1947 Bentley MkVI Countryman Shooting Brake Coachwork by Harold Radford Registration no. KXA 314 Chassis no. B397BG Engine no. B398B
'Perhaps the outstanding thought from extensive driving of the Bentley MkVI built by the world's premier car manufacturers, Rolls-Royce, is that it has no single predominant feature but gains its unique position from a combination of superbly matched qualities that raise it above the level of other cars.' - The Autocar magazine, April 1950.
Although Rolls-Royce retained a separate chassis for its immediately post-war models, the company broke with the coachbuilt tradition by introducing standard bodywork. The 'standard steel' body was available at first only on the MkVI Bentley - the equivalent Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn not arriving until 1949 - though customers could still opt for a coachbuilt alternative if they so desired. Other notable features were independent front suspension and hydraulic front brakes, while powering the range was a new 4,257cc (later 4,566cc) six-cylinder engine featuring inlet-over-exhaust valve gear.
First registered on 26th January 1948, this early MkVI features woodie-style shooting brake coachwork by Harold Radford Ltd. A West London motor dealer specialising in Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, Harold Radford took the unusual step of setting up as a traditional coachbuilder in the late 1940s, a time when the demand for such products was declining. His first design was for a timber-framed estate car body on the Bentley MkVI chassis. Its manufacture sub-contracted to a small firm called Seary & McCready (later absorbed by Radford) this 'Countryman' model was an immediate success, winning the 1948 Concours d'Élegance at Cannes. The standard Bentley MkVI chassis, radiator grille and bonnet were retained while the scuttle and floor pan were modified. This first version featured visible timber framing and electric front windows and rear blind. There were no rear seats, only a cavernous luggage space behind the front bench. 'A saloon car with exceptional smartness and unusually commodious luggage accommodation' was how its maker described the end result. The rear seats, featuring a 50/50 split, were reinstated on subsequent cars. As one would expect of a coachbuilt, bespoke product, the eight shooting brakes built on the MkVI chassis exhibited detail differences. All had fixed rear windows at first but most were later modified to incorporate a more practical opening window giving better access to the luggage area. Being classed as a commercial vehicle, the Countryman avoided the swingeing 66.66% purchase tax then in force but still sold for £3,530 in 1948, the equivalent of approximately £109,000 at today's prices.
The Countryman was later refined, becoming in effect an early version of the 'hatchback' concept applied to the standard saloon body on Bentley and Rolls-Royce chassis as well as those of other prestigious makes. Radford exhibited in the coachbuilding section at the London Motor Show from 1951 to 1963, winning numerous awards, and in the 1960s began to reach a wider public with its luxurious Mini conversions. The firm was acquired by H R Owen in the early 1960s.
The first of only eight of its type built on the MkVI chassis, 'B397BG' was tested by Rolls-Royce in July 1948 and used by Harold Radford as his personal car, serving as the factory demonstrator and carrying the registration 'HAR 1'. The car was purchased by the previous owner at auction in December 1994 having belonged prior to well-known collector Mr Paul Kunkel of London SW1. At that time the car was said to have been in its then owner's possession since 1986 and was offered fresh from a painstaking restoration by noted marque specialists, Smiths of Southend. Accompanying documentation consists of an old-style continuation logbook (issued 1953), copy chassis card, original brochure, five expired MoTs dating back to 2007, Swansea V5 document, MoT to July 2013 and bills totalling in excess of £5,500. A wonderful opportunity to acquire an historic coachbuilt Bentley of exceptional practicality, ideal for picnics at Goodwood and other prestigious venues.