BENTLEY T 2-DOOR SALOON BY JAMES YOUNG
A Realm of Maturity Created by the Bespoke
BENTLEY T 2-DOOR SALOON BY JAMES YOUNG
A Realm of Maturity Created by the Bespoke
The British are known for not throwing old things away. They mend and fix these old things and carry on using them. But their reasons are not ecological or economical. Rather, it is because the British make real things that can withstand many years of use and last a lifetime. The Bentley T, with its James Young body - the last remnant of the days when coachbuilders worked on the body - glides over the asphalt today with an aged quality that has only begun to mature.
transration:Mako Ayabe and Michael Balderi
A bespoke British gem
Many of the tools we use inevitably end up in the realm of the bespoke. This is not entirely surprising, as we all know people have different physiques and different tastes and different interests. The origins of most objects can be traced back to the days before mass production, when they were all custom-made. In the case of the United Kingdom, which once ruled the seven seas and amassed its tremendous wealth from all over the globe, there remains a striking ambience around bespoke items. Think, for a moment, of how the elegant threads worn by English gentlemen typify this ambience - the custom made shirts, the stylish hats and the tailored suits. And naturally, one mustn't forget the shoes.
While a still-considerable number of tailors still operate on Savile Row today, there are surprisingly few shops specialising in bespoke men's shoes. The major ones are Foster & Son on Jermyn Street, George Cleverly on Old Bond Street and John Lobb on St James Street.
The city of London, with its traditional architecture, is a place that evokes a feeling of timelessness, yet the actual flow of traffic is far busier than in Tokyo; if you park your car on the side of the road, you are almost certain to be fined within a matter of minutes. However, I once came across a somewhat puzzling sight. I watched for a while as a rather eccentric maroon Bentley sat proudly parked in front of the London John Lobb, with no sign of it ever being threatened with a parking ticket. There was no chauffeur waiting inside the coach, either. Perhaps the owner of the Bentley was 'bespoking' a new pair of brogues at the fabled bootmaker’s. What was unusual about the Bentley was that, despite having a similar look to the Mulsanne and Turbo R, it was a coupe. This meant that this was also a bespoke, or in Bentley's terms, ‘coachbuilt’ model. Does it have some kind of special parking permit? Or is it the mere aura of the Bentley that keeps the parking cops off the scent? I will never know the answers to these questions, but I would personally like to believe that there exists a special culture in the UK of not embarrassing those who should not be embarrassed.
The understated design of nobility
The off-white Bentley featured here would also qualify to be parked proudly, nobly, along St James Street, in front of John Lobb's in London. Looking very similar to the standard steel-bodied Bentley T with a two-door body, some would not be able to tell the difference between this and the Corniche by Mulliner Park Ward. However, unlike the Corniche, where the body side press lines kick up significantly before the rear wings, the James Young body is distinguished by straight lines carved from the side of the headlamps to the tail lamps, as on the standard four-door body. I actually preferred the understated impression of this James Young body, as the brand’s familiar chrome-plated emblem was nowhere to be seen on the bodywork.
The Bentley T's identity is revealed by the side sills that appear when the doors are ajar. Then you can see the James Young coachplate, along with the name of the Cheltenham dealer, Broughtons, who delivered the vehicle. The rolling chassis of the Bentley T was built at the Crewe factory in north-west England, transported to Kent, where it was fitted with a two-door body, and then handed over to a customer in Cheltenham, in the picturesque Cotswolds. With highest respect for this model's charming background, I settled into the spacious driving seat.
The interior set-up, the intonation carved into the bonnet - it's just like the Bentley T that I know. What differentiates a coachbuilt Bentley from a pair of John Lobb bespoke brogues may be that it has the capacity to fit a second owner's physique. No wonder, then, that automobiles often last far beyond a person's lifetime.
I turn the ignition in the centre of the dash and fire up the 6.75-litre V8 engine. The body shakes slightly as the starter kicks in, but soon after, silence fills the cabin again, like the smooth surface of a windless lake. A Bentley is anything but dull, even when warming up the engine of an older model. The downtime offers the driver the kind of patient fulfilment they might associate with the slow burn of a fine cigar. A vehicle like this, tinged with a dash of indulgence, cannot be dismissed as a mere ‘tool’ for transportation between points A and B. The most distinctive feature of these artisanal British objects is not only their function, but also their appearance, their feel and their presence. These include, for example, Swaine & Adeney attaché cases, Alfred Dunhill pipes, Cordings covert coats, James Lock hats and Bentleys…
A sense of timeless solitude
The shift lever, extending like a thin branch from the steering column, is positioned so that it can be operated while holding the slender ebonite steering wheel with the right hand. The shift indicator bears the letters R, N, 4, 3, and 2, which means the model is equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission. I release the brakes and glide out into the still-dawn city.
