1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé

1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé

A convertible Bentley Continental should represent the very peak of self-indulgent motoring. And a perfectly restored S3 like this might be the biggest treat of all.


WORDS: NIGEL BOOTHMAN

PHOTOS: LEWIS HOUGHTON


BE GOOD TO YOURSELF CONTINENTAL S3 DROPHEAD

WE DRIVE THE PRETTIEST 1960s BENTLEY RESTORED TO PERFECTION

One of the prettiest Bentleys of any era, this car is fresh from a careful restoration. Does the driving experience live up to the looks?


It’s a cool spring day as we leave Edinburgh. Gentle pressure on the accelerator produces a refined thrum from somewhere forward and the big Bentley slips past lesser traffic with no apparent effort. The roof is up, and such is the quality of the material and the neatness of the fit, it’s not far different from being in a fixed-head coupé. Only the lesser glass area gives you a more cocooned feeling, though the view out of the front is still magnificent.


1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé

It's soon time to peel off the dual carriageway and go looking for some quieter, prettier roads. Meeting a few bends at speed can be uncomfortable in some cars of this size and age, but here there is no plunge and wallow on tight corners. This S3 remains remarkably stable and level, with excellent body control. Here comes a fast straight, and the car tracks down its lane like an arrow, with none of the wheel-sawing correction you’d be performing in, for instance, most American contemporaries.


1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé

It has a good punch of mid-range acceleration for dealing with motorway on-ramps and overtakes, as we’ve already discovered. It’s a peach of an engine, not just the early 6230cc L-series V8 in general but particularly the one in this car. Thanks to this aluminium coachwork the Continental probably weighs around 200kg less than the standard S3 saloon, and it’s higher geared too. Indeed, 2000rpm is about 60mph in top (4th gear) for this sensible four-speed automatic.


1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé

You leave it in the ‘3’ position for mixed driving, ensuring there will be instant thrust available because it won’t allow itself to drop into top gear at low speeds. You flick it up to ‘4’ when you hit the open road. And that’s very much its natural habitat, away from the rough, potholed city streets that are the only situation capable of showing up the ancient origins of the chassis and suspension design. Inside, it's extremely comfortable with very big, broad chairs that don’t share the failing of many older cars without headrests, and actually rise high enough to support your upper back and shoulders. It’s easy to slouch into a relaxed, somewhat splayedlegs position, with thick lambswool rugs robbing a little foot-room. The speedo and rev-counter are inverted, in that the needles begin their swing in the top right of the instrument and move round to the top left. The speedometer is marked all the way to 140mph and while that may be a little ambitious, everything suggests the car would feel just as unruffled at 100mph and even more.


1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé


PRETTY ON THE INSIDE

Looking around this lovely cabin draws your eye to various details. There’s an enormous tray under the dash including a vast ashtray for thumping the end off your Double Corona. The steering wheel is huge and slim and a delight to pass between the fingertips, while the gear selector lever meets your right middle finger at just the right spot. The electric windows whoosh up and down more promptly than many Rolls-Royce and Bentley models of younger years, and you notice the door tops are exquisite: it’s that mixture of rather dark, wide-grained veneer, sandwiched by black leather above and below with a brightwork strip closing it off at each end. It’s gorgeous, especially mingled with the mellow cognac hide. Some would hurry to find an alternative to the modern Pioneer head-unit in the radio slot, but at least it works. In the corners of the dash, there are tiny little air vents, which do an adequate job of supplying fresh air when the roof’s up, but of course you don’t buy a convertible to go everywhere with the lid on. So it’s time for us to let the outside world in. Release the header-rail catches and touch the button, and the roof descends promptly and smoothly.


