JTM 50 Rebuild and Restoration

1951 Bentley MK VI Chassis no. B227 JN engine B238 first registered 26th january 1951

Since childhood I have always loved the look of MKVI Bentleys, to me their proportions are near perfect and I think it is true to say that it was the last car RR designed specifically with British tastes in mind.

In the seventies I owned an exceptionally good Silver Dawn and although I preferred it to its successor, an S1 Fastback Continental, I always felt a hankering for a Black MKVI with brown leather.

The arrival of children and other complications prevented us from RR ownership for some years but by the mid nineties we felt it was time to find another MKVI or R Type. The search was pretty depressing, there are always a few cars available but most need extensive renovation and some are plain ropey. So we bought a Spirit, a lovely car but it did not do the trick, after 18 months it had been exchanged for a beautiful two tone green Shadow II that we kept for five years and were extremely fond of. In many ways the Shadow is the ideal car for modern traffic conditions and for full family transport – but it is not a MKVI and I still wanted one! The Shadow was sold to make way for KDA 132, which has since gone, allowing room for my TR3A and Healey 3000.

“The die was cast” as they say, I just wasn’t going to be happy until I had a MKVI. Again I looked at quite a few cars and hated them. I decided that I had better find something that had not been “restored” (molested?) and that I could improve and preserve until I had a car that looked as though it had worn its fifty odd years well. I wanted a car with a nice patina but not something concours. I can understand why people do it, but for me, something is not fifty years old if it looks as though it was made yesterday and anyway I would be terrified of using it in case it got dirty or scratched.

Eventually I contacted Ray at the Real Car Company www.realcar.co.uk and he described B227JN to me and sent photos. In November ’98 my wife and I set off for North Wales.

B227JN was an original car but in a very sorry state having most of the faults that these cars are known for, but not suffering too badly from bodgery or revolting colour schemes. After many phone calls and frantic selling of everything I possessed, I bought the car January ’99 and drove it back to Gloucestershire thinking that this was the way to show up problems. We had a bit of trouble with the cut out, the oil pressure was low and the engine was too cool but otherwise all I discovered was that even fairly dilapidated examples are terrific to drive. You know you are driving an old car but you are enjoying it – they just feel good.

Below is a resume of the work so far. I have not mentioned money as I am anxious to encourage others to suffer the same fate as me and aware that this document may be read by a spouse. MKVI’s are a joy to drive and fast enough for all conditions once fitted with one of Norman Geeson’s high ratio axles.

I had examined the car at The Real Car Company and was aware of extensive rust to the inner sills, the floor area around the base of the rear seat near the doors and to the rear of the car around the extremities of the wheel arches and the boot floor. There was evidence that the sunshine roof was leaking and the carpets were shot, as were the front seats and, to a lesser extent, the headlining.

Once the car was home a more thorough examination showed that the Real Car Company (really helpful) had overhauled the brakes, replaced some steering joints, the exhaust system and the battery. The front tyres were also new crossplies.

However, it still needed a great deal of work.

The body

In order to establish the full extent of the rust and to allow welding, the entire interior trim was removed together with the front floor pan, the headlining and the boot shelf. The sunshine roof was also removed and ultimately, the front and rear windows, both front wings and the petrol tank.

The bottom was cut out of the sills leaving the bit you could see unmolested. The inner sills and the diagonal braces were repaired or replaced. The outsides of the inner wings were replaced, as were the edges of the boot floor, together with the lower panel at the rear under the spare wheel lid. I had bought a replacement panel for this job and the fit was awful. I have subsequently discovered that although most panels are available for the car, they require considerable modification before they can be said to look like the originals and fit properly. Be warned!

The leaks from the sunshine roof had caused the floor to rot at the front and also the woodwork that retains the trim in that area. All this was remade correctly and new funnels were fashioned for the roof drains and welded in place. New rubber pipes were also fitted.

According to records, the car had been re-sprayed in the States in ’93 (two pack, black enamel, well flatted to look like cellulose) and so only the repaired areas were re-sprayed. i.e., the front and rear wings, the rear lower section, the sills, the sunshine roof and the scuttle air intake.

The car was then rebuilt with new wing tapes new rubber trim to the running boards/sills, new door seals, new front and rear window seals and a new seal to the scuttle air intake.

The woodwork was restored by a specialist to look its age but in first class condition.

