M Series Mk VI, B 256 MD – 4 Door 6 Light Saloon By Freestone & Webb
When I first met Chloe, she was pretty well disassembled. Eric Lang from the RROC in Sydney had been told about the car by Stuart Leal, who had acquired the car in lieu of storage costs. The original owner, Mr R. N. Burnham, Esq, had been transferred to Hong Kong, and had left the Bentley in his boat shed at Birchgrove Point on Sydney Harbour. After sitting there for a few years it was then moved to Stuart’s premises in Balmain. The Bentley was last registered in England in 1981, with the registration number KYG 333. Stuart, being a Cadillac man, wanted to sell it, and Eric let Peter Limon know of the car. Peter purchased it and started to dismantle it. Her chassis had been found to be rotten, and a new chassis had been sourced to fit. Quite luckily a brand new Mk VI chassis was found in Sydney. The car had reportedly sat in the boat shed, with the tide lapping at the rear wheels. The rear of the chassis had fallen off, the diff housing was corroded, and the petrol tank was full of holes. I’m not sure if this part of the story is true, or if the car was just driven on salted roads in the UK, resulting in salt damage to the rear of the car.
Peter sourced a new diff housing, and painstakingly restored the diff. The gearbox and engine where fitted to the new chassis, and the body placed on top. The front doors had rotted off, the timberwork having totally been ruined by dry rot. The interior of the doors had also rotted away. Running boards had dissolved, and the veneers on the dash and door caps had peeled off. The sun roof had been removed, and the timbers that fitted it had also dissolved, along with the steel runners having rotted away to such a degree that who knows how it actually was mean to work. Amazingly, the alloy Freestone and Webb body looked relatively straight, with the seemingly copious amount of paint on it looking as though it would take a lot of removing.
The front guards had fallen off, as the alloy bolted to steel panels, and the electrolysis had caused major weakening of the alloy. The steel bonnet had survived, however Peter had had to cut the alloy scuttle off the car to be able to get inside to replace the timber. He had successfully replaced the running boards and scuttle, but that was where he had stopped, obviously when the enormity of the project dawned on him.
Enter stage left a shiny faced young lad with 4 1⁄2 litre Bentley ambitions. A buyer was found for the partially restored 1926 Overland roadster that had been darkening the corner of his fathers garage for several years, only needing paint and upholstery to finish, and in was wheeled a 2 tone battleship grey Bentley, along with several trailer loads of parts, with Peter assuring me it was “all there”.
First job was to see about stripping all those layers of paint. I didn’t want to use heat or blasting on those alloy panels, so off it came with paint stripper and a putty knife. Wow! The original owner must have parked by ear! Filler in the passenger side front door was the winner, a full 3 inches thick! The front guards where a patchwork quilt, but the quality of the original welds on the body where amazing. All done with oxy in the early 50’s, very impressive.
Forming up new timbers using the patterns of the old rotten pieces was a very time consuming project. Getting the doors to fit again in their respective holes is still a puzzle to me today. Being hand built, the left hand side of the car is no where near the same as the right hand side.
The floor and inner guards had totally disappeared into rusty wafers of nothingness. Eric Bourne from the Austin 7 Club made a new rear floor and boot floor, along with 2 beautiful inner guards, way too good to never see the light of day again. These where fitted with new timbers and everything was tested for alignment. Peter had refitted the one shot system to the new chassis, but a couple of prods on the pedal showed up puddles of oil all over the floor in places where they shouldn’t be, so new lengths of pipe where formed up and fitted, a very long process.
The petrol tank was attacked next, and repaired with solder. New fuel lines run from the tank to the pumps, then up to the engine. The front floor had cracked, so was welded up and strengthened. New stainless timber screws where used to hold the floor in place.
At this stage I couldn’t wait to fire it up, so a new battery was fitted, fuel and oil, and I turned the motor over with the ignition off to check for oil pressure, which duly appeared. I hit the button. The engine fired after half a turn! I had reconnected the hand throttle incorrectly, so it instantaneously jumped to about 3000rpm. Jumped pretty quick to turn it off!
I had been pouring oil down the plug holes, so it took a lot of running before the oil smoke settled down, but when it did the engine ran smoothly and quietly. When I revved it up, all the rust came out of the exhaust system and hit the back wall of the shed!
The left hand pipe was popping back, and the right hand pipe was running rich, easily rectified. Tappets where checked and adjusted, and the oil and filter changed just to make sure it was clean before hitting the road. Lucky I did, a large amount of muck had collected in the oil filter.
The original exhaust actually lasted about 1000 miles before all the muffler bandages fell off and I had to surrender a large amount of cash to fit a stainless system. It was sad to see all those beautifully formed bends being replaced by bends made by hydraulic machines, but the cost of a ball and mandrel system was way too much.
The colour had been chosen, Ford Polar white B, but a lot of Saturdays went into getting the body ready for it’s top coat. With the painting completed, the interior woodwork refitted, it was off the have the interior redone. Somehow the rear door linings had survived in reasonable condition, so these where retained, with the new material matching these panels. Being coach built, the seat squabs where one large flat piece of leather, with no ribbing. Only the rear of the seat was ribbed. After much deliberation we decided to rib the squab to match the rear, as the large expanse just didn’t look right.
The roof lining with it’s top hat roof was replaced, and all was looking good for it’s maiden voyage.
No over-riders where supplied with the car, so I am not sure if they should have been fitted or not. The build papers don’t give any suggestions. The papers ask for step Irons, to hold the running boards, and a scuttle aerial to be fitted. I couldn’t find any evidence of the aerial ever being there. The papers also ask for a locking filler cap which is there, and 2 fog lamps in place of the standard centre lamp. Well, the car has the standard centre lamp. The chassis was dispatched from the works the week ending 15th September 1951, where I assume it was sent to Freestone & Webb.
To date I have taken the odometer from 99,000 miles to 115,000 miles, and it has never once “failed to proceed”. The car puts a smile on my face every time I drive it, she is a very stylish English Lady.
I have just had Bob Winley at Amaroo completely overhaul the Lucas “special equipment” horns, including making new trumpets to replace the ones that had rusted away. So, she will soon have a voice to go with those swoopy good looks.
After 7 years of hard work rebuilding Chloe, I think I will restrict myself to maintenance and smaller projects, as this one lived up to the restorers estimates quite well, take the amount of time and money you think it will take, and triple it!