- A striking example of the most sought-after post-war Bentley design; one of 31 left-hand-drive examples built
- Delivered new to H.R.H. Abd al-Ilah of Hejaz, Crown Prince of Iraq, with subsequent fascinating history
- Exquisitely restored in 2017 by marque specialist Vantage Motor Works
- Retains its numbers-matching, 4.9-liter inline six-cylinder engine
- Documented by its Bentley factory chassis card, order sheet, works record, and restoration binder
BENTLEY’S S1 CONTINENTAL
The Continental name evokes high-speed travel over long distances in the lap of luxury. Fittingly, that is exactly the experience that Bentley’s Continental models provided to the favored few during the 1950s.
The S1 Continental introduced in 1955 featured the last of Bentley’s long-lived six-cylinder engine, which, being a Rolls-Royce design, was smooth and silent but also appropriately powerful. An exceptionally rigid welded box-section chassis was mounted on a new front suspension that had a semi-trailing wishbone and repositioned rear springs, which improved handling and softened the ride, while a three-way safety braking setup enabled sure stops at the end of those high-speed journeys. The rear suspension was electrically controlled, and it could be changed to “normal” or “hard” by a switch on the steering column.
While successive V-8-powered S2 and S3 Continentals were offered until well into the 1960s, many viewed the S1 as the model to have; it is simpler, lighter, and slightly quicker, and it accomplishes all this while still being luxuriously comfortable, in the British tradition.
The most desirable catalogued body style on the S1 Continental chassis was the drophead coupe by Park Ward, style number 700. Unlike most Bentley convertibles produced in this era, this style was not an “adaptation” from factory design stampings, but rather a fully custom body hand-built from the ground up in aluminum by Park Ward’s craftsmen. It is distinguished by smooth, subtle body lines, with long, fully “flow-through” fenders that route from the front to the rear “hips,” and rear fenders that kick up slightly to form tiny tail fins.
Park Ward built this design on only 31 left-hand-drive S1 Continental chassis, for an eager clientele of the most sophisticated motoring enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic—captains of industry, Hollywood stars, and world royalty among them.
A ROYAL ORDER
Presented today wearing its original color combination of Metallic Silver over blue leather upholstery with matching top, this S1 Continental (chassis BC25 LDJ) was originally ordered by Bentley’s flagship London dealer Jack Barclay in late 1957 for His Royal Highness Abd al-Ilah of Hejaz, Crown Prince of the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq.
Bentley factory documentation on file illustrates a lengthy list of specifications including dual wing mirrors, power steering, dual-label instrumentation (metric and imperial), a power-operated hood, oil bath air cleaner, high-power horns, loose rear seat covers, special headlamps and taillights, Type 4300 radio, and Dunlop whitewall tires. Additional “royal” features of this order were limited to a single, front-mounted flagstaff and—rather naturally—the Crown Prince’s royal monogram applied to the car’s doors.
On 3 April 1958, chassis BC25 LDJ was recorded as delivered to a representative of the Iraqi royal family. Unfortunately, this Bentley’s time within the Royal Fleet was especially short; just 102 days later, the Crown Prince and the rest of the Iraqi Hashemites were killed by Ba’athist rebels during the Revolution of 14 July.
This Bentley later was owned by Baghdadi businessman Omar al-Janabi, who cherished the car for many years and later painted it white for his son’s wedding. In 1992, Mr. Janabi loaned the car for filming of the movie King Ghazi of Iraq, in which it caught the attention of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. According to Canadian collector Steve Maman—who purchased the Bentley from Janabi in 2015—Saddam sent agents to his home asking if he wanted to “gift” the car to the dictator. After Janabi’s initial refusal, these men began following him around Baghdad. Soon thereafter, he decided it was best to hand over the keys to Saddam’s agents, realizing that his life was more important than his beloved Bentley.
After seizing it for his vast collection (where it joined such cars as a Mercedes-Benz 500 K Special Roadster and 770 K Tourenwagen), Hussein had the car repainted from white to a two-tone blue and silver. Maman further recounts that over the years of its captivity, Janabi tried to locate his Bentley; Iraqi licensing offices confirmed to him each time that it was still registered in his name.
Following Saddam Hussein’s downfall, his presidential palaces were looted by the citizens angry over his decades of murderous rule. The treasured cars stored in these palaces were either stolen, vandalized, or simply disappeared. As told to Maman by Janabi, Janabi immediately went to the Baghdad Palace and presented his registration to the US Army, proving that he was the rightful owner of the S1 Continental Drophead Coupe still inside.
Janabi was quick, but the looters of Saddam’s palace proved quicker. Images on file show that the seats, Bentley hood mascot, trunk lid, and headlights had been stolen, while the top fabric was ripped off the frame and the body dented in places. Thankful nonetheless, he finally reclaimed his beloved Bentley nearly a decade after it had been taken.
In 2015, while in Iraq on a humanitarian mission to save Yazidi women from ISIS, Maman fortuitously met al-Janabi and subsequently purchased this S1 Continental. He then had it shipped to his home in Montreal, Canada.
BACK TO LIFE
After this Bentley made it to Canada, Maman subsequently offered it to the renowned marque specialist Richard Gorman of Vantage Motorworks in Miami, Florida. As the foremost authority for classic Bentley and Rolls-Royce motorcars in North America, Gorman counts a majority of these surviving S1 Continental Drophead Coupes among his vast portfolio of work. Gorman immediately advised a client on the merits of this example’s provenance and rare body style, and a deal was struck whereby Gorman was to execute a complete restoration to original specifications.
A thorough compendium of accompanying photographs illustrate every painstaking step of this restoration— from the repairs to its shapely Park Ward aluminum bodywork, to the rebuilding of its numbers-matching 4.9-liter inline six-cylinder engine. Quite simply, no element of this important Bentley seems to have escaped redress by Gorman and his much-lauded team of artisans.
Since completion of this restoration in summer 2017, this striking S1 Continental has been an award-winning entrant at some of America’s most prominent concours. In fact, its immediate post-restoration debut came at that year’s Pebble Beach Concours (and Tour) d’Elegance. This was further followed up by a Best in Class showing at the 2018 Concours d’Elegance of America in Plymouth, Michigan.
The few surviving examples of the S1 Continental Drophead Coupe are, hands down, some of the most fiercely prized of all post-war Bentleys. This example’s fascinating provenance, desirable specifications, and award-winning restoration greatly improve its already spellbinding allure.