1951 Bentley Cresta

As Europe resumed business in the wake of World War II, France was understandably reluctant to trade with its former enemies. This fact was none-more true than in the traditionally proud French motor industry, who shut out any vehicles of German or Italian origin from the prestigious Paris Salon in 1946. The ban was particularly painful for Italian Carrozzeria desperate for business during reconstruction. Battista “Pinin” Farina wasn’t about to take such a prohibition laying down and cheekily drove to the auto show, parking his dramatically styled Alfa Romeo and Lancia right outside the Grand Palais, just out of the jurisdiction of the event organizers. While the stunt garnered public attention, it also enraged motor show officials, all but guaranteeing the famous coachbuilder was branded persona non grata the following year.

But Jean Daninos, the boss of the French industrial firm Facel-Metallon, was not bothered by such politics. As an avid petrol head with a taste for exclusive motorcars, he saw a business opportunity and a way to help Pinin Farina boost his business after a devastating workshop fire. Daninos, Farina, and Walter Sleator (head of Parisian Bentley distributor Franco-Britannic Automobiles) converged to develop an exclusive new motorcar based on the Mk VI. With its Pininfarina-designed and Facel-built coachwork, the new Cresta the first true sporting Bentley of the post-war era.

According to Cresta historian Dr. Dominique Bel, who graciously shared his research from his upcoming book Cresta, Les Belles Oubliées, the first 2 or 3 Crestas were built in Italy by Pininfarina, distinguished by their prominent, wide-mouth grille. The remaining bodies came via Facel’s coachworks, and at the behest of Crewe, featured a more traditional and recognizable Bentley grille shape, cleanly integrated into the body. Bentley kept a close eye on the project, and it foreshadowed the works-backed Mulliner fastback that followed a few years later. For their part, Bentley offered bare chassis with a lower-rake steering column and other minor accommodations for this semi-official project. Between 1948 and 1952, Facel and Farina produced just 12 or 13 Cresta Series 1 models, though the car’s influence outweighs its minuscule production.

Chassis B167JN is a remarkable find even in the rarified world of Bentley Crestas. Not only is this the final 1st series car, but it has had just two owners since 1951, and, incredibly, has never been restored. It is exceptionally well-documented with factory build records, numerous pieces of correspondence, registrations, build sheets, and more. It is offered to the public for only the first time in over twenty years and only the second time in seventy years.

Per information provided by Dr. Dominique Bel and via the history file, Francois Lugeon, a Swiss businessman and Diplomat with the Brazilian Consul in Lausanne, ordered this car through Franco-Britannic Autos after seeing a Cresta at the Paris Salon. He had inquired about the Bentley Mk VI as early as 1949, as a letter and accompanying brochures from Rolls-Royce Ltd’s export department reveal. The chassis card lists Mons Lugeon as the first owner, with a chassis delivery date of November 1950, specifying “Cresta” steering, close-ratio gearbox, standard axle, and the coachbuilder as Facel Metalon-Paris. Using his diplomatic status to good effect, Lugeon received a 10% discount on the chassis, though a request for the same deal on the coachwork was met with polite pushback from the Facel agency. Other correspondence tells the tale of Mr. Lugeon fine-tuning the coachwork to his needs, even showing up at the Pininfarina workshops in Italy, only to be directed back to Paris! He drove and maintained the Bentley until he died in 2001, when it passed to its second, and only other owner.

As offered today, B167JN remains completely unrestored, and has aged gracefully, with an appropriately rich patina that is like a badge of honor. The paint and bodywork show their age yet remain attractive, and the body fittings are undisturbed, including the faired-in driving lamps, Marchal headlamps, proper Facel-Farina cloisonné badges, and original CC registration tag, denoting Mr. Lugeon’s diplomatic status. Pulling the signature flush-mounted Pininfarina door handles reveals the beautifully preserved original upholstery. The driver’s seat shows considerable cracking yet is not beyond the realm of careful preservation, while the intricate door panels and rear seats are in fine order. Carpets and fixtures remain intact, and the wood fascia and simulated woodgrain door caps show appropriate levels of wear. The original instruments and radio are in place, and the boot houses the original 3-piece fitted luggage – believed by Dr. Bel to be the only set extant.

The original, numbers-matching engine runs beautifully, sending power through a four-speed manual gearbox with Bentley’s delightfully mechanical gated floor shifter. The car drives remarkably well, and while the previous owner did use it on the occasional tour, it has been some time since it was last driven extensively, and would benefit from a thorough going-through to prepare it for road use.

Since joining the most recent owner’s collection in 2001, the Cresta has made occasional outings – including the exclusive, invitation-only Jewel That Is Europe rally in 2008 and the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2010. It is an obvious candidate for preservation class honors at virtually any significant concours event, yet could also serve as a marvelous basis to restore to its original splendor. This is a one-off opportunity to acquire the most original Cresta extant and become only the third keeper in this remarkable machine’s 70-year existence.

 

Offers welcome and trades considered

 

$319,500

Stock number 6966

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