A new “West of England” cloth headlining was fitted together with matching Belgian Wilton carpets. Belgian Wilton is not the best choice, it is stiff and unyielding and difficult to bind. Rolls used what we would now regard as good quality domestic Wilton. Motor Wilton is not good enough.

The front seats were re-trimmed in Connolly’s Autolux 891(a reasonable colour match) and the horsehoe of the rear seat was replaced. The clock, the radio and the speedometer have all been repaired/overhauled

The headlights have been re-silvered, the pass lamp repaired and the radio aerial has been replaced. The car now looks very good.

The Brakes

The rear brakes have been stripped, the actuators re-greased and all rubber parts (dust covers etc.) replaced. The equal wear mechanisms correctly adjusted and the handbrake adjusted. All is now working well, Real Car having done the front ones.

The Engine and ancillaries

The engine has been removed from the car and completely disassembled. The block has been completely cleared of all silt, as has the head and everything has been re-stove enamelled. The crankshaft has had the sludge traps cleaned out and new main bearing sludge caps fitted. All but two of the big end sludge caps have been re-used. The crank has been reground and new mains, new big ends, new thrust washers, new timing gear, new flywheel, new friction plate and new cover plate, new exhaust valve springs (later type), new exhaust valve guides and new cam followers/tappets have all been fitted and the camshaft re-profiled. It has been re-bored, full-length liners fitted together with .010” 3 ring RR, split skirt, pistons. One inlet valve has been replaced together with a set of valve stem seals. New small ends have been fitted and the vibration damper overhauled and fitted with new washers. Much has been written about the vibration damper and the difficulty in getting it to function correctly. I read it all and it worried and confused me so I took mine to bits, cleaned it meticulously and, using emery cloth I cleaned the surface rust off the pressure plates. The unit was then re-assembled with the Tufnol washers. It works well and the car is exceptionally smooth, more so than most others I have tried. In my opinion, if the surfaces of the pressure plates are too good, then there is a risk off “stiction” which may reduce the effectiveness of the damper. I remember a similar problem with friction type shock absorbers and steering dampers on old motorcycles. The oil pump has also been rebuilt.

The starter motor and the dynamo have been overhauled and the engine mountings and torque stay rubbers have been replaced. The prop shaft has been fitted with new UJ’s and centre bearing and the carburettors have been overhauled. Two new exhaust manifolds have been fitted together with new studs and nuts. The engine has been converted to a full flow filter system with a modern spin off, oil filter. The distributor has been stripped, cleaned and re-assembled. The heater is new and its motor together with its motor and the windscreen wiper motor have been overhauled. There is a new thermostat and all hoses have been replaced.

Other items

The one-shot chassis lubrication system has been overhauled and the flexible pipes at the rear of the car have been replaced. The steering box has been stripped, cleaned and fitted with a new seal. New Wefco spring gators have been fitted as have Radial ply tyres.

Subsequently the front wings and the apron have been removed, all rust cut out and new metal welded in. They were resprayed and re-fitted to the car. The car is straight, the doors fit properly and I would say that it is better than most. I had a good look round at the annual rally and felt quite proud of it!

Conclusion

I am absolutely delighted with the car, I have done about 12,000 miles since the re-build and there is much more to do before it is as I want it, but it looks wonderful and I have a silly grin on my face for the whole of the time I am in it or near it. In no way can one compare it with a modern car but, provided one makes allowances for its limitations like not expecting to win the traffic lights Grand Prix and makes sure there is a bigger gap than normal between you and the car in front, then two hundred cross country miles in a day is most enjoyable. Perhaps more importantly, it is far more comfortable and relaxing than most vehicles of that era for one’s wife.

They have a tendency to use water in hot weather, traffic jams, climbing long hills or at high cruising speeds that can be overcome by using an MGB header tank connected to the steam valve outlet so that the system is pressurised like a modern car. Some owners also have a more modern and hence more efficient radiator matrix fitted as well.

Fifty years is a long time for any car and during that time the value of MKVI’s has been as low as a few hundred pounds, maintenance would have been neglected so it is inevitable that considerable work may need to be done by today’s owners, however I have not been disappointed with my car and would happily do it again if it was the only way to get the car I wanted. MKVI’s are easy to work on and the end result, in my opinion, is a wonderfully satisfying experience. Obviously my preference is for the MKVI but everything I have said applies to all the cars covered by the register.

ASHLEY JAMES

Read about more work on JTM 50 and it's new trim