1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé

The natural look for this car seems to be roof down, side windows down, which is by no means breezy or exposed, and it flatters the long, even side profile of the bodywork. That bodywork turns out to be a very subtle piece of design. When you look closely, you tend to focus on the details. One in particular marks this car out from the even more understated S2 Continental: the slanted pairs of headlamps with bright surrounding panels. But take in its general form, with a straight waistline that neither dips into a Coke-bottle hip nor falls away, and you have a more ageless look. This, and maybe the car’s dignified dark blue paint, must be why it doesn’t turn heads as much as you’d think. If you miss the lamps and the shiny bumpers, it doesn’t scream ‘classic car’, and with the roof up, has a familiar three-box outline that blends in like a big saloon of the 1970s or ‘80s.

Indeed, the image this car projects is interesting. It’s more subtle than many, but it is still an enormous drophead-coupé Bentley, and enormous drophead Bentleys are not inconspicuous. You would have to be immune to self-consciousness or at least happy to be looked at, were you to drive the car somewhere populous with the roof down. But the same applies to any large, luxurious convertible car and it can be a lot more pronounced with something showy and modern.


A CHARMED LIFE

Enough chin-stroking. It’s time to learn a little more about this example. This is chassis BC 152 XC and it was delivered new on July 20th, 1964 from Jack Barclay Ltd to Sir Arnold Weinstock, later Baron Weinstock, the managing director of GEC. In addition to the car’s already chunky list price, Weinstock ordered chromium-plated GB letters to the boot lid, a Hirschmann electrically operated aerial and electrically operated windows. He paid a grand total of £8011 for it, of which £1377 12s and 11d was purchase tax. By way of context, you could have bought two Cadillac De Ville convertibles or four Jaguar E-type roadsters for the price of the Bentley. Surprisingly, in light of this significant indulgence, Lord Weinstock only kept the car for a year or so, passing it on to a second owner via H.R. Owen. In researching this article, we came across an odd snippet of information that may help to explain why. London-based dealer Graeme Hunt once advertised an S3 Continental Saloon by James Young, and in the car’s listing, we found this: ‘There is also all the correspondence between Bentley Motors and James Young from when she was in production. Rather funny is a Young's internal memo instructing the team that the car would need extra care as the customer was so demanding and “worse than Mr Weinstock”.’


1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé - interior

Hard to please, then, and perhaps willing to find fault with his new car after only a year? Whatever the truth, the car passed to its buyer in Yorkshire who registered the car in his wife’s name, giving it the registration plate MUM 21. It remained in the White Rose county until 1977 when the owners retired to Guernsey, and the car retired with them, used for the next 40 years almost entirely on the island.

When the owners died, the car passed to their son, who had an engine rebuild carried out around the year 2000 at 80,000 miles – it’s now showing about 102,000. He used the car for a few trips to the UK and France from Guernsey but kept the usage fairly light, getting it serviced by the same man who performed the engine rebuild. When he decided to sell in 2016, word of the car reached Derek C. Mowat.


1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé - interior

Derek is a man of many roles, with several characterful, upscale hotels in Edinburgh, and space behind the largest of them for a business buying and selling classic and high-performance cars. He specialises in Rolls-Royce and Bentley, as well as other prestige marques, but he’s also an enthusiast with a mental ticklist of cars he’d love to own. That’s something he shares with many of us, but unlike many of us, Derek manages to do something about it. ‘I heard about this car through a friend in the Bentley world and it had a lot going for it,’ he says. ‘Provenance, low ownership, good colours and originality. The engine had been done within the last 20,000 miles by a respected engineer and it seemed the one to have, though I knew it would need work eventually. The paint was poor – not a great re-spray from many years before – and the leather was cracked. A typical dried-out old car, really.’

So Derek brought it up to Scotland and put it into use. He and his wife Shirley drove up to the ferry to Orkney, their place of origin, so it became probably the only Continental S3 Convertible to have visited both Guernsey and Orkney, some 850 miles apart. But after a couple of years, Derek felt he couldn’t put off the inevitable restoration any longer and the process began, with the car visiting various specialists as the cycle progressed.

