1952. My newly-wed father and mother arrived from England to Sydney’s Circular Quay and were whisked home in a brand new R-Type Bentley, the toy of his father’s best friend. My mother was very impressed with her reception and my grandfather’s magnificent harbourside home, but a rude shock awaited her when they settled in Canberra, a dusty country town at the time, a few days later. My father was stunned at the magnificent vehicle, and vowed to own one some day. My grandfather had one on order, but cancelled the order when he found that his garage would need to rebuilt to accommodate its height, and that meant major structural changes to the newly built home. Shame, or this may have been a true one-owner story about a car with number plate 13.
Roll on the years. 1969. My parents have a daughter, myself, and two more twin sons. I was 13, and waiting at Canberra Airport, 7am, in an excited state with my father. The Electra had arrived from Sydney late, and the airport was fogbound. At 10am, my father said ”enough. We’ll go tomorrow.”. “No way !” I replied stubbornly. At 1pm we flew off to Sydney, and caught a taxi to the Western Suburb of Carlingford. As we turned the corner I gasped. There it was, the most beautiful motor car I had ever seen. My father had bought his first secondhand car since his student days, but it was an R-Type Bentley, B174UM, delivered by Kellow-Falkiner in Melbourne, March 1954. I had been excited about a dozen MkVIs and R-Types on test, but this gleaming metallic beauty was OURS ! The price differential has rightly vanished, but at the time an excellent MkVI fetched $2,000 and an R-Type $3,000. This one was the best available and had covered just 98,000 miles. My father happily paid $3,600. It had always been serviced by the main Sydney dealer, and the automatic transmission had recently been overhauled there. “It’s going good”, the service manager had proclaimed, but warned that it did not have full-length cylinder liners yet. When my father quizzed the owner about engine vibrations when testing the car, the man answered “I don’t know what you mean.”.
After admiring the previous owner’s Barker Silver Ghost, we proudly set off South. The first stop was the petrol station of course, as the fuel lamp was predictably blinking. My astonishment was of the quivering pump attendant, who called my father “Sir” repeatedly. Just over two hours later, we were half way home on the Hume Highway, a B-grade road at the time, and stopped at Bimbo’s Café, Bargo, a truckers stop. We flipped through the service records and receipts in amazement: how could you spend so much to maintain a car ? Little did we know.
The first job was to fit the inertia-reel seat belts, and that would be the last expense we thought.
Roll on a few more years. 1971. The R-Type was proclaimed the worst car ever. My father had spent more on repairs than the car had cost. Two new and modified vibration dampers, another transmission overhaul to correct a bent torus cover from the previous job, water pump, carburettors, suspension, broken front coil spring and more. I begged, and narrowly won, when my father wanted to trade the R-Type in when he bought a new Volvo 164 in disgust at the R-Type’s engine vibrations. He traded his Morris 1100 instead, and still had his Holden Station Sedan. Imagine the comedown and embarrassment of being taken to school in a white Volvo with red leather seats ! My heart was broken. My father was angry. All his previous cars had been English apart from the trusty Holden so he tolerated faults, but Geeves Bentley was an unexpected disgrace.
Every cloud has a silver lining. With the Bentley then nice-to-have rather than the daily school shuttle, I had a chance at last. After more months of begging, I wielded the first serious spanner in anger. I had already changed the battered main and perfect bigend bearings in a desperate and illogical attempt to cure the vibrations, but finally convinced my father that I should rebuild the motor and have it properly balanced. This was the last chance for the poor old car to stay in our ownership.
Bingo! I had the crankshaft ground –0.020”, and the bigends –0.010”, the bigends only to correct any possible crankshaft bow. The mains were again in shocking shape, punished by the bent, and later out-of-balance, torus covers. The pistons went to +0.010. Unless the crankshaft, torus cover, flywheel, vibration damper, conrods and pistons are dynamically balanced individually, then as an assembly, it is apparent that a turbine-smooth result is unlikely. With the car being on probation, we stopped short of fitting the full-length cylinder liners, already bought, until the motor was proven smooth (the liners finally went in in 1981). The now wonderfully-smooth Bentley quickly shifted back to being the family hack, and was soon wearing my yellow Learner Plates.
Roll on a few more years. Imagine how proud I was driving my 21st birthday gift back to Sydney after a raucous, beer-swilling party in Canberra, 1976. It had just been completely refinished and re-upholstered, both to the very highest standard. It was in as best a condition as you could imagine, and I have kept it that way. My father moved to a T-Series. It is also one of the most superb cars ever, but of a completely different formula from the sporty MkVIs and R-Types.
In over 400,000 miles, I have overhauled or replaced every single component at least once as you would expect. It would have travelled 600,000 miles by now were I to have stayed Downunder. It is my all-time favourite car. Although I now live continents away, it is still run regularly, and always awaits my visits. When I finally return, it will again be my daily transport.
The moral is that if you are dedicated, these cars last forever. The early pains of ownership will be rewarded by decades of satisfaction and pride. If you keep your MkVI or R-Type in top shape, it will be an endless joy.