Touring Class: 1932 Bentley Takes On Salon Privé Tour
Early September brings a flurry of activity in the classic car arena here in Britain - sandwiched between the demands of family vacations and the onset of inclement weather when classics are stored safely away. So there is a veritable tsunami of events - a last chance to savour the rich fabric of the metallic curves, a last chance to hear the siren song of a classic V12 or a Straight Six.
In my case, this alternative festival of speed kicked off with the Salon Privé Tour. I had been lucky enough to participate in this event last year in a fine American classic, for 2014 I approached the Tour from the opposite end of the motoring spectrum, I was invited to ride in a 1932 Bentley 8-Litre. This last word in luxury, high performance motoring from the early 30's, was the final car that W.O. Bentley produced before losing control of the company that bore his name. I will be looking at this car more closely in the future, but briefly, it is one of 100 produced and is in close to original condition - the interior is as it was on the day of delivery, the patina of the leather is fantastic.
The Tour assembled at the RAC Club in Epsom where we were treated to a hearty breakfast to get proceedings off on the right foot. In the early morning sunshine, it was an appropriate setting for the Tour.
There were a few old friends to be seen. David Clark brought 06R, the McLaren F1 GTR that became famous when it was first acquired in 1995 by the Al Fayed family who dressed it in the iconic colours of Harrods, the London store that they owned at the time. I shot the car for the family in the BPR Global GT Series in both '95 and '96. It has now been registered for road use, an illustration of how close the racer was to the original street car and remains one of my all time favourites. For newer readers, I wrote a set of pieces a while back about these amazing McLarens that you can begin reading HERE. You can sense my enthusiasm for Woking's finest.
Back on planet Earth, there was a Tour to be run. My companions for the trip would be driver, Mihai Negrescu, and navigator, Dirk de Jäger, both from Antwerp. In a feature unusual for the time, the Bentley includes a sliding roof, or "air conditioning" as my hosts declared.
The train of cars set off from Epsom in convoy, our ultimate destination was Wilton House, Salisbury, the family home of the Earl of Pembroke.
We would travel along a carefully planned route that would avoid major motorways and, for the most part, towns. The aim was to arrive in time for lunch, for me the main task was enjoy the countryside bathed in early Autumnal sunshine, truly the "Season of mists, and mellow fruitfulness."
We would head towards Guildford, then along the Hog's Back into Jane Austen country then on to Salisbury and Wilton House. We were followed for most of the journey by this exquisite Delahaye 235. It was driven by Richard Adatto, the foremost expert on French Coachbuilding and Styling and author of many authoritative books on the subject. As one might expect Richard was both modest and charming when I spoke with him once we had completed our journey.
"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft agley." The route had been meticulously planned out, but it being the over-crowded South East of England things have a habit of not sticking to the script.
The first sign that something had gone wrong, was some of the lead cars passed us traveling in the other direction, including this recreation of the Embiricos Bentley. It was being driven by five times Le Mans winner, Derek Bell, and is owned by Jay Kay of Jamiroquai. Last year I looked at the real thing HERE.
Initially, we thought that this Emergency on Planet Earth had been caused by a lorry breaking down in in the Alresford High Street. Its cargo was an old steam engine bound for the local Watercress Line. A few miles up the road we found the real reason for the disruption to our Tour, an accident had blocked the carriageway but was just cleared as we arrived and we were able to pass on unhindered.
This was probably just as well, as our noble carriage had the turning radius of a supertanker, and the gearbox was challenging to say the least. Here I must pay tribute to our chauffeur, Mihai, who was awesome behind the wheel. There is no secret that the Bentley is big and heavy, but he manhandled the car with supreme confidence, especially considering that this fine vehicle dates from the time of drum brakes.
The Straight Six 8 Litre engine produced bags of power and we had 70 mph on the GPS with relative ease, though the fuel consumption was equally fast. Our only real crisis came while waiting at a traffic light, Dirk was assaulted by a falling conker that plunged through the open roof and hit him squarely on the head. Those things are spiky as he discovered, and of course we did not laugh at his predicament, definitely not.
The final miles rolled by and soon we were heading into Salisbury, still pursued by the beautiful Delahaye and the elegant Lancia Flaminia.
Wilton House hove into view and it was time to park up in the courtyard and take stock of our fellow Tourists. This pair of Ferrari 275GTBs, roadster and coupé, are from Ferraris golden era of the mid 60's.
This Ferrari 250 GT Zagato Sanction II was particularly appealing. A Sanction II car is produced with the blessing and co-operation of the original manufacturer, and in some cases could be better-built than the original considering the improvements in engineering processes over the past 50 years.
The modern day cars were also represented Pagani Zonda S, one of 40 roadsters produced by this most extreme of Italian supercar constructors.
Not all the Tourists had stratospheric price tags, this Alfa Romeo Guilia Sprint GTC is one of only 1,000 cars produced by Carrozzeria Touring, its simple lines are still attractive.
Stunning is an understatement when considering the Muira..............still breathtaking some 50 years on.
At every angle there was something to enjoy.
The line up was fabulous.....
Derek Bell dropped in to see us. As a Bentley Ambassador, he wanted to know more about our ride................he grilled Dirk, who naturally had all the answers.
Lunch came and went and soon it was time to make our way back to London, we had a Concours to attend tomorrow and the cars needed some attention to look their best.
Of course our ride also needed a feed too............... It had been a truly memorable day, a perfect way to kick start a week of automotive heaven, so a big thanks to Mihai and Dirk..........and to a certain Bentley 8-Litre!