The Geneva Salon
1949 Bentley MK VI Drophead Coupé
Coachwork by Pininfarina
Chassis no. B453CD
Engine no. B468C
Life for B435CD began late in l947 when Dr Willi Spieler, of Seefeldstrasse 19, Zurich, Switzerland visited the Pininfarina works to commission a unique, custom-designed drophead coupé with alloy coachwork on a right-hand drive Bentley Mark VI chassis to be delivered to the Swiss Bentley agent, Garage de lAnthernee, Chemin Malombre, Geneva.
Dr. Spieler ordered 11 modifications to the chassis and these are recorded in the build sheets. The engine would be the standard 4,257cc six-cylinder unit - also fitted to the Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn - but to the enhanced Bentley specification with twin SU carburettors. With its bespoke aluminium coachwork, B453CD was thus lighter than the standard steel-bodied Bentley sedan and possessed superior performance. Chassis testing was completed on May l6th 1948 and B453CD was dispatched from the Bentley works on May 21st to Pininfarina, being shipped on June 15th 1948, passing from Dover to Dunkirk to Turin.
It is believed that Bentley produced a further two similar chassis that were sent to Pininfarina, both of which were bodied as closed coupés. Thus B453CD is believed to be the only drophead coupé built by Pininfarina on the Bentley MkVI chassis. Batista Pinin Farina, the founder of the company, personally styled the body and supervised its fabrication. His son Sergio, now the Managing Director, and his grandson Paulo, the Pininfarina archivist, both attest to this and maintain that B435CD was one of its legendary creators personal favorites.
The car was finished in time for the 1949 Geneva Salon and exhibited alongside one of the fixed-head coupés. On or about April 27th 1949, Garage de lAnthernee delivered the car to Dr Spieler bearing license registration BM 1949 (Bentley Motors 1949?) and it was seen around the streets of Zurich for many years thereafter.
Sometime in the late 1950s the Bentley ceased to be seen. A Montreal antique dealer, Ralph Hemmi, knew of the car and had kept track of it over the years. When Dr Spieler died, Mr Hemmi made overtures to acquire the car, which by that time had lain unused and neglected for many years in a lock up. He imported B435CD to Montreal and, with the intention of restoring the car himself, proceeded to dismantle it without tagging, numbering or describing the parts; they were however, carefully wrapped and protected.
The car remained in this condition until its present owner, Dr Philip Chartrand, of Westmount rescued the dismantled vehicle and its 27 boxes and three barrels of parts, and began the truly monumental task of bringing it back to life. Even Dr Chartrand, an experienced restorer with 48 previous car and 11 motorcycle restorations to his credit, faced an daunting task, but recognizing the historical significance of this one-off Pininfarina creation, was determined it would return to former glory. Dr Chartrand first reassembled the car to determine its completeness and identify the parts, then dismantled it again to undertake a full restoration. The engine, transmission and differential were sent to renowned Rolls-Royce/Bentley specialists Frank & Bill Cooke of the Vintage Garage in North Brookfield, Massachusetts for a major rebuild.
Unable to get the restorer of choice to fit this project into his schedule, Dr Chartrand then proceeded with help of family and others, including an experienced European panel builder to get the car ready for repainting, which was done professionally with eight coats of lacquer. In Dr Chartrands own words: This Utopia lasted about three months, at which point pinheads (paint bubbles) began to appear where the panel beater had used acetylene welding which caused a chemical reaction between the steel frame and the aluminium coachwork. So for two years the car sat unused while the chemical reactions were allowed to run their course.
Eventually the services of Richard Grenon, an experienced Montreal restorer familiar with aluminium panels, were called upon and for the third time in five years the car was totally dismantled and a fresh restoration started beginning with an acid wash of the frame and any other affected parts. When the car was approaching completion, it was shipped to Hilborn Motor Car Interiors of Reseda, California to receive its rich blue hide interior and mohair top, returning to Montreal for detail finishing and a tune-up by the local Rolls-Royce dealer.
No expense has been spared in returning B453CD to its original, authentic beauty, and since completion in 1992 the car has participated in several important motoring events and displays. In 1993, it was entered in Class Q for Pininfarina-bodied cars at the Pebble Beach Concours dElegance where it won the class. In l994, it was entered in the Rolls-Royce Nationals and at Meadowbrooke, and in 1997 it won Best Car in Show at the Stowe, Vermont British Invasion an all-British Concours dElegance featuring 700 vehicles. In 1998 it participated in the Louis Vuitton China Run and in 2000 took part in the Louis Vuitton Concours dElegance at Bagatelle, Paris. These last two are non-competitive events involving participation only and, of course, the honor of being invited.
The car has received cosmetic attention and fresh detailing of the silver paintwork prior to being offered for sale in 2005. Mechanically, it is reported as an excellent driver, circa 4,500 miles having been covered since the 1990/92 restoration, a high proportion of them on the China Run from Dalian to Shanghai with co-driver Richard Grenon.
Documentation includes Certification of the Registration and origin of the chassis provided by the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club, Bentley factory build sheets and many, many photographs taken at different stages in its life. B453CD represents a unique opportunity to acquire a truly magnificent automobile uniting two of the most charismatic names in the history of motoring: Bentley and Pininfarina. It is worthy of the closest inspection.