My Car Quest

October 23, 2017

An Apology To Gary Wales About His Bentley From Wallace Wyss

by Wallace Wyss –

Now there is, I dare say, no more bombastic a person in the old car biz than Gary Wales of Woodland Hills, California.

I have known him for decades, and always like basking in his shadow as he recounts yet another tale from the world of classic cars. I even have devoted two chapters in my Incredible Barn Finds books to specific cars he owned, the Ferrari 250 Breadvan that was built by an Italian count to unseat the rule of the Ferrari GTO and the ’47 art deco styled Bentley he restored and sold for a then unheard of amount for a postwar Bentley.

Now where I owe him the apology is about the Bentley he restored. It was rococo in the extreme, over the top, and I always suspected he over ornamented the car to make it more flashy, particularly changing the windshield from one pane to two separate panes so he could add that little bit more chrome in the center.

But now I was looking at a Bentley book and realized, damn, the car existed with a two piece windscreen some 50 years earlier so he was only bringing it back to an earlier look.

The 1947 Bentley Mk VI Franay Drophead Coupe was styled by Franay in France, on a Mk. VI chasiss. Usually the Mk. VI cars came with a modestly designed standard steel body but a few went out to coachbuilders.

Bentley Mk VI Franay Drophead Coupe No. B20BH

1947 Bentley Mk VI Franay Drophead Coupe

You kind of wonder why Franay, not the most swoopy coachbuilder, got away with stealing the flowing lines of his flashier rivals, like Figoni et Falaschi and Saoutchik but, hey, you got to give the customer credit for even insisting on a perpetuating a prewar body style when it was already three years after WWII and the design themes they were stealing were prewar.

Rolls-Royce was no doubt happy to see a custom being built but they knew that the times before the war would never come back when people would order chassis and then go through the catalogs of coachbuilders to order a custom built design, like you would order a bespoke suit tailored for you on Saville Row. Oh, there were still English coachbuilders, i.e. Freestone & Webb, Hooper, James Young, Mulliner, and the like but the whole idea of ordering a coachbuilt car was dying out fast.

The Bentley Mk VI was the first Rolls-Royce produced with a standard steel body and sold new for 4,038 pounds sterling, including purchase tax—enough to buy a dozen Fords of the day.

The man ordering the car that became Gary Wales’ dream project was a French industrialist who fortunately had a pre-war concept of aerodynamics and glamor.

Bentley Mk VI Franay Drophead Coupe No. B20BH

1947 Bentley Mk VI Franay Drophead Coupe

The car, S/N B20BH, was destined to be the 1947 Paris show car for Carrossier Franay. Fortunately, soon after the war, the French re-started the concours making it similar to those before the war , only different from the fanciest concours in the U.S. today, new cars were entered, and judged on the elegance of their coachwork. So it became the fashion to order a special car built for you and show it off.

This one went on to finish first at two concours at Enghien and Boulogne in 1948. One story says the car was sent back to the coachbuilder for a refresh which included even more baroque trim. At that time, the original 4-1/4 liter engine was replaced with the new Bentley 4-1/2 liter engine and dual exhaust. Not to worry that the car would get “dinged” at a concours for a non-original engine, as it’s all in the factory records.

The car was later sold off to England, then was exported to the U.S. where it went through a series of owners, among them the late Sergio Franchi, an opera singer, Broadway star and early supporter of the Pebble Beach Concours. It isn’t surprising that late Lorin Tryon, co-chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for almost 30 years, saw the car and bought it in somewhat decrepit condition.

THE TRADE

In 1979, well-known Bentley enthusiast Gary Wales of California, bought the car from Tryon. The transaction, like a lot of things in Gary’s life, came about by pure serendipity, i.e right place, right time.

Here’s the story: one time Wales was selling Bentley parts to a friend over the phone and the guy mentioned “Hey, Gary, did I ever tell ya I used to own a coachbuilt French car?”
The whole story is in one of my Incredible Barn Finds books, but here it condensed down to a nutshell: Gary invites the guy over, plies him with the best French wine and before ya know it, the guy agrees to take Gary down to the ‘hood where the car was. By the way it was a Talbot Lago.