You can get a good idea of the condition of a vintage automobile within five minutes of driving it. As soon as I got on the Metropolitan Expressway, my shoulders naturally relaxed and I could say that this Bentley T is definitely a winning model. The biggest difference between the Bentley T and other T Series models I've driven is how ‘light’ the drive is. It's nothing to do with the actual weight of the vehicle. It's hard to say whether the engine has been treated and overhauled well, or whether the bushes and bearings from the powertrain to the suspension are in good condition, but there is a sense of unity in the push and pull of the ride. It is not unusual for cars over 40 years old to have gone through several owners, and to have been serviced by several mechanics, but the accumulation of the maintenance work is often uniquely reflected in their historical character. Why don’t I drive a little further out for this shoot?
The driving feel of Bentleys past and present, as with other automobiles, is very different. If the current models emphasise firmness, the '50s -’60s models prioritise slimness. The slender steering and tyres and strong power assist all provide an easy drive and less feedback to the driver. Still, if you feel its pulse with all your senses, you'll realise that, at heart, it has a burly, sporty essence. Every time you drive an old model, it takes a while to catch that unique frequency, but once your body gets used to it, you can clearly see what the vehicle is trying to tell you. It's as if a custom-made English shoe feels the warmth of the wearer and regains the softness it deserves.
Despite the superficial differences, however, I believe that the most important feature common to the Bentley's drive feel, both now and in the past, is the sense of solitude. The feeling that you are being transported somewhere, despite the fact that you are the one driving. The feeling that, although the tyres are gripping the road, you are almost gliding. These are the sensations that make a Bentley a Bentley. That's why the Flying B mascot shining at the tip of the nose and at the top of the radiator grille sometimes seems to be piloting the machine with a soul of its own.
It is difficult to imagine the current Bentley Continental GT losing its appeal some 40 years from now. The Bentley T, as majestic as a white, snow-swept mountain, makes a modest statement of impeccable quality, but is in fact full of its own elegant charm. As long as daily maintenance is kept up, it is sure to continue to fulfil its role as a daily driving companion.
Tools made by British craftsmen do not age over time, but rather mature and approach a purer state of being. In this respect, the Bentley T with its James Young body is now slightly aged, yet better prepared for the road ahead.
1967 Bentley T 2-Door Saloon by James Young
Bentleys produced from 1919 to 1932 are still held in special esteem, partly because the founder, W.O. Bentley himself was involved in their development. At that time, automobile manufacturers mainly built the chassis and engine, while the body was fitted by specialists, known as coachbuilders. The model in this article, chassis and engine NoHF3195, registration NoYV1471, was originally fitted with a Vanden Plas saloon body, which was later replaced by a Le Mans-type fabric body.
The interior of the Bentley T has an elegant look with its slender steering wheel. The woodwork on the dashboard has been repaired and is in perfect condition. Although it is a two-door, the interior is spacious, as the name suggests, and the seats are robust, in accordance with a standard saloon.
The engine, which revs quietly, is the well-known 6.75-litre V8, mated to a four-stage automatic. The engine compartment reveals a complexity not typical of modern automobiles, but this car is certainly in a condition that makes it hard to believe that it’s 44 years old. Two SU carburettors are fitted.
The coachbuilder's and dealer's plates on the side sills assert the identity of this car only to those who deserve it.
An old Bentley plaque on a bulkhead. The factory listed is in Crewe, as it is today, but the company's address is Conduit Street, London.
A plaque of coachbuilder James Young on an open door. The plaque shows the pride of his work and his understated assertion of it, a truly British gesture.
Although it is a two-door, no corners have been cut in the rear seats. As well as ample legroom, each has a vanity mirror, ashtray and cigarette lighter.
The gently sloping tailgate is similar to that of the standard steel-bodied T1. The easy-handling chrome handle accentuates the plain tailgate.
The seats and door are upholstered in high-quality Connolly leather, while the wool fabric on the roof has a stunningly 'antique' look.
The boot space is as spacious as the exterior suggests. The fuel tank and spare tyre are housed under the floor, but are still sufficient in size.
The Flying B mascot rises as a navigator. The radiator grille, with its angular yet sharp silhouette, is also reminiscent of a pre-war Bentley.
*This is a revised version of an article that appeared in Flying B No 005 (2011). The information provided here was accurate at the time of publication.