The MkVI was Bentley’s first truly modern post-war design and quite significantly, it marked the first time in the history of the marque that a fully factory-built car could be bought right off of a showroom floor. Prior to the MkVI, both Bentley and its parent company Rolls-Royce supplied buyers and dealers with a running chassis only, relying on independent coachbuilders to handle the bodywork. But with the MkVI the new Standard Steel Saloon body (manufactured by Pressed Steel, Ltd) offered buyers a handsome, albeit conservatively styled motorcar at a more affordable price than traditional custom coachwork. Of course, for the more well-heeled clients who wished for something a bit more bespoke, Bentley remained more than happy to oblige in supplying a chassis to any number of traditional coachbuilders.
Mechanically, the MkVI was loosely related to late pre-war models, with independent front suspension on the robust ladder chassis and a 4.25 liter inline six. When properly maintained, the MkVI is a reliable and robust motorcar with that exhibits a delightfully over-engineered feeling. 4,946 examples were produced, until it was ultimately replaced by the R-Type. A majority of the cars left the Crewe works wearing Standard Steel Saloon coachwork, though a small number of MkVI chassis received fully custom and modified standard bodies by the likes of James Young, Park Ward, Mulliner, Freestone and Webb and others. A majority of these custom bodied MkVI chassis were constructed by British coachbuilders, though just a handful of cars were shipped overseas and skinned by the likes of Franay, Graber, and in the case of our subject car, Pinin Farina.
Understated and elegant, this 1949 Bentley MkVI wears a very special and unique one-off cabriolet body by Pinin Farina, commissioned by Dr. Willi Spieler of Switzerland. Chassis number B435CD was cleared from chassis testing in May of 1948, before being shipped to Turin to receive its new body. Personally penned by Batista “Pinin” Farina, the MkVI was bodied under his supervision and completed in time to be unveiled at the 1949 Geneva Salon. It was then delivered to the selling dealer, and assigned its first registration, BM1949. A scant few Bentley MkVI chassis were bodied by the great Italian Carrozzeria, the most famous of those being fixed the Facel-built fixed head coupes. It is believed that no other open cars were constructed in the same style as this. It is said that Batista’s son Sergio as well as his grandson Paolo felt this elegant Bentley cabriolet was one of their favorite creations from the great designer.
The early life of B435CD was spent motoring around Geneva until the death of the Dr. Spieler. It then passed to a Canadian enthusiast who carefully disassembled for restoration, selling it to a noted enthusiast Philip Chartrand. Dr. Chartrand restored the car with the help of his friends, having the drivetrain rebuilt by highly respected marque experts Frank & Bill Cooke of Vintage Garage in Massachusetts. Problems with the initial work led Dr. Chartrand to hand the car over to Richard Grenon Antique Auto Restoration for a professional, concours quality restoration. It later received its lush blue interior and blue mohair hood from Hilborn Motor Car Interiors of Reseda California. B435CD was shown extensively and received many accolades including a Best in Class (Pininfarina coachwork) at the 1993 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Best in Show at the 1997 British Invasion in Stowe, Vermont, a second appearance at Pebble Beach in 2006, and a First Prize at the Cannes Concours d’Elegance in 2013.
Today, this rare and handsome Bentley remains in excellent condition having seen light, careful use since the restoration. The silver paint is understated, nicely highlighting the sophisticated Pinin Farina lines. Typical for the great Carrozzeria, the body is left largely free of flashy chrome, relying instead on finely sculpted surfaces and subtle linear trim on the rockers and belt lines. The traditional Bentley radiator shell remains, of course, and the car is very elegant, looking years younger than its factory-bodied siblings. Bosch headlamps and apron-mounted driving lamps hint at the car’s early history is Switzerland. The body remains straight, with very good paint and excellent panel fit and finish quality.
The cabin continues the theme of sophisticated elegance with its dark blue leather trim and clean, unfussy styling. The dash houses a set of standard Bentley instruments as well as an original radio mounted under the dash while a modern AM/FM CD player has been discreetly integrated under the seat. The standard MKVI layout of right hand drive with a right hand shift lever remains, as does the standard Bentley wheel complete with levers to control throttle, ride control and mixture. The blue leather features subtle grey piping and it remains in excellent condition, showing only slight creasing from use but remaining taut and supple. Carpets, door cards, interior fittings and the lined mohair hood all remain in excellent condition. The boot is trimmed in correct materials and outfitted with the original spare wheel, jack, handle and wheel cover tool.
Bentley’s smooth and powerful 4.25 liter inline six cylinder engine is very well presented in the bay. Correct black finishes on the rocker cover, air cleaner and other ancillaries are in excellent order, clearly showing this car’s concours history yet remaining fully functional and ready for use. Following the restoration and its years as a show winner, this beautiful and significant Bentley has been meticulously maintained and enjoyed on a great number of tours and rallies by its most recent European owner. It remains in beautiful condition and is ready for enjoyment; an important and unique piece melding two of the greatest names in automotive history, Bentley and Pinin Farina.