With the world still rebuilding in the aftermath of World War II, Rolls-Royce and Bentley faced the decision of whether or not to return to the business of producing motorcars. Automobile production stopped in 1940, leaving the aero-engine division to sustain the company throughout the war. Today, it is difficult to believe that Rolls-Royce’s managers would consider abandoning the automobile business, but thankfully, a small contingent within the company fought to keep cars at the forefront. During World War II, the aero division housed most of the workforce and machinery, so once motorcar production was back on, managers moved the line from the traditional home in Derby to the newer, better-equipped factory in Crewe. The switch allowed for higher production volume and a greater quantity of precision machined parts to aid in standardizing the line; which Rolls-Royce saw as a necessary step toward long-term survival. Interestingly, the first product to roll out of the new works in 1946 was, not a Rolls-Royce but rather a Bentley; the all-new Mark VI.
The new model marked a significant milestone for these legendary British marques. The Bentley Mark VI, (joined by the twin Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn in 1949) was not only the first postwar production RR/Bentley product, but it was the very first model offered by either company as a complete car with factory-built coachwork. The all-steel production body was officially designated the Standard Steel Saloon. Pressed Steel Ltd. produced the panels, and the cars were then assembled and trimmed in Crewe. Mechanically, the Mark VI shared a good deal in common with the aborted pre-war Mark V, including independent front suspension on a sturdy chassis and a 4.25-litre inline-six. The Standard Steel Saloon offered traditional yet elegant styling, opulent appointments, and respectably snappy performance, and it quickly became a best-seller. Independent coachbuilders were prolific in their use of the Mk VI chassis; however, the Standard Steel Saloon remains a timeless classic, with distinctive lines and exquisite quality that defines Bentley in the post-war era.
Chassis number B86PV is a superb example of the Standard Steel Saloon, coming to us via a dedicated enthusiast and active Rolls Royce Owner’s Club member. RROC documents show this Mk VI was dispatched in June of 1952 to the original owner, Mr. T. Seton Barr, Esq. of Kent. While little else is known of the early history, the Schoellkopf card shows it was in Michigan by the early 1970s. Build records show the original colors are black and gray over gray hides and carpets, and equipment included a factory sunroof, which is how the car presents today. In the hands of the most recent owner, B86PV has enjoyed regular and meticulous maintenance with an eye toward reliable on-road performance. The owner documented much of the work through articles in the Yankee Spirit, the RROC New England chapter’s member newsletter. A substantial sum has been spent to ensure this Mk VI delivers superb performance and a gorgeous cosmetic appearance.
The black and gray livery is faithful to original specification, suiting the elegant lines of the Standard Steel Saloon beautifully. We seldom encounter Standard Steel Saloons restored with such care and attention to detail, and this car’s lovely paintwork is a particular highlight. The body is crisp and well-detailed with excellent gaps and beautifully straight panels. It has seen regular use on the road, so some minor paint imperfections are found on close inspection, which do little to detract from the striking presentation. Brightwork is similarly fine, with excellent bumpers, body moldings, and radiator shell. Color-keyed wheel covers, black wall tires, and the big Lucas center-mount driving lamp lend this Bentley a sporting and purposeful presence.
The richly appointed cabin features gray Connolly hides with matching Wilton carpets per the original specification. The leather displays an inviting, careworn character and light creasing while remaining supple and in excellent condition. Interior woodwork, including the dash, window surrounds, and rear picnic trays show a similarly light patina that is consistent with the remainder of the interior. The broadcloth headlining, instruments, and controls are all in superb order.
The recent owner took a no-expense-spared approach to mechanical maintenance. Shortly after he acquired the car, he treated it to new body mounts, rebuilt the front suspension, replaced axle bearings, fitted a new stainless steel exhaust system, and a rebuilt differential supplied by Flying Spares. In 2011, he commissioned a full professional rebuild of the original, numbers-matching 4.5-litre engine to the tune of $53,700. The work included new cylinder liners, new pistons, reground crankshaft, new timing gears, and of course, all new bearings. The engine received a cosmetic freshening before installation, and it presents in superb condition today, in strong running order. As a preferred 4.5-litre version, it delivers improved torque and performance over the earlier 4.25-litre models. The only noticeable deviation from standard seen under the bonnet is the addition of power steering, utilizing an off-the-shelf GM hydraulic pump.
We rarely see examples of the Mk VI Standard Steel Saloon treated with such comprehensive, cost-no-object care. When properly dialed-in as this one is, the Mk VI is an enjoyable driver’s car and a superb choice for classic rallies and touring events. Well sorted for road and casual show, B86PV is now ready for its next keeper to carry on enjoying it for years to come.
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