The point of this article is to reassure those who are planning to buy their first Rolls-Royce or Bentley. The ownership process isn’t always a bed of roses but is worthwhile in the long run. New buyers shouldn’t be mesmerised by shiny wood and soft leather and should concentrate on what is really important – the technical state of the car. Get your priorities right. A bit of common sense goes a long way.
From the records B40PV was originally ordered from Jack Barclay for a JWS Uttley with delivery promised for 16 January 1952. For some reason JWS Uttley never received it (presumably he cancelled the order). At the time this car was ordered all such orders were subject to a type of purchase licence. You had to prove you needed a car (doctor, farmer etc). Only in January 1953 was this arrangement rescinded. It was quite common, in fact it was almost a rule, that orders for R-R and Bentley cars were altered from the original, much fiddling and under dealing took place with new car orders. The order reference for the car changes and eventually the car is sold by PJ Evans in Birmingham to its first owner Henry Garlick, a building contractor in Coventry on 8 May 1952 with registration MAC651, which it has to this day. Tudor grey, grey carpets, grey Vaumol leather and grey headlining. Tudor grey is the best colour for these cars – subdued without being sombre, and a light grey interior makes it look somehow larger and airier inside.
Purchase price on the delivery note is marked as a total of £5009 (inc. purchase tax) plus £3/15.9s for 18 gallons of petrol. This was the total after various complex additional fees for ‘withdrawals’ (this is possibly something to do with the retrospective discounts received by dealers depending on how many cars they had sold in say 12 months. This was a system also used by nearly all car makers until quite recently).
The car passes to Austin Garlick of Rugby in 1961 (his son?) and is then sold in 1969 to a man in Leamington Spa. He died in 2001 and left the car to his son, also in Warwickshire. It was from him that I bought the car at 11am on 11/11/01. Surprisingly, he wanted rid of the car as he wanted space in the garage for a games room. From 1952 until 2001 the car never appears to have left Warwickshire.
When I bought the car, although it looked good from a distance (and the body was sound with hardly any rust, with new inner and outer sills), B40PV was a mess underneath. The vendor had told me that the car could do 85 on the motorway with a full load. Not surprisingly the engine was almost beyond redemption and sounded more like a VW Beetle flat four. He was very surprised when I asked him how often he used the one shot. “What’s that? “Err, the central lubrication system – the footpump just next to the steering column by your feet”. “Oh, I always wondered what that was”. He also explained to me that filling the car up with fuel was a bit of a drama. That to open the fuel filler cap there was no button on the dashboard and that “…you need to keep a screwdriver in the car so that you can prise up the fuel filler cap”. He was visibly surprised when I pointed out that the silver button underneath the cap opens the spring-loaded cap when depressed.
Despite having been in the RREC since I was a teenager in 1981, this was my first ‘real’ car and I had absolutely no experience of the Mk6. Therefore even if something was wrong I wouldn’t necessarily have been able to recognise it. Fortunately for me I had no idea what was in store, otherwise I’d never have bought it.
A Solid Wreck
For the low-ish price I paid for the car there is usually a choice – 1) a reasonably good engine but awful body, or 2) a kippered engine but reasonably good body, but seldom both. I opted for number 2.
Despite having a very sound body there was a catalogue of problems of which I was blissfully unaware when I bought the car and which I wouldn’t have known to check. These had to be pointed out to me after purchase. This is when I realised what an idiot I had been to buy the car and became quite seriously depressed about the whole saga. The engine was running on around 4_ cylinders. There was water on the dipstick and white gunge, signs that water was getting into the engine interior. The dynamo was hanging on by a thread, other parts were held onto the engine with plastic cord. The underside of the car was the most depressing. The entire length of the chassis was covered in black oil and grime with embedded stones and tar, in some places up to two inches thick. All of the undertrays were missing. By the rear wheels on each side of the car there was something similar to a wasps nest. It was later I discovered that these were the rear dampers – amorphous black blobs which were a build-up of fifty years of oil, dirt and grease. It transpires that one of the kingpins was close to death, electrical junctions were held in place by wire alone, rear springs were dry and squeaking and not surprisingly the damper control didn’t work, there was significant wear in the rear shackle pins, and the radiator cap wouldn’t move. The brake master cylinder was leaking. The diff breather was blocked with thick oil, causing expansion past the seals and oil was effectively spraying out of the differential leaving an orange film everywhere. Bear in mind that all this had to be pointed out to me.
