Tour Of Sicily – 2006

Alexander Cresswell, Bentley MK VI

Our trip to Italy with a new high ratio axle was an extraordinary success!

Having done the recommended running in and oil changes we set off to do 800 miles to Genoa in Northern Italy, 4 Bentleys in total. We took smaller routes nationales – long straight lightly trafficked stretches averaging 60 – 70 mph, followed by 2 alpine passes at 6,000 feet, and a third in the Piedmotese hills. My 4.25 was competing against a three/four-and-a-half, an S1 Continental and a big-bore Mk VI.

After the first 2 days my car loosened up incredibly with copious use of the one-shot lube, and suspension on hard. Oil consumption fell noticeably and no overheating thanks to my revised cooling and flushed block (we mounted the fan forwards on spacers, rebuilt the leaking header tank filler with a beautiful hand-made brass neck and cap, and fitted an auxiliary heater under the dash). The engine coped fine with the 17% increase in legs from the axle, only needing second gear on the steeper inclines. This was the only point that I couldn’t keep up with the S1 Cont. The rest of the time I was out-driving the others. Marvellous hairpins, curves and deserted roads enabling us to throw the cars around just as they were supposed to be driven. My Park Ward DHC coachwork has a massive boot and I was carrying a weight of stuff including tools and spares. This only served to improve the handling!

We then ferried from Genoa to Palermo, Sicily, (22 hours) where we met up with another S1 Cont, a ’95 Brooklands and a Merc 220 drophead. We then did around 800-900 miles around Sicily with some hard driving days and some easy gentle touring along fabulous roads including the old Targa Florio route and a 6,000 ft in an hour climb up Mount Etna. Temperatures were on average 70-75 F.

The return trip was similar with the addition of 7 cases of wine, 10kg of olive oil and a bucket of Mount Etna lava in the boot, and 2 passengers and their luggage in the back seat. It made little difference to the performance except on the steep climb to the Simplon summit.

I have to say that the back axle modification is a roaring success. The car is positively fast now with only 4.25 under the bonnet. The Continental spec single exhaust system is noisier but increases the power immensely, together with 4.5 carb needles. It is quite a different car! I am running on small radius Michelin Xs. The car could handle the larger and correct XCAs which I will fit when I have worn out these others, and which I am enjoying trying to do! I could not work out fuel consumption as the speedo is not only incorrect due to the new axle ratio, but also has a kink in the cable which tells me 40 mph when I’m doing 70 and reads 15 mph when I’m stationary! The only minor worry was from thin traces of grease escaping from a front wheel bearing cap and messing up the wheel trim!

Oil consumption was 1 pint per 100 miles on the way out, dropping to 1 pint per 200 miles on the way back. 2,500 miles done, axle oil changed again. Now preparing for a trip to Avignon in the south of France for late August. Vive-la Continentale!!

John Noott joined Alexander’s party and sent in this report too…

John Noott, Bentley MK VI EES 303

At very short notice we were invited to join a select party, (of seven ultimately, six Bentleys and a Mercedes), to tour Sicily, staying in top hotels, and visiting palaces and other locations not normally available to tourists. The tour was the idea of Alexander Creswell, artist and Mk VI fanatic, who knew Sicily and its buildings well, having published books of his superb watercolours of the baroque architecture of the island.

Getting there was something of a challenge, three cars were containered from Southampton to Palermo, but four cars drove there and back, taking the scenic way rather than the Autoroute, and ferrying from Genoa to Palermo.

The participants, in age order, were:

  • 1929 Bentley 4.5 litre – the Dangerfields
  • 1949 Bentley Mk VI DHC – Alexander Creswell (joined by wife Mary and three nippers for a long weekend)
  • 1952 Bentley Mk VI SS Saloon – the Nootts
  • 1957 Bentley Continental DHC – the Gilbertson-Harts
  • 1958 Bentley Continental DHC – the Illsleys
  • 1962 Mercedes SE 2.2 DHC – Tom Assheton
  • 1995 Bentley Brooklands – the Blacks

It would probably make for a more entertaining article if the reader could be thrilled with tales of breakdowns, difficulties overcome, border incidents, etc, but, with the exception of a slight mis-fire on one engine (owner nameless, and easily cured), every car ran superbly – boring, perhaps, but really very nice, and a testament to the abilities of our cars, being used for the purpose originally designed.

The tour was organised and led by Prince Antonio Baucina, a charming and very well-connected young man, and ten days were spent around the island, driving about seven hundred miles, We were entertained by princes and princesses in their beautiful homes, stayed in superb hotels, enjoyed fantastic local food (much fish) and wine, saw Etna shrouded in mist (weather otherwise great, springtime, and with the most amazing show of colourful wild flowers everywhere) and generally had a very memorable time. Alexander is threatening to organise another tour next year, not sure where, but I can only recommend that you start saving now, and beg to be allowed to join in.

(Although EES 303 was, to some extent, the ‘poor relation’ in such august company, it’s patrician, if slightly maculate, mien looked very much at home in the rather scruffy Sicilian towns, and was much admired. It was by far the longest trip we had done together, and I still wonder at how easy to drive and how manoeuvrable these cars are. It is by far the best of several of the model I have had over the years, the first in about 1968. It’s current stable mates are a pagoda Merc 280 SL, an HRG, an XJS Lynx Eventer, a Mark One VW GTI, a grey Fergie tractor, and a very original Land Rover IIa – as I will shortly be moving house, and losing storage space, the collection will have to be reduced in size – all enquiries to 01386 852787).

Alexander Cresswell and John Noott