When I say ‘hood, I mean a place where the murder rate was approaching that of, say, Baghdad. But no matter, Gary had his flame lit and was going on full afterburner. Now bear in mind it was what, 20 years after the guy sold the car. So this guy thinks he can remember where it is. After several hours Gary’s parts supplier recognizes the old service station the Talbot owner used as his shop and they stop. The man who had bought the car is there. They ask him breathlessly, “do you still have the car?”

He does.

Minor problem, tho. The car was still there, at the man’s house, but had been stored in a garage that collapsed. Fortunately, the swoopy fenders had been off the car so it was salvageable. At that time still being a Ferrari guy on his way to being a Bentley guy, Wales did a quickie re-do of the car, which was then powered by a Cadillac, and took it up to Monterey to watch the vintage races.

AN INVITE TO HEAVEN

At that time the concours co-big wig, i.e. Tryon, used to come over to the racetrack and invite ten cars to the concours, in a sort of hands-cross-the-water spirit, and invited Wales and the Talbot. Once he reached Pebble, Tryon noticed that a crowd was gathering around the Talbot – a car not even in the judging – and sidled up to Wales and said something to the effect of “Y’know, I like that car. What say we do a little horse-tradin’?” Wales, his antennae now at full array, said “What ‘cha got?” and Tryon took him to his garage with the by now sad looking Bentley. Hey Wales was a Bentley guy. Duck soup, the trade was done.

Wales recognized the car’s pedigree but knew from the get-go that Franay modifications in 1951 were missing.

To his credit, Gary didn’t jump into the restoration immediately. No, he took years to buy photographs and it wasn’t until 1988 that he felt confident he could restore it to its unique design.

Years later, the restored Mark VI chassis rolled across the field at Pebble Beach to compete in the Postwar European Custom Coachwork class.

It easily earned first place. Since the modifications to the original design were done in the original era, and by the same coachbuilder, with authentic documentation, it was determined to be the real deal. Now of course Gary, being Gary, did a couple things that were controversial. He showed it around with a frog mascot in place of the flying “B.” He put the flying B back on for judging. I also questioned the frogskin upholstery but now that the windshield is authenticated as “in period” I am sure that at some point in time the car had an unusual upholstery material.

When another car received top honors at Pebble, it was announced that the Franay Bentley missed receiving Best in Show by a mere 1/10th of a point, the closest margin in Pebble Beach Concours history.

Bentley Mk VI Franay Drophead Coupe No. B20BH

1947 Bentley Mk VI Franay Drophead Coupe

Gary Wales got a world class amount of publicity for the car, and deserved it, I think he is a model for: 1) recognizing a diamond in the rough 2) taking the time to research the car before he started restoring it. I especially enjoyed hearing that he and his wife took the car to France and drove it about in its original settings, sort of re-living history y’might say. I can just see them in my mind’s eye, both with big straw hats and summer clothes, toodling down the Promenade de la Croisette in Cannes, the whole world seeing what grand touring used to be.

Last I saw Gary he was showing some unique baroque vehicles based on old fire engines, these new creations more whimsical than anything that has a chance of winning Pebble. But hey, Gary’s done the concours thing, and, oh by the way, he sold that Bentley for $1,728,000.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss recounts this and similar tales in his series of books sold under the Incredible Barn Finds imprimatur from Enthusiast Books, Hudson, WI.

Photos above from Bentley Spotting.

 

 

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Summary
An Apology To Gary Wales About His Bentley From Wallace Wyss
Article Name
An Apology To Gary Wales About His Bentley From Wallace Wyss
Description
Gary Wales finds and restores the 1947 Bentley Mk VI Franay Drophead Coupe - certainly one of the most valuable Bentleys.
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Comments

  1. Roger Ram Jet says:

    Ataboy Wallace!!! Great story telling!!
    Your writing has the effect of creating such anticipation that I speed my reading to get to the end of the story. I then re-read it several times to enjoy your craft. Enjoy how you weave it, how you apologize by calling him “bombastic”. Something that I think Gary would chuckle and agree with you. Yes, bombastic like his cars, yelling “here I am, look at me!!”. I would also call him and his cars, a “charicature”, bigger than life, enjoyer of the epic, making them the envy of the mediocre.
    I cherish your writen stories as I like Gary’s spoken ones. Stories that I get to enjoy on the, not often enough, occations when I get to spend time with him. Looking forward to reading more of yours on this blog and when your latest book is published.

