10-11 March 2017
A Gentleman's Collection: The Pride & Passion of Orin Smith
1947 Bentley Mark VI Cabriolet by Franay
- Chassis no. B26BH
- Engine no. B13B
Sold for $396,000
- Beautiful, and exclusively distinctive Mark VI Bentley
- A unique, one-off design by a renowned French coachbuilder
- Exceptional finishes and accouterments throughout
- Two-time Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance Best in Class winner
- Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) Full Classic
Carrosserie Franay, located on the rue du Caporal Peugeot of Levallois-Perret, Paris, was probably the foremost continental coachbuilder on Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis during the early post-war era. While only 18 bodies were built on those chassis by Franay during those years, most were unique designs, and some of them were truly spectacular, gathering attention and concours d’elegance honors when they were new, aside from today’s concours-featuring classics. Each was built with Franay’s trademark attention to fine detail and the flamboyant pomp and circumstance for which French coachbuilding had become renowned.
Bentley Mark VI chassis number B26BH, offered here, was commissioned by paper mill heir A.J. Liechti of Saint-Louis, via Walter Sleator’s Franco Brittanic Automobiles of Paris. Its lines elegantly bridged the gap between pre-war and post-war design, with a chromed beltline molding flowing the length of the car, and long sweeping fenders that vanished into the rear of the body and then “kick” up into full “spats” over the rear wheels. Only one other similar version of this design was built by Franay in period, on a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, with this being the only example on a Bentley chassis. Reportedly Liechti used the car for extensive continental traveling, visiting his family’s homes all over Europe, and having a grand time doing it.
Factory records indicate the car changing hands for the first time in 1960, when it was purchased by Rolls-Royce Owners Club member Frederick Jones of Pittsburgh from Franco Brittanic Automobiles’ pre-owned section, and brought to the United States. Mr. Jones wasted no time in showing off his new acquisition, displaying it at the RROC National Meet that August. The car is believed to have remained with Mr. Jones until 1978, when it was purchased by David Block, a collector in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The Bentley was then sold to Ed Thorpe of North Carolina, who had it restored in two-tone grey, before passing to the well-known Rolls-Royce collector, Sam Ornstein of New Jersey.
Gene Epstein of Newtown, Pennsylvania, well known for his exquisite Rolls-Royce and Bentley collection, acquired the Mark VI from Mr. Ornstein in 2000 and set about restoring it to a modern show standard, reportedly over a period of 5,000 man hours. This restoration, which the car still wears pridefully today, saw it finished in two wonderfully subtle hues of chocolate brown (reportedly inspired by Hershey bars, dark and milk chocolate, for its intended debut at the Hershey AACA Nationals!), with Figoni-style chrome accents added along the curves of the fenders and the door sills. The interior was upholstered in calfskin with complementary ostrich skin inserts. The space behind the front seats is occupied by a pair of folding occasional seats, as well as a set of fitted crystal stemware and a picnic hamper complete with flatware, china, and sandwich boxes. The trunk holds a full-size spare with cover, as well as a pair of bespoke his-and-hers suitcases, and a period walking stick. Both the Marchal double-filament headlamps and center driving lamp are correct, as-original, being described in the original build records. Further, the car retains an original French language owner’s handbook.
Mr. Epstein exhibited the restored Bentley all over North America, receiving many laurels for its presentation, including an AACA National First Prize, Rolls-Royce Owners Club Best in European Classic Post-War trophy, a Lion Award at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance, and Most Distinguished Bentley (presented by Bentley Motors itself!) at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, all in 2009. Its most prestigious honors, however, were a pair of Best in Class victories at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, in 2009 with Mr. Epstein, and in 2015 with Orin Smith.
The Bentley is listed in Bernard L. King’s Bentley Mk. VI (p. 84) and is featured prominently in Dennis Adler’s Convertibles (pp. 194–197), as well as in James Taylor’s Original Rolls-Royce and Bentley 1945–65 (p. 155).
Recipient of an award-winning restoration and even more stunning today than it was when new, this car can safely be held among the most beautiful coachbuilt Mark VI Bentleys. Dramatic and dashing, it is the ideal continental transportation for a gentleman sportsman, as appropriate to the Seventeen Mile Drive as to the Cote d’Azur.
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