martin bennett's love for RR and bentley

ROLLS-ROYCE The Post-War Phantoms IV V VI

His book, published 2008 by Dalton Watson Fine Books, U.K. and U.S.A. 304 pages, around 490 illustrations, hard-bound in slip-case.

The Rolls-Royce Phantoms IV, V and VI totaled fewer than 1,000 cars. They were their maker's top of the range models. The very rare Phantom IV in particular was very special, and although pictures of them are rarely seen, this book includes more than 100 illustrations of that model alone, so that the reader can see what all eighteen cars looked like. There are even coachbuilders' drawings of Phantom IVs that were proposed but never actually built! Besides the 'standard' Mulliner Park Ward Phantom V and VI, there are detailed illustrations of the less numerous coachwork styles including one-off designs, as well as the many variations specified by customers to otherwise standard designs. A chapter on the coachbuilders provides a history of each Phantom coachbuilder and illustrations of coachwork under construction. The various Phantom IV, V and VI Owners' Handbooks and Supplements are described and illustrated. Each individual Phantom IV, V and VI motor car is listed by chassis number in comprehensive tables compiled by well-known 'listologist' Bernard King, with such details as engine number, coachwork details, delivery date and original owner, and there is a U.K. registration number/chassis number cross-reference table allowing cars seen at Rallies and the like to be identified.

Martin Bennett: his life, books and love of Rolls-Royce and Bentley

Ashley having kindly invited me to write about myself and my interest in Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, I have cobbled together the following for what it is worth. I would be very interested to hear of any parallels with the stories of other Rolls-Royce and Bentley enthusiasts’ ssociation with the marques.

Having been born in the County of Gloucester in 1949, I was removed from my native heath in 1962 by my parents, who believed that we would be safer from nuclear holocaust in Australia than in England. History records that Britain was situated between the two main protagonists who were then shaping up to each other across the Atlantic. My parents were probably essentially right in taking that precaution, despite the fact that the Cuba Missile Crisis and other storm clouds that were threatening the world never actually turned into World War III. I write this of course while touching wood!

Cars were of no particular interest to me at the time. I was much more taken up with trains, which remain one of my main interests – I have worked in the railway industry in one capacity or another for most of my working life. The Rolls-Royce thing came as a sort of bolt from the blue – a ‘road to Damascus’ type of event. Like most such turning points in life, it was really quite simple. It must have been around 1964. The place was Geelong, Victoria, where we had made our home. I was waiting for a bus when a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith swept silently by. The powerful recollection is that I was simply transfixed. It was utterly magnificent – such elegance, such style, such … HEADLIGHTS!

From that point on I was lost to the wonderful world of Rolls-Royce motor cars and life would never be the same again. I was already vaguely aware that most Bentley cars enjoyed a sort of honorary Rolls-Royce status and they too became the subjects of my admiration. I could not learn enough about them. I’m sure that I single-handedly wore out the Rolls-Royce books in the City Library. There were at the time few books on the subject, and in my impecuniosity I couldn’t afford to buy them anyway. There was, however, one particularly good one: The Rolls-Royce Motor Car by Anthony Bird & Ian Hallows. This fabulous book was priced at eight pounds fifteen and sixpence in Griffiths' bookshop in Geelong, a shop that turned out to be owned by the owner of the lovely Silver Wraith that had first caught my attention. Eight pounds fifteen and sixpence was a daunting sum of money. However, eventually I was able to pay the book off over many months. I still have it, of course.

The Griffiths Silver Wraith which first left me transfixed was a 1949 H.J. Mulliner touring limousine, WGC3, in silver over dark blue. That was the brochure colour scheme for the particular coachwork style and Kellow-Falkiner Pty Ltd – the Rolls-Royce & Bentley authorised retailer for Victoria, Tasmania and the Southern Riverina – must have promoted it because three examples were delivered by them in Victoria in that colour scheme. Whenever I could get to Melbourne I always visited their showroom. There was usually a brand-new Silver Cloud III or Bentley S3 on display, and often one or more ‘pre-owned’ cars as well. Occasionally I was able to surreptitiously slip into the driver’s seat of one of them. On one visit I was delighted to see one of the silver and blue Silver Wraiths offered for sale. It was in superb condition, being then about 15 years old. I had been sufficiently emboldened to do my slipping into the driver’s seat trick when I noticed that I had been spotted! A very distinguished-looking gentleman approached and I thought "oh, oh, I’m in trouble now". I needn’t have been concerned. The very kindly gentleman, who was the Rolls-Royce & Bentley Sales Manager, introduced himself to me as Mr Bennett! We talked Rolls-Royce for a while and I was allowed to sit in the amazingly luxurious rear compartment of the Silver Wraith. A week or so later a Silver Wraith brochure arrived in the post accompanied by a Kellow-Falkiner ‘With Compliments’ slip which had been endorsed "From one Bennett to another". I still have both items, of course. And I now own that actual car.

It transpired that there were in fact no fewer than five Silver Wraiths in regular use in Geelong at that time. I saw all of them frequently and they became firm favourites. I know the present whereabouts and owners of all of them. There were also at least four Mk VIs, one of them a James Young two-door, and in 1967 my father acquired an automatic R-type. The Silver Cloud and ‘S’ Series cars were the current models at the time. There were three of those in Geelong, too. Oddly enough all three were in the popular two-tone colour scheme of Smoke Green and Sage Green. One of them, a 1959 Silver Cloud I, was the pride and joy of Mr Henry Jacobs who owned a furniture shop outside of which he would often park the car. When that happened I would stand there, drinking in the lovely lines and wondering what genius had put pen to paper to come up with such utterly perfect styling. Little could I have guessed that in the futre I would enjoy the privilege of meeting and befriending that very gentleman – John P. Blatchley.

