1952 Bentley Mark VI Drophead Coupe by Park Ward
Amelia Island - A Gentleman's Collection: The Pride & Passion of Orin Smith
- One of 12 left-hand-drive examples built
- Known and documented history, with only four owners from new
- Built on the latest, best-developed, and most powerful Mark VI chassis
- An exceptionally beautiful and honest coachbuilt drophead by Park Ward
Bernard L. King’s standard reference work on the model, Bentley Mk. VI, records that 57 examples of Park Ward’s lovely drophead coupe, design number 99, were built, with bodies constructed of lightweight and corrosion-resistant aluminum panels. Only 12 of these were factory left-hand-drive, among them chassis number B72LNZ, supplied on 27 March 1952, to Mrs. Ariel P. Hall of Marblehead, Massachusetts, via Boston’s famed Foreign Motors. Mrs. Hall was a noted harpist, who once performed with the New York Philharmonic, and a fascinating lady of great beauty who was a favorite artist model; she kept a former Marblehead ferry, the aptly named Blonde, in her yard, and used it as a teahouse. She was, in other words, an ideal coachbuilt Bentley owner.
The car’s second owner is recorded as Alex Cameron III of Houston, Texas, owner of a small chain of variety stores, who collected Rolls and Bentley as a hobby. In late 1956, Mr. Cameron advertised his Bentley for sale in the local newspaper, an advertisement noted by Harold Block of El Paso. When Mr. Block’s father visited the car, Mr. Cameron informed him that Mrs. Hall had driven the Bentley to Houston during a concert tour, and traded it in on a Cadillac during the visit. He had acquired the car from the dealer – at the price of a new Cadillac!
Mr. Block and his father bought the Bentley from Mr. Cameron, and drove it home, proceeding to use it regularly for the next seven years and until it had registered about 30,000 miles. Following his father’s passing, Mr. Block continued to sentimentally maintain the car for decades, occasionally driving it but largely keeping it in proper storage. Finally, between 1974 and 1978, he had the Bentley restored by the respected Garfield Hughes of Hughes Motor Corporation, including an overhaul of the transmission and a complete rebuild of the drivetrain and electrical system. Rolls-Royce bumpers, the closest available to correct Bentley units, were installed, and the interior was properly restored using correct materials. A wonderfully subtle color scheme of silver taupe over black was chosen, with complementary upholstery.
Harold Block then continued to drive his prized Bentley, with regular maintenance, minor repairs, and cosmetic updates, for several more remarkable decades, only selling it in 2014 when, at the age of 76 and after seeing the odometer tick over to 100,000, realizing he had no heirs interested in acquiring it. Rolls-Royce specialist Richard Gorman of Vantage Motorworks in Miami brokered the sale of the car to someone he knew would appreciate it: Orin Smith. Thus, Mr. Smith became only the fourth owner since new of this prized Bentley.
The car’s restoration now has a rich patina, suitable best to driving enjoyment, but remains tidy and honest, with certain upgrades in Mr. Smith’s ownership, such as the fabrication and installation of lower body moldings. The original owner’s manual is still present, as are the correct and rare Lucas R-70 headlamps (with their Bentley “B” insignia), single left-hand exhaust pipe (as original), and the lovely wood finish of the dashboard, with the radio speakers in the center and a rare, correct clock mounted in the right-hand “cubby door.” Mr. Hughes’ research and attention to detail in restoring the car is still obvious, as the engine compartment is properly finished, with both the firewall and underside of the hood finished in the proper shade of beige. Park Ward’s original body number tag is still installed on the windshield frame, which carries proper roller shade sunvisors in grey West of England cloth.
In addition to the aforementioned owner’s manual, the Bentley is accompanied by a service manual; several notes, receipts, and photographs from Mr. Block; and, most charmingly, a handwritten and remarkably detailed history of the car, penned by Mr. Block as he prepared to sell his car and noting virtually every moment of his history with the Bentley.
When acquiring a car, it is always enriching to the experience to learn that it has been well-loved. Such care is beyond doubt with this Mark VI, now offered to only its fifth owners in 65 years of maintenance, enjoyment, and appreciation of its unique charm.