1958 Bentley S1 Continental Drophead Coupe by Park Ward
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RM Sotheby's - Monterey
20th Aug 2011
1958 Bentley S1 Continental Drophead Coupe by Park Ward
178 hp, 4,887 cc, inlet-over-exhaust, two SU carburetors, six-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, semi-trailing wishbone, rear semi-elliptic leaf springs with live rear live axle, vacuum-assisted, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 123" - Bought new by Karl’s Shoe Store Ltd. in 1957 - Owner Harry Karl was the husband of actress Debbie Reynolds - Built new for Los Angeles Auto Show - One of only 31 LHD Bentley S1 Park Ward Continental DHCs built - Automatic transmission, power steering and air conditioning - Always fastidiously maintained without regard to expense - Stunning color combination of black/silver over red Connolly leather In the immediate post-WWII years, the term “Continental” defined Bentley cars ordered from new, specifically to explore those still-unspoiled parts of Europe in the wake of WWII. Then, as now, the term has come to signify a high performance specification intended to transport the passenger at great speed over long distances in absolute comfort. In keeping with the update of the Bentley R models in 1955 and the debut of the bigger, lighter and faster S1 saloon, a new series of S1 Continentals was built. In all, 431 would be sold between 1955 and 1959. In the eyes of many collectors, the S1 is more desirable than either the V-8-powered S2 or S3, as it is simpler, lighter and slightly quicker. Separate from the Bentley S1 standard steel cars, the S1 Continentals were designed to slip effortlessly through the air in their elegant, low and sleek lightweight bodies with a grille an inch-and-a-half lower than the standard cars. Like the R-Type Continentals, the bodies were built in aluminum with aluminum outriggers for the panels, which were lighter, stronger and more durable than the previously favored wood supports. The frame appeared similar to the outgoing R Type, but in reality it was entirely new, with a welded box section that improved structural rigidity by 50 percent and was only 14 pounds heavier. Other changes included new front suspension with a semi-trailing wishbone and repositioned rear springs (now nine leaves instead of seven) inside the chassis rails. The brake surface was increased by 22 percent and now had a three-way safety setup, with two hydraulic systems and a backup mechanical one. The suspension was also softer, with wheel travel increased to a three-inch bump and four-inch rebound and a ride-control system with two positions, which could be selected by the driver. In all, seven body styles were built on the S1 Continental chassis by Park Ward, H.J. Mulliner, James Young, Hooper and the Swiss coachbuilder Graber. A four-door “Flying Spur” was added to the range in 1957, and power steering was available from 1956. The six-cylinder, 4,887-cc engine was capable of sustaining high speed and long-distance cruising with ease. Road-test figures published in The Autocar magazine recorded a top speed of 120.5 mph for the Bentley Continental S1. The design still allowed for plenty of low-end torque as The Autocar reported in road tests in the quarter mile. Simply put, the S1 Continental’s remarkable performance and stunning good looks made it the Bentley of choice for those who could afford it. In 1958, this particular car’s suggested retail price was approximately 8,000 USD compared to the standard saloon’s 5,500 USD. Put into perspective, the average cost for a new three-bedroom, suburban home in America at the time was $8,500. Clearly, this Bentley, like all that preceded it, was intended only for the marque’s wealthiest clients. Almost all Continentals were built under special order and, as such, were and continue to be highly valued by collectors. Only 431 S1 Continental cars were built, compared to 3,072 standard steel-bodied cars. Of those 431 chassis, 185 were fitted with Park Ward bodies and 31 were left-hand drive drophead coupes. Chassis BC3LDJ This stunning Bentley, one of the 31 LHD Bentley S1 Park Ward Continental DHCs, is beautifully finished in black and silver with red Connolly leather and burled walnut interior. It was first delivered to the United States in September 1957 to Los Angeles dealer Peter Satori, and as evidenced by copies of its original build sheets, it was specifically intended and built for the Los Angeles Auto Show. As such, the very same factory paperwork details special features “for use in America.” Among other items, these include specific wing and headlamps, Dunlop whitewall tires, speedometer in mph, summer and winter thermostat, fog lights with white bulbs, specific horns and even a “Made in England” name plate. The car was ultimately purchased new by Harry Karl, the husband of famous actress Debbie Reynolds. Harry Karl was the owner of Karl’s Shoe Store Ltd., therefore the car was actually in his company’s name. Harry Karl and Debbie Reynolds divorced in 1972, but it is quite likely that the couple enjoyed driving in this Bentley S1 Continental Drophead Coupe together. In the last two decades, the car has been owned by a succession of prominent collectors and experts, including Bruce S. Lustman, Richard Gorman and Charles Swimmer. The current owner, a prominent collector in his own right, has maintained the car without regard for expense and has trusted its care to noted specialists. Elegant and graceful, it is also supremely comfortable and effortless to drive, complete with automatic transmission, power steering and air conditioning. The car presents extremely well and its color combination is nothing short of stunning. Supremely rare and very well maintained, this desirable Bentley will not only provide the winning bidder with enormous pride of ownership, it is quite simply an icon of the marque.
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