Chassis BC 21 AF
Engine BC 20 A
Registration RKO 222

Background

Rolls-Royce bought the Bentley Company in 1931 in order to be able to produce a smaller sports model for the owner/driver to sell alongside their traditional limousines. The austerity that followed the 1939-1945 war changed the car market significantly. A large number of coach-building companies had ceased trading or moved into different industries. To survive in this new environment Rolls-Royce needed to offer a cheaper product and in greater numbers. They had bought “Park Ward”, the Willesden based coach building company in 1939 and now for the first time used their expertise and capacity to produce a complete car with their own ‘in house’ coachwork. Badged as a Bentley, the first car with “Standard Steel” Saloon coachwork was sold in 1946.

By 1952 the economic climate was improving and it was clear that there was still a significant market for special cars with high performance and exclusive coach-built bodies. The “R Type Continental” was a collaboration between Rolls-Royce and H.J. Mulliner, one of the few remaining independent coachbuilders. The car has become an icon, its aluminium ‘fastback’ body was aerodynamically efficient, technologically advanced and extremely expensive at £6,512 including £2,327 Purchase Tax. Mulliner went on to produce around 200 examples. The introduction of the “S Type” in 1955 provided the ideal platform for Park Ward’s “Continental” Coupes.

Park Ward Continental Drophead Coupe

A total of 431 S1 Continental chassis were produced but of these only 55 were right hand Park Ward Drop-Heads (31 left hand drive were made for the export market). The cars were all special orders and finished to the requirements of the customer. The interiors, woodwork, instrumentation, upholstery, carpeting, luggage, fittings and equipment were all bespoke. The bodies were all aluminium and built to the highest standards at the Park Ward factory in Willesden. Their rarity, beauty and excellence of performance have made them amongst the most sought after modern classics. Their value has risen accordingly, overtaking the iconic R Type Continental with good examples now comfortably fetching in excess of one million Pounds.

BC 21 AF

Chassis BC 21 AF was an early S1 Continental delivered in to its first owner in January 1956 with Fixed-Head Coupe coachwork by Park Ward (the chassis record refers to the body style as ‘Continental Saloon’). It was retailed via James Young Ltd and sold new in October 1955 to A C Johnson Esq of Sevenoaks, Kent. The chassis card lists four further owners, the last of whom – Technical Platings Ltd of Teddington acquired the Bentley in January 1965

After further changes of ownership it was decided in 1987 to have the car restored and converted to drop-head specification and highly regarded Rolls and Bentley specialists, A.B. Price Limited were commissioned to do the work.

Knowing that the key to a conversion such as this was the accuracy of the new hood frame and supporting elements a genuine drop-head was dis-assembled and the parts perfectly copied. The result is a car that is indistinguishable from an original Park Ward drop-head. The work included reinforcement of the body structure, re-designing the seats and interior and alterations to the windscreen capturing every detail difference between Park Ward’s fixed-head and drop-head designs. Barry Price himself summed this up in a letter to the owner, “You will understand that it is a major project requiring .one’s best men and it is, in fact quite exacting work”. The bill for making the hood frame alone was £ 4,800, a considerable sum in 1986.

In 2000 the car was bought by irrepressible Bentley enthusiast, Paul Conway. He could see the quality in the car but wanted a better standard of finish and a further restoration was begun after a European tour to celebrate its purchase. The history file contains a photographic record of the work carried out. Paul used some of the best craftsmen in the business and restored the chassis and suspension, stripped the coachwork to bear metal and repainted it in lustrous Connaught Green and for good measure rebuilt the engine and gearbox.

The car was finished in 2002 and was shown at the Rolls-Royce Owners Club Annual Concours d’Elegance at Towcester Racecourse in 2003. The judges voted it the “Most Elegant Car in Show” which is a testament to the original conversion as well as its recent restoration.

Nearly twenty years later and the quality of the workmanship is still evident. The paintwork is in remarkably good condition, the interior has mellowed nicely and the mechanicals are delightful.

Driving a S1 Drop-Head is a delight and the ride is often described as like a ‘magic carpet’. The car wafts along, soaking up the road imperfections so they are not noticeable and covering ground at a good pace. This is seemingly done effortlessly and in almost complete silence and all the while the passengers are cosseted in the sumptuous leather interior. Unusually this car has had an over-drive fitted that allows motorways and fast A roads to be travelled at speed at very low revs.

Offered for sale at less than half the price of one of the 54 original cars RKO 222 is exceptional value and in lovely condition. Viewing and test drive recommended.