My Car Quest

July 20, 2024

Divining Character In A Bespoke Bentley

Case in point, Gary Wales and his “Black Prince” Bentley.

by Wallace Wyss –

Gary Wales is a dreamer. But one difference between Wales and most car lovers is that he builds the cars he dreams about.

His 1938 Bentley, chassis B 161 LE, shown recently at the ArtCenter Concours in Pasadena, is a marvel to behold, both in terms of workmanship and in terms of vision.

The styling is all prewar inspired, though the body was built to his design in the last five years. With its ominous black body and tailfins, it looks a little sinister, like you imagine it was originally commissioned by a British Royal who was the “black sheep” of the family, and maybe only drove it at night, at speed.

Gary Wales

Gary Wales

The car is nicknamed “the Black Prince” and Gary’s nickname is the Prince of Wales, no coincidence, methinks. He has elaborate coats of arms on the car and I didn’t have the nerve to ask him if they are real (damned if I am going to suck up to those Royals!).

Gary Wales Bentley

The way it started was that Gary bought an old Bentley about 30 years ago, a four door saloon, and the body was in rough shape so he took the body off and threw it away. And it sat.

For decades.

Meanwhile, other Bentleys came and went in his life but all the while, in the back of his mind, he was envisioning what would be a proper sporty body for an open tourer version.

He finally got the idea down to a finite line, which necessitated moving the engine and gearbox back 18 inches so he could attain a 50/50 weight distribution and make it a two seater. Wait a minute, that sounds like he wants to make it a racing car. Well, did I mention Wales won a coast to coast race in a vintage car? It’s in his blood.

Gary Wales Bentley

Then he had a body built, bespoke, to his own design. The fender style is early 1920’s flared upwards and out, but not curving around to enclose the wheels, that trend came later with “streamline moderne.”

Now there were some difficulties. Like he wanted sidemount wheels but with the body being shorter than it was when the car was first built, there was no place to put them, not unless you wanted to throw out having doors. Which, considering Gary’s age (75) would mean too big a gunwhale to hop over. So, being inspired from the famous “round door” Rolls, he cut a round hole on each side in the rearward hinged doors that just barely clears the sidemounts on each side. A very slick solution!

Then there’s the wood. Gary likes wood. He has three different kinds of wood in the car.

The hardest task was carving fins out of wood and attaching them so they melded in with the wood covering the rear deck.

Gary Wales Bentley

The dashboard is also a little history lesson. He uses gauges from many different marques, all prewar, but the most interesting is a large tachometer from France that once sat on the dashboard of a WWI Nieuport fighter plane.

The headlights are by Marchal.

The completed car suits Gary’s shall I say “bombastic” character. He is quite the world class raconteur, and more than willing to take anybody within earshot on a nose-to-tail tour of the car, explaining in intricate detail the decisions that went into each and every styling feature. Sort of like watching the “Director’s Cut” of a film and having the director sitting beside you explaining his thoughts on setting up each scene. A privilege indeed!

Gary Wales Bentley

Always ready with the documentation, (in a frogskin covered folder, no less!), at ArtCenter he showed me three e-mails from Bentley designers inviting him to display the car at their design center.

Now I ask you, at first glance you wonder what can designers hard at work doing Bentleys for the year 2020 possibly learn from a custom car done in California on such an ancient chassis? I say the lesson that would be taught here is “class.”

Gary did what you would expect a sporting Bentley to be like in the 1920s and though “class” is an indefinable character that is exceedingly difficult to build into a modern car, I hope at Bentley the young designers learn something…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Update – By Popular Demand – More Photos From Richard Bartholomew

Gary Wales Bentley

Gary Wales Bentley

Gary Wales Bentley

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a noted fine artist, whose work is in one of the nation’s most prominent car museums. A list of his available prints can be obtained by writing




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Divining Character In A Bespoke Bentley
Article Name
Divining Character In A Bespoke Bentley
Gary Wales loves his Bentleys even if he redesigns them!


  1. Zack Schickerling says

    Thank you for an interesting article. Do you possibly have a photo of the whole car. It is bit difficult to make out what the car really looks like.

    Best wishes

    Zack Schickerling

  2. Wayne Watkins says

    Interesting that he made his Batmobile RHD to drive in a LHD country . I guess the original old sedan was RHD . Any chance of a side pic showing the round door and wheel mounting of this magnificent creation ?

  3. By popular demand Richard Bartholomew has sent in more photos of this custom Bentley. See them at the end of the article above.

    Thank you Richard

  4. Raymond Zinn says

    Some people just seem to know how to spend their money correctly.
    One problem, It would be hell to clean after hitting someone with those wings. Would never pass the public safety officer this side of the pond.
    I was born too late as as I love the thirties cars and Biplanes of the era. Neuports long gone by then.

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