Introduced in 1955, the S1 saw a return for Bentley towards providing cars with standardised bodywork rather than specific coachbuilder commissions, allowing the company more control over the cars leaving the Crewe factory and helping keep prices more affordable, though in Bentley parlance affordable certainly didn’t mean cheap.
The Bentley S1 was essentially a badge-engineered Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. And no, that’s not us being cruel, because both cars enjoyed the grace of a beautiful full-width body styled by the company’s chief designer, John Blatchley.
It was a graceful and elegant style, and somehow looked more harmonious with the less fussy Bentley frontal styling – a fact reflected in the sales figures, for although the Rolls was the more recognisable car, it was the Bentley that was, in fact, the best seller.
They were more delicate on the road than their bulk suggested, too, with power steering and a surprisingly agile chassis making light work of the 4.9-litre straight six upfront.
The car we have here is quite an early example from 1956 – the second year of production. It’s a low ownership car, too. The current keeper is just the third recorded owner, and while the car has seen some cosmetic attention over the years it has always been carefully maintained and is largely unrestored.
The Bentley currently resides with its third registered keeper, an ardent car collector in Essex with a fascinating and varied collection of vehicles. He has owned the car for almost a decade after deciding he quite fancied one, having spent much of his working life at the wheel of similar cars as a chauffeur in London.
While the history with the car is by no means comprehensive and much of the early paperwork has been lost, it does come with a few interesting artefacts that back up its history. It appears to have lived in Essex all its life, in either Romford or Canvey Island.
In the history file, there is an early V5 that shows the Bentley as belonging to a Mr Birchinall until 1980, when it was bought by its second keeper, a Mr Deed. There is a receipt in the car’s paperwork folder from Mr Birchinall to Mr Deed documenting its sale in a private transaction for £4,875, or about £21,500 in today’s money.
It also comes with all of its MoT certificates from the early Eighties to the present day, which appear to back up its recorded mileage of just under 86,000 miles in 64 years.
In more recent years, it has also seen attention from the well-known Rolls-Royce and Bentley specialist P&A Wood, which appears to have taken over the maintenance the last owner gave up doing himself in his later years.
Open the door and the first thing you notice about the Bentley is the smell. It’s a heady combination of mature wood and fine leather, and is a scent you wish you could bottle and sprinkle into your modern runabout just to make every journey a sense of occasion.
But that’s just part of the enchanting ambience of the car’s cabin, which is an absolutely glorious place to sit, whether you’re the chauffeur or sitting in the business end, where the rear seat swallows you up like a high-end sofa.
All of the details are both delicate and beautiful, with a clear element of both quality and design going into every component. You ca study the cabin for hours and keep discovering new, delightful details.
But what of the condition? Well, there are a few small signs of wear to the seats and door cards and one of the rear tray tables is a bit reluctant to play ball, but there’s nothing there to detract from its beauty. It’s a beautiful and relaxing place to spend time and is all original with the exception of a 1980s radio, which has been built into a cradle in the bottom of the dash and the speakers incorporated into the door bins.
The owner is the first to admit that the Bentley isn’t perfect, but there’s certainly nothing here to set alarm bells ringing. It’s solid in all of the places where it truly matters, and the only trace of rust we could find was on the bottom edge of one of the wings.
Indeed, from 10 paces the car looks immaculate and it has an adorable grace to it that makes it look sensational from any angle.
It does have a few minor glitches, though, so you shouldn’t look at it as a concourse car (though it would probably not be too far off with a repaint). There’s a small scuff just below the nearside rear door, while there are micro blisters in the paint, most notably on the nearside rear quarter but also in smaller areas elsewhere on the body. It depends how far you’d want to go with it, because it still looks absolutely stunning as it is and to over-restore it would take away both its usability and a degree of its patina, which is that of being gracefully aged rather than at all decrepit. Indeed, we think we’d prefer to keep it as it is.
From what we could see, the underside was solid and well protected, while all of the chrome and trim are in good order.
It’s clear from the way it runs that this is a well-maintained car, even though the history suggests it has been looked after largely by its owners for most of the past half-century.
The 4,887cc six fires up on the button and settles to a smooth and steady idle, while we were able to test the auto box in both forward and reverse gears with no apparent concerns. The owner assures us that it drives exceptionally well, with a superb ride quality.
It’s a Bentley, it’s cool, it’s beautiful, it’s original and it has only had three recorded owners. Need we go on? Okay then, it’s absolutely stacked full of character – a car you want to touch, feel and smell as much as you want to drive it. It’s not perfect, but it is very, very lovely indeed and to over-restore it would almost be a shame.
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