Inside, the headlining was threadbare and had things living in it, the front seats were cracked and somebody had tried to fill the cracks with bathroom sealant (the cushions were beyond redemption), the blind had disintegrated and the front carpets had suffered from years of dirt and passengers’ stilettos. The rest of the leather also looked odd – more on that later.
Getting It Right
I told myself in advance that before improving the car cosmetically (which is the fun part), to save future heartache I had to concentrate solely on the mechanical side of the car. Business before pleasure. Owners often tackle this the other way around (especially in the USA) and my experience has shown that, although it doesn’t look like you’re getting much for your money, tackling the mechanicals first is the best in the long term.
But the state of the interior was really starting to depress me and I was starting to seriously dislike the car. Years of yearning for a Bentley, years of being told not to be stupid, and I finally get one that turns out to be a complete dog which is set to bankrupt me. Before spending money on non-visible parts of the car I had to experience just some immediate visible improvement in order to keep my spirits up and to give me hope that things could get better. West Hoathly Garage near East Grinstead did me a new headlining and silk blind at an extremely reasonable price. A quick wipe with Liquid Gold immediately brought back the lustre of the wood and immediately transformed the interior of the car. I started to become interested again.
The interior was a powder blue colour and everything was cracking. But the build records said grey. I assumed therefore that to Crewe, grey meant powder blue. It was only on stupidly but luckily spilling cellulose thinners inside the car that I realised that the seats had been painted. This resulted in four months painstaking work removing all seating, stripping them with thinners, nourishing them and eventually restoring them to the original grey with a kit from Woolies in Market Deeping. This seriously transformed the interior of the car. At this stage, knowing that the car would eventually give me some pleasure and was almost starting to look presentable, I was prepared to get down to business and sort out the mechanicals before returning to the cosmetics.
And as if by magic the car failed its next MOT due to one collapsed worn kingpin and a worn front wheel bearings. This was in effect the kick up the rear I needed to get work on the mechanical side started. It was at this stage I was introduced to Norman Geeson and took the car to him for the MOT failure to be rectified. It was also at this stage where I really started to learn about the Mk6/R Type/Silver Dawn series. With Norman the car begun its slow recovery to health.
This stage was also financially the point of no return. Norman asked if I would like him to carry out further work on the car, which he had spotted as being urgent. I was advised by others that this was an opportunity not to be missed and that having Norman work on my Mk6 was like having Jamie Oliver round to do the cooking or Michaelangelo to repaint the ceiling. I was also advised that people only get one chance to turn down such an offer from Norman. I decided to borrow money on the equity in my property and get serious.
Brakes, Steering, Axle, Suspension
Norman rebuilt the master cylinder with a new brass cylinder, made up and fitted new pipes from the master cylinder to the front brakes, bled the brakes, and replaced the prop shaft floating mounting. He fully rebuilt a 3.42:1 later-model R Type differential and fitted it. The entire breaking mechanism and brakes were overhauled. Rear brake actuators and equaliser mechanisms were all overhauled. The entire steering mechanism was rebuilt, both king pins replaced (I managed to bag a deal with Jack Barclay for kingpins at a knockdown price). Rear wheel bearings were changed, including bearing retaining collars. Rear springs were dismantled, stripped, nickel plated, reassembled and wrapped in Denso tape.
It was at this point where Norman advised me that the engine was beyond economic repair and was completely ‘cooked’. To prove the point I was able to see at least one point of water ingress, in the rear end of the tappet chest. Norman was even able to pick sludge out of the engine with his fingers. It so happened that Ashley James had a 4.9 from a S1, which he had rebuilt over several years at great expense.
