1946 marked a significant point in Bentley’s long and storied history. For the first time ever, their new production chassis would be clothed in a factory-built body that would be offered in showrooms. Known (rather unromantically) as the Standard Steel Saloon, the new car featured handsome, if somewhat conservative styling which was built by Pressed Steel Ltd, and assembled at the newly integrated Rolls-Royce works in Crewe.
Prior to the war, the only way to get a new Bentley was to order a chassis and have it fitted with any number of catalog or custom bodies supplied by independent coachbuilders. This practice was falling out of favor with buyers as it was somewhat impractical and quite costly. Of course, Bentley was still quite happy to supply a MkVI chassis to any number of builders such as Hooper, Freestone & Webb, H.J. Mulliner and Park Ward. Most buyers opted for the Standard Steel Saloon, however, which helped make the MkVI Bentley’s most successful model to date.
Mechanically, the MkVI it was similar to the pre-war MkV, with independent front suspension on the substantial ladder chassis and a 4.25 liter inline six. For the 1952 model year, the spec was updated to 4.5 liters and available with either an automatic or four-speed manual gearbox. When properly maintained, the MkVI is a reliable and robust motorcar with that exhibits the delightful over-engineered feeling of a classic Bentley. 4,946 examples were produced, until it was ultimately replaced by the R-Type. Most MkVIs left Crewe wearing the Standard Steel Saloon body, though a small portion of production did receive coachbuilt bodies.
A wide variety of styles and configurations of coachbuilt bodies were featured on the MkVI chassis, some more successful than others. By 1952 when this wonderful example was built, H.J. Mulliner had become one of Crewe’s favored design houses. In operation since the turn of the 20th century, this storied coachbuilder has had its work grace some of the most desirable cars ever produced. For the MkVI, H.J. Mulliner supplied several different options for clients seeking a more select machine, set apart from the Standard Steel Saloon. Some closely resembled the factory offering while others posed a more radical departure. This handsome example wears a special four-door, six-light “lightweight” body style that was offered in the Mulliner catalog between 1951 and 1954. This lovely body style fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, retaining some of the MkVIs signature curves and edges though with a touch of modern detailing such as faired in fenders and an open, airy glasshouse and flat roof. Some of the design queues even hint at the design of the Silver Cloud/S-Series that was still several years away.
This honest and attractive example presents very handsomely in dark blue upper body over light gray wings and swage lines, with blue coach stripes tying the colors together nicely. The paint is older but still quite nice, and the chrome and brightwork are all in good condition, well presented and attractive with no damage or corrosion to speak of. Some of the body rubbers are showing their age, though they do remain intact and functional.
The cabin is in remarkably well-preserved condition. Blue Connolly leather seats and door panels and Wilton carpets were replaced at the time of restoration in the 1980s and have since taken on a lovely patina over the years. Surprisingly, the upholstery shows no rips, tears or separations. The original wool headlining is also in excellent order. Interior woodwork is in fine condition and largely original. Wood adorns the dash, front and rear door caps, window surrounds and rear picnic trays. Some minor delamination is occurring, particularly on the door caps, but the presentation is still attractive and inviting to passengers.
This being a 1952 model, it is equipped with the more desirable “big bore” 4.5 liter engine, which presents well thanks to a comprehensive recent detailing. The engine is backed by Bentley’s 4-speed manual gearbox, which on this right hand drive version, is operated by the signature right-hand shift lever. These four speed gearboxes are particularly sweet to operate, with a satisfyingly mechanical click-clack as you move through the gates, enjoying the copious torque on offer from the big “six”. This attractive MkVI represents an excellent opportunity to acquire a sound and usable Bentley wearing a desirable coachbuilt H.J. Mulliner body at a tremendous value.