Sunday, March 18, 2012

Portfolio - True Patina

Having been to my fair share of Concours events over the past 35 years I have come to appreciate the unrestored vintage cars, as opposed to the highly-polished, over-restored trailer queens. Some of those cars look better than when they emerged from their various factories.

One such car stands out in my book, a 1926 Bentley. It's owned by my good friends from San Francisco, Frank Gabrielli and his lovely wife Leah. We've spent a lot of time together at various Bentley Drivers'Club events, and they've been kind enough to loan it to me on a couple of occasions for Bentley press introductions - to help underscore Bentley's great heritage.

I first saw this car in 1999, and marvelled at its age, condition and genuine patina. None of its owners have been tempted to 'restore' it. Its history is fascinating.

The car was sold by Jack Barclays in London, and originally owned by World War I pilot, Captain Clive Gallop, who was an integral member of Bentley Motors. He was hired by W.O. Bentley after the Great War as an engineer and charged with developing the huge 4 cylinder, 3-litre engine. It was unique at the time, having four valves per cylinder, an overhead camshaft and twin spark plugs.

Gallop helped prepare this car (KM 2321) for the 1926 Le Mans. It was listed as the Reserve Team Car, should they need it for the race, if disaster befell the race cars in practice. As it turned out it never raced, but did in fact complete the required number of practice laps with Gallop at the wheel.

Now the kicker! This car is exactly as it was following its attendance at the 1926 Les Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans. Nothing has changed! It's never cleaned, in fact I'm guessing that a lot of the dirt on the floor is French soil from the Valley of the Sarthe! The Bentley is notable for its shabby appearance, but as Frank Gabrielli says, that's the essence of its character.

Of course Frank and Leah have spent the odd thousands of dollars over the years to ensure that it's mechanically sound, and they drive it regularly. They are a fun couple, and there's always a rush to sit at their table at BDC dinners.

Thanks to the Gabriellis this is an original Bentley.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Valé - Patrick Paternie

Every day I celebrate the fact that my life has included great friends among the many good people I've met over the years. One of those is an automotive journalist called Patrick Paternie.

Patrick was a journalist par excellence - a great writer, who was versatile, knowledgable, honest and reliable. He was a true car enthusiast and he travelled with me many, many times on various product introductions for Bentley Motors. We walked the circuit at Le Mans, drove through the mountains near Santa Ynez, toured the Italian and Swiss Alps in a Bentley Arnage convertible, and generally enjoyed ourselves, and each other.

Patrick was also a true gentleman. He dressed well, had an eye for fashion and trends, was a discerning art lover and wonderful husband to his wife Linda, who he helped survive a battle with the big C. He talked often, with great pride about his son Patrick, and you knew on meeting him that he was genuine, and a man to be admired and respected for his achievements.

Patrick, 65, succumbed to a heart attack this past weekend, at the Willow Springs race track just outside Los Angeles. He and Linda had gone to race his vintage 1968 Porsche 911, so I guess if you've gotta go, that's the time and place to be.

We had a wonderful mutual affection for each other, and my final face to face meeting was last year at the Geneva Salon, where we sat down to a coffee and chat on the Alfa Romeo display. It seems an entirely appropriate place for me to remember him. So long, Patrick, I'll miss your smile, your sense of humour and your friendship. Didn't we have fun together.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Egads! A Bentley SUV!

So, after many false rumours and car magazine hype over the last eight years, Bentley has announced an SUV concept at the Geneva Salon. Reaction ranges from ‘ghastly’ to ‘great’ - but let me tell you, regardless of the purist view this vehicle will sell like crazy to new Bentley aspirants - especially in China and the Middle East. Plus more than a few current owners as well.
Also, I think Bentley’s timing is excellent. The brand has matured to the point where it can extend into niches like this, and capture another dimension of Bentley ownership.
Ten years ago this idea would have horrified Bentley owners, employees and purists, but that was ten years ago. Volkswagen Group has been supportive and patient and has backed Bentley’s trials and tribulations throughout the GFC, and it deserves to realise improved returns on investments it has made in the brand.
Bentley was a pretty wobbly enterprise back in 1999 when VWAG Chairman Ferdinand Piech made his first visit to Crewe to assess the Group’s new acquisition. Thanks to Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen’s sensible guidance, and VWAG’s continued support, Bentley made it through the GFC and with great new products like the V8 Continental and the Mulsanne it now looks to be on the springboard to better sales, regaining the ground lost via the economic downturn.
When you add rapidly-growing markets like China, Russia and the stalwarts like the USA, the EXP9 F SUV looks, in my opinion, like the new chapter in Bentley’s history that the current Chairman, Wolfgang Durheimer, was talking about at the splashy intro in Geneva.
As far as I’m concerned the purists need to understand that this is a business, not just a dream factory for diehards.