• Lovely and smooth to drive • Exquisite colour combination
The venerable S3 represents a vivacious and evocative chapter in Bentley’s history. Introduced in 1963, this was in essence the sister car to the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III – conceived in an era when the two marques operated near-enough in parallel, the Silver Cloud III was visually similar to its predecessor but with a fresh 6.2-litre V8 hidden within, and so it was over at Crewe: the S2 begat the S3, continuing the aesthetic line but packing more of a punch from the six-point-two.
The twin headlights were the key visual marker of the evolved S3, and there were a few more external tweaks for the eagle-eyed to spot – the lower radiator and bonnet line, the restyled front wings, the smaller bumper over-riders. Inside, front passengers enjoyed split seats and a safety-padded dash-top, while the rear seat was mounted two inches further back for improved legroom and overall spaciousness.
With sumptuous appointments, a smooth ride, materials of superlative quality and all the torque you could wish for, this really was a special car indeed. And at three times the price of a Jaguar Mk X, you’d expect it to be. If you owned an S3 in the 1960s, you were marked out as a person of means and of taste – and that’s a perception which has only increased over the ensuing decades.
This is a car with a few tales to tell, and many of them can be found in the massive history file. It’s been lucky enough to be owned by people who appreciate that if you’re going to spend money on overhauling a premium classic like this, you’ve got to spend decent money with the right specialists; indeed, we find receipts totalling over £40,000 for work on this Bentley in the recent past.
Supplied to its first owner in January 1965 by A&D Fraser Ltd of Glasgow, the car originally wore the registration number DGD 575C, and the build sheets through late 1964 show it being built up with electric windows, side-marker/blinker lights and so forth, with the exterior wearing Dawn Blue and Shell Grey; the interior was trimmed in blue hide.
Some years back the Bentley was acquired by a Japanese collector, travelling out there to receive an extensive restoration and then sit largely unused in a collection. Returning to the UK, the current registration number bears the initials of its last keeper (the car has also variously worn ACY 136C and BOO 214 over the years), and in recent years it’s been in regular use through London, its owner a professor at the University of London. The car has been fastidiously maintained, lovingly overhauled by specialists, and always kept in fine fettle.
There’s a substantial and impressive file of paperwork with this car, including bills for a huge amount of work and investment in getting it to the wonderful condition it’s in today. Perhaps most impressive is the multi-page invoice from the specialist Jack Barclay in 2011 – the work at this time amounted to £18,784.56, including a full gearbox overhaul, repairs to the electric windows and interior lighting, new exhaust silencer, new horns, new radiator and much more besides.
There are a number of sizeable invoices from Colbrook Rolls-Royce & Bentley Specialists between 2013-2019, including one for over £3,000 to strip the dash to fit a new radio, fit rear seatbelts, fix the heater, and fix and re-gas the air-conditioning system.
Other Colebrook invoices include £2,300+ in 2013 for replacing the outer headlamps and re-chroming the front bumper, and £1,100+ in 2018 for servicing and attention to the brakes. Prior to being looked after by Colbrook, the Bentley was in the care of Gordon Dale Enterprises Ltd and there are various invoices from there for servicing and maintenance.
We also find details from Classic Motor Corporation in 2007 of a full strip-down to bare metal along with assorted bodywork repairs before repainting; they also carried out the removal and polishing of all the interior wood trim. A variety of old MOTs are present, and most reassuring of all is a copy of the original order details from 1965, showing the specs and reference numbers.
The interior of an S3 is a supremely cosseting thing, and this one is in lovely condition. The wood trim was removed, polished and refitted during the restoration work and it all looks superb today. The seat leather has a pleasant patina to it, and all the seats are comfortable and as supportive as they should be.
The rear armrest folds down and stows correctly, and the correct internal mirrors and lighting are in place. The headlining and carpets are in good order, and the electric windows in all four doors are working correctly, from their own individual switches and from the master controls in the driver door.
The radio has been replaced with a modern digital unit which is subtle and unintrusive; aside from that it’s all original spec in here. The power-steering works well and, crucially, the air-con system has been attended to and is blowing cold as it should.
Inside the boot it’s all dry and solid, with the Bentley toolkit positioned beneath the floor covering.
This really is a beautifully presented Bentley. A lot of money was spent on getting it to the condition it’s in today, with a bare-metal strip-down finessing the metalwork and the ensuing paintwork carried out to a high standard. It’s interesting to note from a historic perspective that the original hand-painted pinstripes have been retained – the paint is new above and below, but this original element has been kept along the centre of the doors and wings. (There’s some minor noticeable ageing beneath the stripes, but this is the trade-off for keeping that piece of the car’s history alive.)
The Bentley’s brightwork presents very well, with elements of it having been re-chromed. The wheels wear their correct colour-matched hubcaps with hand-painted pinstripes, along with Hercules tyres with plenty of tread.
A key part of a 1960s Bentley’s appeal is the smoothness and quiet wafting, and that’s something this car provides with very pleasing results indeed. The engine fires instantly (helped by its upgraded starter motor), idles in vibration-free quietness, glides along as it should and revs freely when provoked. The automatic transmission is similarly silky-smooth, and it all adds up to a thoroughly pleasant driving experience.
The brakes are strong with the system having been comprehensively overhauled, and the suspension is characteristically S3-like – soft and comfortable, but ever-so-slightly stiffer than the equivalent Rolls-Royce thanks to the Harvey Bailey handling kit; a gentleman’s express with sporting potential if so required.
With the climbing values of 1960s Bentleys and Rolls-Royces showing no sign of slowing down, the S3 saloon is looking like a very canny purchase in 2021. While coachbuilt two-door siblings change hands for high six-figure sums, the Bentley-bodied four-door serves up much of the charm for a fraction of the price.
And don’t go thinking that the more affordable option is in any way a compromise – this beautifully presented ’65 model is an absolute dream to drive, with a gloriously appointed interior and supremely stylish body. It’s tasteful, fun, quick, comfy, surprisingly practical, dependable, and joyful to behold. And with a history file this massive, there’s a lot of baked-in reassurance too.
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