Ashley had bought the block with a crankshaft, camshaft and pistons and rods from Mike Jones. The sump was cracked so Ashley had blagged and had modified a MKVI sump. The head was off the engine and scrap because it had been overheating.
Ashley had dismantled the entire engine and cleared the waterways. Most of the engine was already in surprisingly good condition – crankshaft, timing gears, oil pump, camshaft and followers, vibration damper etc. The block was crack tested. He bought a good second hand head from Montagues, made up all external pipes and had an adaptor fitted for a Flexolite spin-off filter. A good second hand distributor was bought and rebuilt. One damaged con rod was replaced. Some of the big end nuts and bolts were replaced with new ones from Theo Hendrickson.
The block was delivered to Neville Pearson to recondition, re-ring pistons and replace small ends. FJ Paynes fitted hardened exhaust valve seats. New exhaust valve guides were fitted. A good second hand flywheel and ring gear was bought, machined and crack tested.
Once finished mechanically, Ashley had had everything stove enamelled and dull nickel plated, and had new stainless steel studs and nuts made and fitted.
The engine was sitting in Ashley’s garage all dressed up and with nowhere to go. Ashley offered the engine to me. Whilst I wanted to keep the Mk6 as original as possible, the cost of having the 4.5 rebuilt as opposed to Ashley’s offer price for the 4.9 meant that I had little choice. As it transpires, the decision to go with this 4.9 was by far the best decision, which I will never regret. By this time I was so low on cash that I had to pay for the engine monthly by direct debit.
Norman had complained that the chassis was by far the most filthy disgusting example he had ever seen and was hell to work under. Once Norman had carried out his work, I brought the car back to London, stripped out the seats, removed the floor, lifted the car on a trolley jack, put it on styrofoam blocks and there it stayed for eight months. Every night for eight months, I’d come home from work, go into the garage, get under the car and bit by bit clean off thick black grease oil dirt and sludge from the chassis using whatever it required – paraffin, Jizer, Gunk foam. I wouldn’t return to the house until 11pm, black from head to toe.
Eventually, inch by inch the chassis was thoroughly cleaned, prepared and resprayed by hand, using several coats of paint. Every single nut that was removed was re-died, every single bolt re-tapped. All bolts were greased before being put back in place. New felt sealing strips were applied around the floorpan and punched out. After all _ BSF pan-head bolts around the floor were replaced, they were sealed from the underside with grease. If needed, that floor can now be removed within minutes. Bumpers were removed, painted on the insides with black Hammerite and were replaced with tapped and died nuts and bolts, everything greased.
Bit by bit it all came together. As soon as work on the chassis was finished, the time came to marry up the car with the ‘new’ 4.9 engine. The last time the old engine was ever used was to limp from London to Derek McGrath’s workshop at Flexolite near Malvern in snow and pouring rain. He removed the old engine, made various necessary adaptations to enable the 4.9 to be inserted and installed the new one.
Being a shock to the car’s system, a few teething problems were encountered and initially the car didn’t give the performance that a 4.9 should give, plus oil consumption was higher than it should be. To sort these issues out, the car was taken to Richard Webb in north London. Richard had the cylinders re-bored to 0.025” oversize, new old stock Rolls-Royce pistons fitted, new piston bushes fitted and new piston pins machined to match. The rear dampers were completely overhauled and the ride control pipes from the gearbox cleaned out and reset.
The new engine with its amazing performance truly enabled me to experience the titanic difference that Norman’s work had made. The return of the car from Richard Webb in May 2006 was pretty much the defining moment. It was at this stage when the car had become transformed into a seriously decent and rapid Mk6.
Externally the car is still the same. The bodywork was never tatty and they always look good in tudor grey. But it isn’t perfect. Good from far, far from good is how I’d describe it. But it is at least rock solid and highly useable. It has the usual bubbling around the front wing nascelles. But it will be sorted eventually. But the difference now lies along the shiny chassis and under the engine. The car is tight, crisp, steering is pinpoint accurate and responsive, the brakes are phenomenal. Its MOT this March was amusing. The tester had to ride in the car with a Tapley meter. He asked me to brake and he ended up in a heap on the floor with his legs in the air.
