is the sort of at­ten­tion to de­tail you get in this lux­ury cat­e­gory. The de­tails are of­ten so small as to not be ap­par­ent, but when you no­tice them, it's a nice sur­prise.

The ex­clu­siv­ity con­tin­ues un­der the hood, where we find a 6 3/4-litre twin-turbo V8 which gen­er­ates an as­tound­ing 1000Nm of torque. Un­like other Bent­leys in the range, the Mul­sanne uses a be­spoke V8 that is ac­tu­ally hand-built by Bent­ley in Crewe. The rest of the model line-up use en­gines de­rived from par­ent company VW’s range. Step on the gas and that 1000Nm is im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. It re­ally is an almighty shove ac­com­pa­nied by a bel­low­ing that seems to say, “yes, this is a big en­gine, but let’s not talk about that.” De­spite its prodi­gious per­for­mance, the Mul­sanne re­mains almost dead silent inside the cabin. I thought the new S-Class was quiet, but this is another level al­to­gether. The en­gine also ap­par­ently has cylin­der de­ac­ti­va­tion, which shuts half of the eight cylin­ders down un­der low loads and revs. I’m not sure I ever felt it kick in or out, so we’ll just have to be­lieve the spec sheet.

On the out­side, there’s no doubt that the Mul­sanne is an im­pos­ing ve­hi­cle. It’s a Bent­ley,

and the lan­guage is a bit of an ac­quired taste. The met­al­work is cer­tainly beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted and my favourite fea­tures are the taste­fully de­signed fend­ers and haunches, which while mod­ern, seem to be a nod to the her­itage of the mar­que as well. De­spite be­ing a very long car, the de­sign is such that you’re al­ways aware of where the car is placed and is sur­pris­ingly easy to ma­neu­ver. The lines are clean with noth­ing ex­tra­ne­ous to catch the eye, if you can tear them away from the din­ner plate-sized head­lamps. Even the antenna is hid­den in the com­pos­ite bootlid so as to avoid any­thing jut­ting out and above the hood.

When asked what he thought of the Mul­sanne, Jagdish Thack­ersey re­sponded with ap­pro­pri­ate su­perla­tives, but added, “It’s too ex­pen­sive,” re­fer­ring to its nearly ` 7 crore price (ex-show­room). It sounded some­what odd, con­sid­er­ing his 3½ is one of two in the world and pos­si­bly price­less. It’s been with the Thack­ersey fam­ily for over four decades, and is likely to re­main part of the house­hold for years to come. Thack­ersey’s two sons, while not par­tic­u­lar vin­tage en­thu­si­asts, in­sist that he keep it in­def­i­nitely. Now that there’s an SLS AMG in the garage for those days when the Bent­ley needs to be in­doors, we’re sure there will be time and en­thu­si­asm to take care of the Bent­ley 3½ in the decades to come.



Clock­wise from left: The hand­brake and the shifter stick out be­tween your right knee and the door; 3.5-litre straight-six en­gine with two huge carbs; the car has been main­tained scrupu­lously; el­e­gant me­chan­i­cal turn in­di­ca­tors work per­fectly

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