Bentley investment potential outweighs ‘rich man’s toy’ premise

11-Sep-2019


Aston Martin, Jaguar Land Rover and a couple of other carmakers have been dabbling in the classic car scene, reports Iain Robertson, by revisiting their pasts and reproducing them, an aspect that has just been exceeded by Bentley and its 12 replica Blowers.

If you ever really wanted to know how the ‘other half’ lives and have not been entranced by various TV shows extolling the virtues of superyachts, hypercars and private jets, just take a peek into the classic car scene, where multi-millions of Pounds change hands every other week, for the rarest and most desirable models that come to market. Needless to say, it is usually Russian oligarchs, Chinese businessmen, Arabian oilmen and a smattering of car-loving squillionaires that can afford such extravagances that are out of the reach of the rest of us. Yet, as mentioned above, some carmakers have even dug into their pasts and recreated brand new but faithful-in-every-detail replicas of their originals.

It is clearly a much larger potential market than I ever dreamt it could be. Bear in mind, this is not restoration; that is a different money-spinner in its own right. Instead, using in-house prowess and expertise, helped by a sizable dose of bravado, probably something to sniff at and access to original drawings and artworks, a handful of car manufacturers is reproducing their most renowned models. They include and centre on cars that possess some form of illustrious competition history, often dragging along a high-end publisher for the inevitable ‘story of’ book. The price-tags fall into eye-watering territory and, while they are loathe to mention precise figures, perhaps because it might be perceived as being a little vulgar, take it for granted that seven of them will be required. Yep. At least £1m.

While I can almost understand Jaguar creating a ‘continuation series’ of D-Type models, when several of the mid-1950s undelivered examples were destroyed in a most unfortunate factory fire, or Aston Martin and Ferrari revisiting their own history files, British-based but German VW-owned Bentley is harking back to the brand’s historical victories in the French Le Mans 24-Hours race. A total of 12 recreated examples of the 1929 Bentley four-and-a-half-litre race cars, also known as the ‘Blower Bentleys’, because of their shrieking superchargers, are being scratch-built. They are based on Sir Tim Birkin’s original Bentley, which was restored sympathetically in the 1960s but has been owned by the Crewe-based company since 2000, keen as most carmakers are to bolster their histories with representative collectibles.

With so many material changes in the 90 years since that one-of-four team cars brought glory to Bentley (actually a run of around 55 production examples were built originally, to a less sporting standard, although several have been upgraded to Blower specification since), to be frank, I question how faithful each of the recreations can be. While it might be easy to suggest that steel is steel, leather is leather and rubber is rubber, modern manufacturing processes have altered the raw products considerably. However closely Bentley may believe that its artisans of today can replicate the work ethics of yesteryear, time passes and things change. Yet, there is something edgily admirable about a modern car company wanting to resurrect its history in this way.

Bentley, through Mulliner, its in-house coachbuilding operation, which only recently restored the remnants of a one-off 1939 Corniche model (all that remained of the original car was its buckled chassis), will take around two years to complete the run of 12 Bentley Blowers, commencing with digital, 3D scanning of each element of the original car, from which identical brand-new parts will be made. The company’s aim is to reproduce a dozen identical replicas and, with classic values of between £900,000 and £1.2m for similar original Bentleys, I would not bet on each of the new cars costing less than £1.5m.

Whether you consider it to be admirable, or just a cynical affectation for the extraordinarily wealthy, the world will soon have 12 brand new ‘old’ Bentleys in its car parc. The super-rich owners, or their staff, will simply have to learn about chassis lubrication, rock-hard suspension, leather feeding and drum-braking, in a project that makes Molly the Sheep look like cloning child’s-play. In the meantime, the upper-end of the classic car scene seems to shrug off both political and economic pressures, with auction sale prices exceeding frequently the posted valuations.