Realising that there was probably a market for a lower-priced book on the subject, more affordable to non-Rolls-Royce owners than the wonderful Bird & Hallows book, I was suddenly seized by the somewhat impertinent notion – for a teenager – that I could set about writing one! Before I was able to talk myself out of it, suitable pictures were obtained from Rolls-Royce Ltd, who cooperated fully, and from Jack Barclay Ltd and other sources in England. The book was eventually published in 1973 by Oxford Illustrated Press in England with a North American edition by Arco Publishing in New York.
Although this first book contributed little to the accumulation of knowledge of the marque, it did have the distinction of being the first book to publish the correct number of Phantom IVs built. Various figures – 12 and 16 were popular! – appeared in various books. My book listed all 18, with coachwork and original ownership details of each. The book met its objectives, it was a start … and it sold well.

 

In 1966, at the age of 17, I was admitted to ‘associate’ (i.e. non-owner) membership of the Rolls-Royce Owners' Club of Australia. Two years later I purchased my first ‘eligible’ motor car – a 1953 Bentley R-type with manual gearbox, B89TO. Quite a few others have followed, including a Mk VI and an early S1 – both owned during an extended stay in England in the early 1970s – then another R-type, another S1, two Silver Shadows and a much-loved Bentley T which I had for 18 years. All of these were standard steel saloons. However, my interest in the cars had evolved to the point where my first love was coachbuilt cars, which explains why I have settled naturally into my current brace of cars which comprises a 1955 Bentley S1 James Young saloon (B488AN) and a 1950 Silver Wraith H.J. Mulliner touring limousine (WHD101 – the very car that I sat in all those years ago in Kellow’s showroom!).

From the outset I always supported Club events, missing very few. I have never wavered in that commitment on any pretext whatsoever except when absent from Australia (I frequently return to the U.K. for periods of time varying from a fortnight to several months). It is my firmest belief that the best hope for the cars themselves as well as for the preservation of their rich history lies with the various Clubs and their members.

 

In 1983 I was appointed Editor of the Rolls-Royce Owners' Club of Australia's national journal PRAECLARUM, a post I held continuously for more than twenty years. In the meantime I wrote some more books, all of which were published in England and/or the United States. These, including the first one, are as follows:

Sadly, these famous Rolls-Royce premises, previously occupied by C.S. Rolls & Co., were closed during the late 1990s period during which the Company was unfortunately indulging in quite a bit of ‘throwing out the family silver’ – but I digress! The Company’s then Chief Executive, Chris Woodwark, presided over the evening affair and the organisers somehow cleverly contrived to have on display a Silver Wraith a few chassis numbers away from mine and with the same body style. Also on show was an example of the then newly introduced Bentley Azure convertible. There were many motoring journalists present as well as representatives of the various clubs including the late Stanley Sedgwick, stalwart of the Bentley Drivers’ Club and author of Motoring My Way. Among the innumerable ‘new’ facts presented in Rolls-Royce and Bentley: the Crewe Years were the correct number of Phantom Vs built (the wildly incorrect figure of 832 had somehow gained currency, but 516 is now universally accepted as accurate) and the total number of Phantom VIs built. Since publication it has been reprinted and then re-issued as a revised edition. It is now to be issued again in a larger format third edition with a new look and additional content.

I have visited the Crewe Factory on several occasions, for the first time in 1968 and the most recently just prior to the acquisition of the Company by VW. On one occasion, in 1995, my wife Manuela and I were guests of the Chief Executive. The former Mulliner Park Ward facility in London was also not neglected before it was closed down in the early 1990s. Senior Quality Engineer Richard Mann (RGM in R-R parlance) was kind enough to show me the Phantom VI build areas just before production of that model ceased ("production" meaning about three cars per year by that stage!). These visits gave rise to a firm friendship with Richard that endures to this day.

Over the decades I have been privileged to have been the recipient of a number of awards in the Rolls-Royce movement. These include the 'Federal President's Award' for "dedicated twenty years commitment and service" to the Rolls-Royce Owners' Club of Australia; the 'Foundation Trophy', presented by the Sir Henry Royce Foundation Australia for "a very substantial and important contribution to the Rolls-Royce movement, adhering to and promoting the ideals of the late Sir Henry Royce of esteemed memory"; and the 'Judge's Award' in recognition of "dedication and service as a Concours Judge" for the Rolls-Royce Owners' Club of America.

Over the same decades I have served the Rolls-Royce movement in Australia in other capacities than PRAECLARUM Editor, including Delegate to the Federal Council of the Club, Concours Director, Branch President, Branch Secretary, Adviser to the Trustees of the Sir Henry Royce Foundation, Branch newsletter Editor and Editor of the Sir Henry Royce Foundation BULLETIN. Throughout all of this I have been supported by my wife Manuela, who has herself served as an office-bearer of the Club.

When I come to think about it, I have had the happiness of driving virtually every model of Rolls-Royce and Bentley car from 1905 onwards. Favourites are still the early post-war models – the focus of this excellent website. They are a great pleasure to own and drive and for the most part are simple to maintain with a ready supply of spare parts. What more could one ask?

martin bennett