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Bentley S1 Continental

What an incredible story

It was in those years when Bentley was heavily under the thumb of Rolls-Royce. The Bentley S1, launched in April 1955, was virtually a copy of the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud I, only the grille was different. Under the bonnet of both cars was a 4.9 litre in-line six cylinder engine producing 155 hp. In autumn 1955 Bentley launched the Continental series – which was only available as a chassis ready to drive.

The ladder frame was made of steel and only the wheelbase was extended by 80 millimetres to 3125 millimetres. The engine’s compression ratio was increased, first to 7.5:1, then to 8.0:1, there was a new exhaust system and consequently an output of about 180 hp; as with the basic model, the gears were changed via a four-speed automatic. At Rolls-Royce there was nothing similar to the S1 Continental.

Customers were responsible for the bodies themselves. But as with the predecessor, the R-Type Continental, most of the bodies came from H.J. Mulliner, 218 of a total of 431 S1 Continental built, mainly the so-called Sports Saloon. But James Young, Hooper also acted as suppliers, one of these Bentleys was transformed into a four-seater convertible by Hermann Graber in Wichtrach.

But this is about Park Ward. John Blachley, Rolls-Royce’s chief designer at the time, had designed a handsome two-door coupé for the Rolls-Royce (sic!) coachbuilder, of which probably 39 were built on the basis of the S1 Continental. From this the Drophead Coupé was derived (which is the peculiar name of the English for a convertible), of which probably 86 were built. Today these are among the most sought-after Bentleys.

The car we see here has the chassis number BC25 LDJ, was painted in original metallic silver (with blue interior) and was delivered to the Crown Prince of Iran, Abd ul-Ilah of Hejaz on 3rd April 1958. He did not have the pleasure for long: On 14 July 1958, the entire Hashemite royal family was assassinated in a military coup. Somehow the vehicle then came into the hands of the Iraqi businessman Omar al-Janabi. He first painted the Bentley white because his son was getting married. And in the 90s he made it available for filming “King Ghazi of Iraq”.

He should not have done that, because the Bentley came to the attention of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. He sent his henchmen to Janabi, who politely asked whether he might not want to give the convertible to the ruler. Janabi did not want to, but he quickly realised that he could well pay for his resistance with his life. So the S1 ended up in Saddam’s considerable car collection. And was repainted again, blue/blue with silver.

After the dictator was overthrown, Janabi stormed into the palace where he thought his vehicle was. But he was a little too late: the angry mob had already vandalised the car pretty badly before it could be taken away by its rightful owner. In 2015, he then sold it to the Canadian collector Steve Maman, who had the vehicle perfectly restored over the past few years. And is now putting it up for auction via RM Sotheby’s in Monterey in mid-August. There is no estimated price yet.

More beautiful classics in our archives.

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