4,256cc OHV Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
2 SU carburetors
4-Speed Manual Transmission
Front Independent Suspension Live Rear Axle
4-Wheel Drum Brakes *From the Estate of Eugene Beardslee
*Unique example of Figoni coachwork on a postwar Bentley
*Former Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance Class winner
*A true Grand Routieres touring car with luxury and style
*Ready for Concours presentationFigoni et Falaschi
In the hierarchy of automobile coachbuilders, Figoni et Falaschi earned their place in the highest tiers, if not at the top. From the late 1920s right through to the late 1940s, the exquisite lines that they penned transformed the way automobiles were designed. This was never more apparent than with their series of 'Goutte d'Eau
' or 'Teardrop' coupes on the Talbot T150CSS chassis. The automobile had moved from man sitting atop the machine, to man being at one with the machine, then beyond this they shaped coachwork aerodynamically, cheating the wind, and in doing so increased potential outright speed and efficiency.
It was not just the curvaceous main sections of bodywork to which attention was focused, but also in the intricate detail accessories from end to end of the body, accented by chrome trim pieces. Epitomizing Figoni's design philosophy were their elegant blade bumpers, which turned an increasingly necessary safety precaution into a beautiful, delicate feature of an automobile.
As ever in business, the partnership was a marriage of artistic genius and commercial wisdom; Joseph (Giuseppe by birth) Figoni, was the craftsman, while Ovidio Falaschi was the well-connected businessman. While their heyday may be considered to have been the 1930s, Figoni made a good recovery after the war, despite the troubles they faced when the Germans occupied Paris. When Figoni's workshops were taken over in order to manufacture aircraft components, Figoni & Falaschi kept going by making domestic electric stoves and heating radiators in a corner of the factory. Once he had completely recovered his factory, Joseph Figoni lost no time in creating a new post-war style, the swoopy, spatted wings were there, as were the chrome accents.
At the 1948 Salon
Figoni and Falaschi acted as though times hadn't changed, and exhibited a gold-painted Delahaye with gold-plated brightwork on the manufacturer's stand and 'an elaborate and enormously long roadster' on their own stand. The Roadster had a 'flush-fitting ivory-bound' copy of the Michelin Guide on its dashboard: the binding alone had cost 40,000 francs! No wonder the better French coachbuilt bodies cost over two million francs.
The late 1940s were, paradoxically, relatively successful for Figoni & Falaschi, due to the demand for custom coachwork from the United States. The company, now under the direction of Joseph Figoni's son, Claude, actually made more money after the war than before - a unique situation for a French coachbuilder. Perception of the company was undoubtedly enhanced by the inclusion of Figoni's Talbot 'Goutte d'Eau
' coupe in the New York Museum of Modern Art's famed '8 Automobiles' exhibition.
The work of these fashionable carrossiers
brought color and glamour into the drab postwar European world just as Dior's 'New Look' brought fresh interest to the world of fashion. Indeed, Ovidio Falaschi summed up the role of the custom coachbuilder to perfection when he recalled:
The Motorcar Offered
"We really were true couturiers of automotive coachwork, dressing and undressing a chassis one, two, three times and even more before arriving at the definitive line that we wanted to give to a specific chassis-coachwork ensemble."
While Figoni et Falaschi is most known for its work with Delahaye and Talbot Lago, naturally like any coachbuilder, it was the client who dictated what chassis their coachwork might clothe.
There is no one more versed in the work of this coachbuilder than Richard Adatto, who has penned numerous books on this era of coachwork. He has kindly researched the relationship of Bentley with Figoni for Bonhams, and in doing so he was able to interview Joseph's son Claude personally, now some 87 years of age.
From his interviews, Adatto comments 'Figoni and Falaschi put their special coachwork on only three Bentleys, one pre-war and two post-war. Other coachbuilders like Franay, Vanvooren and Pourtout were well known for their work on Bentley and Rolls-Royce and produced most of the French coachbuilt cars due to their exclusive relationship with the Franco-Britannic Garage in Paris, who were the Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealers.'
