My Car Quest

January 17, 2018

The Sad Story Of The Slab-Sided Bentley And The Norwegian Who Thunk It Up….

by Wallace Wyss –

Now it is every car buff’s dream to design a car right? And this particular Bentley is really a classic for the Ages. One of the last true Bentleys, I contend.

But the sad part is that the guy that designed it came into Rolls to be a designer, designed just two cars for them and left the business out of frustration. In his view, it took too long to design a car.

Some feel that the Last True Bentley was built before Rolls Royce bought out Bentley when the original W.O. Bentley couldn’t make a profit.

But my contention is that the Continental S3 was the last true Bentley because it was the last coachbuilt one where you still could order a car somewhat modified to your taste. (though in modern days both Bentley and Rolls have bespoke services again).

Bentley S3

This particular model is called the “slab side” Bentley and I remember when I first saw one I was fascinated by the DeSoto like tailfins with three tailights on each side.

There was also a model with a single headlight per side, the 1962 S2 version.

Bentley

The one I found was an S2 single headlight like this one.

The coachbuilder was Park Ward, a once independent coachbuilder who had been under the Rolls-Royce wing since 1939. Another coachbuilder, H. J. Mulliner & Co.– was brought in house as well, so it was a creation that is mostly attributed to Mulliner rather than Park Ward.

So the foundation was set for something spectacular.

Everybody knows the common four door sedan shape of the Silver Cloud and Bentley S series. They made their debut in 1955. At some point Rolls revived the prewar name “Continental” for the coachbuilt Bentleys, to remind one of the days when you toured the continent in your luxury car.

Bentley

From the movie Blow Up

Now it happens that some Rolls officials were at an auto show and took a liking to a one off Alfa designed by a Norwegian, Vilhelm Koren. In 1959, they invited him, on the strength of that one car, to join up, and ink out for them a variation on the S2 for Rolls that would be sold as a Bentley. They wanted it out by 1960 so he had to work extremely quickly. As soon as it was approved he went over to Park Ward to supervise the construction of his baby.

The car he designed was completely different than the rising fender lines of the regular Silver Cloud and Bentley S cars. It was one line from front to back. And the instruments were all grouped together in a cluster, not spread out all over the dash to hell and yonder.

Bentley

Virgil Exner, Chrysler designer, would have loved the tailfins.

The engine was your normal V8, estimated at just over 200 horsepower from 6.2-liters of cast aluminum.

The most interesting version is the quad headlight one, which came in 1962, the same time Rolls was rolling out the four headlamp Silver Cloud III. I can’t say the headlights on the Koren Bentley were totally original, Tom Tjaarda designed something similar for the Ferrari 330GT 2 plus 2 and Giugiaro did those headlights for the Gordon Keeble, a short lived British car, but I don’t know who had the design first.

One website says that only 26 slab sided S3 Continentals were built in total, maybe referring only to the slanted headlamp versions. They came in both dropheads and coupes. Rolls Royce customers must have complained because they got the chance to buy a Roller variant and it really doesn’t work there as the Bentley grille is rounded at the top meeting a rounded set of hood panels (hinged in the middle to lift up longitudinally) and the Rolls grille is flat lined in imitation of the Pathenon (for some strange reason).

According to the website rrab.com these are the production figures:

1286 – Bentley S3 (1 was fitted was fitted with a drophead coupé
body by H.J. Mulliner)
32 – Bentley S3 long wheelbase (7 were fitted with coachbuilt bodies
by James Young )
312 – Bentley S3 Continental
1630 – Bentley S3 altogether

After Koren designed the S2 and S3 Continental slabsides, he was given another assignment for a two door coupe but that car was cancelled. At which time, he left RR to teach architecture at the Royal College of Art. Walked away from the car biz, as it were.

MY BARN FIND

I bought one once, one of the rare single headlamp per side versions, when a carpenter told me he saw an odd Bentley in an underground garage in Venice Beach. I went to the address and peeked through the gate. I recognized the model from the opening sequence of Blow Up where the film’s protagonist is driving one around London.

But you had to have a electronic opener to open the gate. I paid a vagrant $20 a day for three days to ask everyone who drove in whose car it was and on the third day he found a Texas cowboy that laid claim.

The cowboy was a day trader in the stock market and only too glad to sell it, the car covered in dust, parked top down for the last several years. I had to sell the car to a client (I was a barn finder) for $60,000 but the good news was, when he got it to New York City he had only to change the battery and oil and it started right up! Today I think they are worth more than $160,000 depending on if they had a famous owner.

Koren? He died Dec. 20, 2016 in London at the ripe old age of 95. I don’t even know if he ever got to own a slab-sided Bentley but if there is any justice in the world, I hope he did. It must be a designer’s dream, to drive around the car he championed….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

UPDATE – photos from Wayne Watkins in Sydney Australia

Bentley

Bentley

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss’ barn finding tales are told in the Incredible Barn Finds books available from Enthusiast Books, Hudson, WI.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

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Summary
The Sad Story Of The Slab-Sided Bentley And The Norwegian Who Thunk It Up….
Article Name
The Sad Story Of The Slab-Sided Bentley And The Norwegian Who Thunk It Up….
Description
One of the last of the coachbuilt Bentleys.
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Comments

  1. I don’t recall ever seeing the term slab-sided used to describe these Bentleys before. However, if you put “Chinese Eye Bentley” into Google, you will see that this term is quite widely used.

    I’m a Brit. Hope it’s not another variation in US-English vs UK-English automotive term usage!

  2. The vagrant gambit is a hoot!

  3. wallace wyss says:

    Yes American words can be hard on the ears compared to British Oxfordian English but calling
    convertibles “dropheads” never fails to convey the image of a guillotine to me so let’s blame the French there…

  4. Wayne Watkins says:

    We call them Chinese eye convertibles or drop tops in Australia . I just sent Mike Gulett via email a couple of pics of a lovely one in Sydney as do not know how to send them in this section .

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