‘First we stripped the interior,’ says Derek, ‘and removed the hydraulic pump and rams for the roof, for overhaul. The pump lives behind the rear seat and the rams are like the ones on a grey Fergie; they would lift a pallet of sand! The frame of the roof was alright under the old fabric, but it needed a good clean and some lubrication. Then it was time for the bodywork.’ This is a potentially ruinous job on these large, complex Park Ward bodies.


1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé

The combination of internal rust-traps and huge, gracious aluminium surfaces is difficult to get right, which made it all the more fortunate that Derek had chosen wisely in the first place. ‘It only needed partial repairs to the inner sills and new outer sills,’ he says. ‘We drilled inspection holes in the top of the scuttle to have a look at the bulkhead with a borescope, and thankfully it was fine. That can be a disaster area on these cars.’

The paint is a colour called James Young Blue; a slightly ironic choice for a car made by Park Ward but one that Lord Weinstock specified all those years ago and perfectly right for this sophisticated machine. The mechanical side of the restoration was also quite straightforward with nothing more than a good clean and some service work required for the engine. ‘Even the differential and gearbox were fine,’ says Derek. ‘It’s the quietest S3 I’ve ever heard, and in all the trips I’ve done, it’s never used a drop of oil or even of coolant.’

Derek says he made one addition under the skin, with an aftermarket anti-roll bar as part of the familiar Rolls-Bentley handling kit offered to various models. That explains the composed attitude in the bends, then. With the brakes renewed, the wheels blasted and coated, given new tyres and dent-free, polished hubcaps, the car was ready for the trimmer. By this time, Covid 19 had spoiled everything for so many of us, but at least it gave Derek the consolation of not missing out on a summer of wonderful events in 2020. It was just about ready to go by the summer of that year, and it seems the trimmer had all the time he needed to excel himself.


THE FINISHED PRODUCT

When you see it for yourself, the trim is almost beyond factory perfect. Derek chose to change the colour of the leather from the original blue, his one deviation from the car’s 1964 specification, and it’s impossible to disapprove when you’ve seen the car in the flesh. The tones of cognac leather, black leather, sheepskin and dark wood veneer work beautifully together and the standard of craftsmanship is sky-high.


1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé

There are other delights to explore as we look around this car. The boot, which is large enough for a month-long honeymoon, contains a fascinating ‘Overseas Touring Spares Kit’ that Derek tracked down at Goodwood. It resembles a wooden case for a child-size croquet set but contains dozens of items an unlucky motorist might need on a trip around the Continent, from a little rubber O-ring to a cylinder head gasket and almost everything in between. ‘I’m sure most of it is well past its sell-by date,’ says Derek, ‘But it was so unusual and complete I couldn’t resist it.’

Delve further, beneath the floor of the boot, and you find a tool tray with some spare bulbs to compliment the spanners, and beneath that, an inspection lamp. Both of these are the originals to the car and look never to have been used. The rest of the car has, though, with Derek adding some 4000 miles to the total on the clock when it arrived. It’s occupied an unusual place in his garage, as almost everything that passes through his hands is acquired for a customer or as stock for the business. This car, though it has been listed on Derek’s website, has been his own property for seven years and has benefitted from all the expenditure any fond owner would give such a car. So how does Derek feel now? Has he crossed this one off the mental tick-list?

‘I think I’ve had the best of both worlds with it. I brought a good car up to a standard it deserved and while it’s a wonderful thing to have on the site, I’ve had the experience of owning an S3 Continental too. And it’s been wonderful – a great compromise between modern and classic. Plus, if it doesn’t sell, Shirley likes it as much as I do, so we won’t be unhappy.’

As we near the end of our time with the Continental, we can step back and try to form an objective view. It must be quite rare to find one in this precise condition, and it’s to be envied. Start with a good, highly original car with low ownership and few structural defects, albeit a little cosmetic trouble, and then carry out a careful and sensitive restoration to a high standard. Finally – and this is the bit that’s so often missed – actually use the car. Derek has taken this one to the Isle of Skye and all the way down to Goodwood since it was restored. And now that it’s so thoroughly shaken down, it just doesn’t miss a beat. In all, it’s gorgeous, in many ways practical, easy to drive and useable.

