With the arrival of the Silver Cloud/S-Series in 1955, Roll-Royce and Bentley fully embraced the process of factory coachwork, which allowed for higher production volume and a healthier bottom-line. Of course, the factory would still accommodate special requests and a few well-heeled individuals ordered their S-Series and Silver Clouds with bespoke bodies. Like Rolls-Royce, the second generation of Bentley’s S-Series was offered in both standard and long-wheelbase forms, the majority of which were fitted with Standard Steel Saloon coachwork. Ultimately, Bentley produced just fifty-seven long-wheelbase S2s, of which a mere six received custom coachwork from new.
Chassis number LLBA9 is a genuinely unique motorcar and one of the six long-wheelbase S2s delivered to an outside coachbuilder. For years, the story of this remarkable automobile was shrouded in much speculation about the identity of the person who commissioned its construction. According to documents sourced via the Rolls-Royce Foundation, LLBA9 was ordered via New York-dealer J.S. Inskip. It was equipped in left-hand drive and delivered ex-factory to Wendler Karosseriebau of Germany; a coachbuilder with a long-standing tradition of building fascinating and beautiful designs of the highest quality.
Wendler’s first motor bodies were built in 1919, and they also supplied bodies for commercial trucks. Their portfolio is genuinely fascinating and includes many highly advanced streamlined designs on BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even Ford V8 chassis. Perhaps their most famous relationship was with Porsche, for whom Wendler bodied several road-going 356s in addition to creating the svelte coachwork for the legendary 550 Spyder, RSK, and RS61 racing cars.
The order for LLBA9 was curiously placed in the name of the buyer’s agent, and factory records do not show the purchaser’s name, only the name of the agent and the address of the New York Yacht Club! Subsequent research has revealed the owner to be Caroline Ryan Foulke, heiress to the American Tobacco Company. Anonymity was apparently vital to her, though the thoroughly unique body she commissioned seems to contradict that idea. Prior to her Bentley, Ms. Foulke drove a gorgeous one-off estate car based on the Mercedes-Benz 300 d “Adenauer.” Her request for an estate car version of the new W112 300-series directly from Mercedes was politely declined, so when it came time to replace the Adenauer, she turned to Bentley to supply a coachbuilder-ready chassis, and she commissioned Wendler to build this 300-inspired body.
Wendler followed their client’s wishes directly, creating a unique estate car (or shooting brake as it were) by grafting key elements of the Mercedes W112 300 body onto the Bentley chassis. Wendler reinforced the panels, and many of the factory Mercedes fittings were used, such as the lights and exterior trim. A significant number of parts had to be fabricated by hand to suit the scale of the Bentley chassis and the new shooting brake configuration. The result of the effort is a remarkable machine that is instantly recognizable as both a Mercedes-Benz and a Bentley, simultaneously. Perhaps the most distinguishing features are the “Heckflosse” tail fins that were a hallmark of the W112, which blend gracefully into the bodywork. The designer cleverly integrated bullet-style tail lights (sourced from a 1960 Buick) which are better suited than the square Mercedes lights. The proud Bentley radiator shell remains, and it is flanked by a pair of vertically-stacked US-market Mercedes headlamps. According to the original chassis order, a set of standard front wings were shipped from the factory to Germany; however it doesn’t appear that a single scrap of metal was used from them. The car’s appearance is quite imposing, and we find it curious that someone who worked so hard to remain anonymous would order such an extravagant motorcar.
The first owner gifted the Bentley to a museum (anonymously, of course) where it remained for some time before being sold overseas. It then returned to New York in the 1980s where, amazingly, it was reunited with its Mercedes 300 Adenauer estate stablemate. From 2012-2013, LLBA9 was comprehensively restored to concours condition by Automotive Restorations, Inc. of Stratford, CT. It has been returned to its original silver-gray color over an orange-red interior, as indicated on the RROC chassis card. The quality of Wendler’s construction shines through in the precise body fit, exquisite detailing, and the effortless manner in which the doors close. Paintwork is gorgeous, and the panels straight and properly aligned. Exterior trim appears to be all Mercedes; however many pieces were handmade in period specifically for this car. It rides on a set of whitewall tires as originally specified on the build order, and steel wheels are dressed with factory Bentley wheel covers.
The opulent cabin has been completely restored using beautiful Connolly leather. Wendler cleverly blended the Bentley controls and instruments with a Mercedes-Benz dash. The dials sit in a bespoke central fascia surrounded with oak trim in place of the typical walnut veneer. The oak trim – subtle nod to the car’s American roots – repeats on the windscreen surround, door tops, and the cargo area floor. The fittings and switchgear appear to be off-the-shelf Mercedes items, but apparently, they are all bespoke items made by the coachbuilder to mimic the factory parts. It is equipped with a sunroof and a period-appropriate Becker Europa stereo. The beautifully crafted interior melds British and Teutonic sensibilities, while maintaining a unique character that would be equally at home parked up at the New York Yacht Club’s 44th St. Clubhouse or Harbor Court in Newport, RI.
Mechanically in excellent order, LLBA9 drives as expected of a Bentley S2, with seemingly an even greater sense of solidity. The engine bay has been fully detailed to a very high standard and shows little in the way of use. Upon completion, it debuted at the 2013 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and shown at other events including Lime Rock’s Sunday in the Park Concours.
With an intriguing history, this is an exceptional luxury car that seamlessly blends opulence and practicality. It has ample room for five passengers and all the luggage they could carry, and its power and ability make it the ideal tool for cross-country touring. The sale of this fascinating Bentley represents a truly a one of a kind opportunity.