    Roger R Rousset

  2. scot carr says:

    ~ An eccentric and deeply interesting man, Gary is.
    . Single-minded when his goal is set, yet generous to a fault with his time and knowledge.

  3. John in Fargo says:

    Another great story, this time with a personal connection. I was at Pebble Beach when Gary’s Talbot Lago cabriolet appeared. I think it was 1978. The car was finished in a gorgeous electric blue metallic, and drew more attention than many of the concourse entries. It had been driven up from L.A., and when fired up for the return trip on Sunday evening, considerable rod knock could be heard from the makeshift Cadillac engine. My friend and I later drove past the car stranded on Highway 1, Gary and passenger outside in discussion with a wrecker driver.

    I haven’t thought about this in ages, thanks for rekindling a memory!

  4. Bombastic, maybe. But in an era where one can boast and puff up with digital anonymity, Wales presents his opinions and tastes publicly, and backs it up with the finest craftsmanship and care in all he does. He is also considerably generous with his time as proven when we modeled this Bentley for the Franklin Mint in 1:24 scale and Gary was there every step of the way assisting us.

    Gary is a true connoisseur, a gentleman of taste who vigorously defends his position not by boasting, but with beautiful artifacts that prove his position.

  5. I had a chance to go over this car at length while it was at a friend’s garage. It was also at the St John’ Concourse in Michigan. It should have won Best of Show, it was clearly the star of the show.

  6. Bob Johnson says:

    hope Gary goes back to building those Art Deco pieces…loved the Bentley and Rolls he sold at Barrett…beautiful…I personally don’t care if they are restored just like they came…improve them if you can …no harm if you ask me…not a purist…

  7. Brett Voll,mar says:

    Great story and a very nice man to tell a good story about carry on Gary, enjoy your cars.

  8. Michael Kapp says:

    Gary is the guy who moved me from MG-TDs to Bentleys and I’m very grateful that he did.
    Mickey Kapp

  9. Chris Miller says:

    Great read on my friend, Gary. This, like his other projects, is true industrial art. Andres and Gary form a solid partnership in crafting these sculptures, much like Plato and Aristotle formed for philosophy.

  10. Laurel A, Smith says:

    Having known Gary in many settings– even prior to his car days — I would cite an old saw that could well have been posed to fit him: “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” He does, and he can. And vice-versa. Nice story, Brother Wyss, and “You go, Gar!”

  11. Scott R. Bosés says:

    Wonderful story thank you . Bombastic perhaps but a prince of a man and all around car guy. Many years ago as a young man I heard him being referred to as “the prince of Wales” of course his last name had a lot to do with it. In those days he was still Mr. Wales to me but with the years the age gap has lessened and I am pleased refer to him as my friend Gary.

  12. Romaine Wales-Mazer says:

    A brilliantly written story about a truly interesting and talented man. He is a Jewell and loves what he does. That it is recognized and appreciated makes me very happy… He is my brother 💖

  13. Jim Levitt says:

    Wally, still around eh?
    You did a story on my Porsche Speedster for Autoweek in 1971, remember?
    Jim Levitt

  14. Kent and Ruth Buzzi Perkins says:

    You did a great job telling the Franay Bentley story. Gary’s been our friend for decades and decades, and he’s done a lot for the car enthusiast world. He’s got the personality and story-telling skills of a professional entertainer, the patience and tenacity necessary to tackle the impossible and the imagination and skill to create rolling works of art that will out live all of us. Besides all that, Gary’s a good soul who seldom misses a car show and always takes the time to visit with and educate anyone interested in classic and collectible cars.

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