It's such a tranquil car in which to cover the miles, yet you can throw it about with a bit of dash and verve, should you wish. But I don’t know why you would…it’s not a sports car and was never intended as such. What it is, as Derek hinted, is a marvellous meeting point of old and new.

It’s like this: when this S3 Continental was built nearly 60 years ago, Rolls- Royce and Bentley were already capable of offering cars that delivered the ride comfort, serenity and most of the performance you’d have expected in a luxury saloon in the 1990s or even 2000s. In the case of this example, all its natural abilities have been brought back to showroom standard, so we can tell just how good these cars were in their day. A word that sometimes springs to mind when driving wellsorted classic Rolls-Royces or Bentleys is ‘butler-esque’. It’s probably not a real word at all, but it's meant to convey the car’s ability to attend to your every whim and generally make life easier. This car has that quality in spades, but it’s combined with dashing V8 performance, an excellent power roof and a sweet spot in coachwork design between stylish and subtle. If that doesn’t add up to a supremely desirable car, I don’t know what does.

6.2-litre V8 gives aluminium-bodied S3 plenty of urge.


TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION 1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé

  • LENGTH: 5385mm
  • WIDTH: 1867mm
  • WEIGHT: 1800kg (est)
  • ENGINE: 6.25-litre V8
  • MAX POWER: 200bhp @ 4000rpm
  • MAX. TORQUE: 347lb ft @ 2500rpm
  • 0 60MPH: 12.1 seconds
  • TOP SPEED: 115mph
  • COST NEW: £7950 (1964)
“Weinstock paid a grand total of £8011 for it. By way of context, you could have bought two Cadillac De Ville convertibles or four Jaguar E-type roadsters for the price of the Bentley.”

S3 CONTINENTAL FOUR, OR MORE?

One of the nicest items in the Convertible’s history file is a small brochure for the S3 Continental models. All S3s were a marginal evolution from the S2, which in turn changed significantly from the S1 only in the engine department, with the arrival of V8 power for the S2. An S3 brought you a lower bonnet line, slightly better legroom and different front seats in the standard saloon, with improved power steering, but the change from two headlamps to four was more obvious. And it was carried over, of course, to the Continental models. The brochure depicts four of them – the Convertible Coupé, as featured in this article, the very similar Two Door Sports Saloon, the Four Door Flying Spur by HJ Mulliner and the Four Door Saloon by James Young, which is very similar but perhaps slightly heavier-looking. Yet there’s another one, the James Young Coupé that looks very much like the Saloon but with two fewer doors. Only two were built, we think. To add further confusion, there was badge engineering, or rather grille and badge.

The two Park Ward coupé bodies could be bought as Rolls-Royces for the first time since the Continental name was re-established with the R-type Bentley. But that’s one of the wonderful things about coachbuilt cars: variation is to be expected, and indeed demanded, by the kind of clients who could pay to be different. In total, 312 of them chose to do so by ordering a Continental variant of the S3 generation. Survivorship is high and all variants of these aluminium-bodied cars are now sought after, with the Convertible Coupé topping the value charts. As they’re virtually the last gasp for coachbuilt choice on Bentley and Rolls-Royce chassis, the appeal is obvious.

1965 Bentley S3 Continental James Young coupé. With any luck the roof will be down when the car attends the RREC show at Burghley House in July

1964 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible Coupé

Remarkable spares kit contains over 100 items.

Discreet fins are carried over from earlier Park Ward S2 Continental; like this car, a true four-seater.

Deepest lambswool adds a plush touch to gorgeous cabin — dash and door veneers are as good as it gets.

“This car has that calming quality in spades, but it’s combined with dashing V8 performance, an excellent power roof and a sweet spot in coachwork design between stylish and subtle.”
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