Norman’s 3.42:1 axle means that the official handbook must now be ignored – first gear must be used (gingerly) for a metre or so, then second can be engaged. But marry this to the silent 4.9 engine and the car truly becomes a beast. The car now accelerates so fast in third gear that the damn thing almost gives you whiplash. A real wolf in sheep’s clothing – the performance of a R Type Continental with the innocent looks of a Mk6. The plan is soon, after further work on body mountings, to go back to Norman Geeson and exchange the (new) existing axle for either a 2.92:1 BDC gear set from an R-Type or a 3.08:1 R Type Continental axle set. The new found power output seems to shout for higher axle gearing.
As it is, I can happily chuck this car up and down Old Kent Road and around Elephant & Castle, bomb up and down Sloane Street and take it on the M1 up to Scarborough with no complaint. In short, it’s a modern everyday car in 1950’s clothing. I see other Mk6 Bentleys that look, externally, nicer than mine. I really don’t care – underneath they are often quite shabby, they don’t drive as well, handle sloppily, and are sluggish by comparison. Much as I am a Mk6 enthusiast it is fair to say that the majority of Mk6s are, in comparison to mine, inferior. In short, the performance, technical condition and handling of my car is now nothing short of epic.
The process boils down to three phases. I’m just getting to the end of phase 2:
- Phase 1 – to get a quick ‘high’, start by making one dramatic cosmetic improvement to the car, to purely lift the spirits and make the car a more enjoyable place to be. This will spur you on to:
- Phase 2 – don’t waste any more time or money on the cosmetic side of the car until the car is substantially sorted out mechanically. A reasonably presentable Mk6 which is mechanically sound is far more fun and far less embarrassing than an immaculate-looking one which is on its last legs. Also, the fun to be had from being able to chuck a reliable Mk6 around the city in modern traffic plus have dogs in the back without worrying about scratches is immeasurable.
- Phase 3 – if particularly inclined and flush with cash, do the remainder of cosmetics. However, be prepared not to enjoy the car as much, as you’ll be constantly fretting about people breathing on the paintwork and your friends will start to think you’re a total bore.
Hints For First Time Buyers
Don’t pay peanuts for the car and don’t pay overprice – both work out as being too expensive. Buy mid range. Get real and be prepared to spend money. These cars don’t look after themselves.
Follow Stalin’s example. Have a five-year plan of what you want to do and what you want to achieve. Budget sensibly over those five years and set money aside into a slush fund. Be realistic with your budgeting.
People gripe that many Rolls-Royce and Bentley Specialist Association engineers are too expensive. Some are. But it was only after spending lots of time with Norman Geeson, seeing the sheer number of hours he had to spend on the car (even with his expertise, speed, honesty and accuracy), seeing the high price of parts bought at trade prices, that one realises why such work comes at a price. If you can’t do the work yourself, and if you’re not prepared to pay a reasonable amount of money to keep the car in shape, don’t bother with any classic Rolls-Royce or Bentley.
Get the mechanicals sorted before the cosmetics, even though it pains to pay for improvements that you can’t actually see. It does however enable you to use the car with confidence whilst you wait for that new paint job. If it gets too depressing, do a little cosmetic work to cheer you up but return to the mechanicals soon afterwards.
At the early stages, you will have spent a shed load of money on mechanicals for little externally visible gain. You’ll be on the floor of a cold garage in November with paraffin and sludge dripping onto your head. Your spouse is putting pressure on you to get a shiny new Nissan Insipid or new kitchen units, your friends think you are mad. You will start to resent the car and for a while seriously hate it. You will want to get rid of it and write it off to experience. Don’t. Stick with it. It will be worth it in the end.
Don’t be put off by the fact that other cars are externally in better condition. It’s what’s underneath that matters. And if a car is stunning underneath as well as externally remember that a) it will have cost an absolute fortune and b) the owner will be probably too scared to chuck it around Brixton in the rush hour and won’t be able to extract the maximum enjoyment from it.
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