'The first car Joseph Figoni built coachwork for was a 1936 Derby Bentley ordered by Roger Goldet, an important customer of Figoni and Falaschi. Unfortunately, early in that car's history it was in a serious accident; ownership changed and it was re-bodied by Henry Chapron in 1944. The second Bentley was a 1939 Derby model with DeVillars coachwork. The owner, Mr. de Loriol wanted new coachwork in the postwar style so ordered a new body from Figoni.'
Concerning this specific car he notes; 'Figoni only built one, true post-war Bentley, on a Mark VI chassis, B9AJ. The car carried Figoni design/body number 1016, and it was created for a Mr. J. Rodriques.' Today, Claude Figoni, Joseph's son, recalls that it was he personally who took the order in 1947 and remembers Mr. Rodrigues as being 'a tall elegant gentleman with wonderful manners'. Figoni further recollects that 'he lived at 31 Rue Raynourd in Paris but spent much of his time in Monaco and used this car to commute in elegant style.' Truly the definition of the Continental Bentley before the phrase had even been coined, it is easy to imagine this handsome coupe hightailing down the Route Nationale
at speed, and cutting an elegant stance in the Principality.
According to the Figoni archives, its original color was dark gray with a blue leather interior, and its original Monegasque registration was 'MC 276'.
As Mr. Adatto points out, the double bladed front bumpers and chrome trim were a signature Figoni style of postwar coachwork. Although the sweeping pontoon chrome-tipped airplane-styled fenders and horns integrated within the headlights were typical styling for Delahaye models 135 and 175, they also work beautifully on this Bentley.
Officially, Mr. Rodrigues purchased his brand new Bentley Mark VI through esteemed local agents Franco Britannic Automobiles in March 1947. As supplied in chassis form, such as they could still be, B9AJ was ordered a with speedometer in kilometers, wiring for a center lamp and was listed as 'to be fitted with small 2 seater cabriolet with big luggage boot (trunk)', another note stating 'French coachbuilder'. It seems that by the time Figoni was finished bodying the car, Mr. Rodrigues' intentions had evolved. While there is no denying that a large trunk was incorporated into the design, it would in fact materialize as a neat two-seater coupe as Claude Figoni confirms today. Its actual delivery/guarantee date as a completed automobile, according to Bentley Motors, was July 1948.
The subsequent early years of the car's life and Mr. Rodrigues' use are not documented, but the recent confirmation of early use in Monaco may provide a further avenue for research by the car's next custodian. One known photo of the car thought to date from the 1950s shows the car in precisely the same form in which it is found today, with all of its coachwork accoutrements and sporting Paris license plates for the Seine region of the city. Mr. Rodrigues may well have returned to Parisian living by then, or perhaps the car had passed to a new owner.
By the mid 1960s as was not uncommon for important collector cars of its type, the Bentley had crossed the Atlantic and was U.S. ownership, remaining that way since. In 1964, it was the property of George O'Mea in Los Angeles, followed by Donald Cruickshank of San Jose in 1965, and it changed hands the year later to Joseph De Luca of San Francisco.
Eugene Beardslee became attracted to the Bentley in the late 1980s, fascinated by its design and history. He acquired the car and naturally elected to have the car refurbished by his favored restorer, Bob Turnquist at Hibernia. This work neared completion in the summer of 1990 and was ready just in time to be included in that year's famed Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, where it contended the Postwar European Custom Coachwork category. At the end of the day it blew away its competition to secure a coveted Best in Class award.
Within the last two years the Figoni Bentley has been completely stripped down and has been stunningly repainted. The Bentley now presents in black, which displays its handsome lines well and accentuates the plethora of chrome trim in the design. With its fresh presentation, this unique automobile has not been shown at any Concours event in more than a decade, offering its new owner a fantastic and sure entry to numerous gatherings in this country and around the world.