8 September 2014

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Lot 106

1947 Bentley Mark VI Fixed Head Coupé by Figoni et Falaschi

  • Chassis no. B9AJ
  • Engine no. B65A

Sold for £526,400

132 bhp, 4,257 cc inline F-head six-cylinder engine with twin 1¾-in. SU carburettors, four-speed manual gearbox, independent front suspension with hydraulic shock dampers, semi-elliptic rear springs with controlled shock absorbers, and hydraulic front and mechanical rear servo-assisted drum brakes. Wheelbase: 3,048 mm

  • The only post-war Bentley bodied by Figoni et Falaschi
  • Formerly owned by esteemed motor car collector Eugene Beardslee
  • First Place award at the 1990 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
  • Full documentation and build sheets

The combined Rolls-Royce and Bentley Works suspended motor car production in 1940, when they re-tooled to support the war effort. The Bentley Mark VI Standard Steel Saloon was the first model offered at the return of peace, when motor car production resumed. The cost of the new Bentley Mark VI Standard Steel Saloon was £2,345, including purchase tax. This was a considerable sum when one considers that the average annual wage in England in 1948 was £375. The luxurious car was powered by a new six-cylinder F-Head engine (with overhead intake and side-mounted exhaust valves), and despite its weight of 1,814 kilograms, it was capable of achieving 95 mph.

About 80 percent of the Bentley Mk VI chassis carried the surprisingly elegant, although heavy, standard steel body, which was similar to the late pre-war Mark V Park Ward four-door saloon. However, the new Mark VI saloons did not have the panache of the wildly successful Bentley “Silent Sports Cars” of the 1930s, the 3½- and 4¼-Litres, and the Mark V models, nor were the standard cars as specialised as the massive Bentleys built at Cricklewood from 1919 to 1931, when Rolls-Royce acquired the Bentley marque. Although the car was quickly accepted by those well-heeled buyers who hungered for a new car after the long war years when only military vehicles were being produced, the company still offered, as they had before the war, a chassis-only option for those who wished to have a car designed to their specifications.

About 20 percent, exactly 999, of the total 5,201 Mark VI chassis were consigned to coachbuilders for special bodies. The total price of a custom-bodied model could easily double that of the chassis-only price, which was £1,785. The most commonly selected body makers for the Mark VI were H.J. Mulliner, Park Ward, James Young, and Hooper. Only one Mark VI chassis was sent to the prominent Parisian coachbuilder Figoni et Falaschi, which was known for its aerodynamic yet graceful designs on Delahayes and Talbot Lagos. This coachbuilder, influenced by advances in aircraft design, became known for its “tear-drop” silhouettes, pontoon wings, wing skirts, steeply raked windscreens, and hardware, which was fitted flush to the body to enhance Figoni’s trademark sleek windswept designs. This body maker was all about style, and in fact, he even partnered with several Parisian fashion designers at motor shows and concours, which featured models posing in ensembles meant to coordinate with the motor car’s lines and colourways. Ovidio Falaschi fancied himself a couturier of motor cars, frequently bodying the same chassis several times before he was completely pleased with the result. It is estimated that the hands-on time taken to complete a Figoni et Falaschi automobile body consumed over 2,000 hours.

Chassis B9AJ was one of the first Mark VI cars produced, and as part of the “A” series chassis, it was built between 1946 and 1947. Its first owner was a Mr J. Rodrigues, who is noted as having ordered the chassis through the Paris dealer Franco Britannic Automobiles in March 1947. Mr Rodrigues lived at 31 Rue Raynouard in Paris, but he spent much of his time in Monaco, and he specified that the car was to be used in his travels between the two residences; therefore, it was ordered with a speedometer in kilometres, wiring for a centre driving lamp, a second spare wheel, and a commodious boot capable of carrying 50 and 70 kilograms of luggage. It was originally ordered as a small two-seater cabriolet, but Mr Rodrigues changed his mind and had the car built as this one-of-a-kind fixed head close-coupled coupé. Or perhaps Ovido Falaschi “dressed and re-dressed” the body several times, and after taking into consideration its purpose as a long-distance tourer and collaborating with the owner, a decision was made to build a closed car, as it was more practical than an open one.

Claude Figoni, Joseph Figoni’s son, recalls that he took the order in 1947 and remembers Mr Rodrigues as being a “...tall, elegant gentleman with wonderful manners”. The car was ordered in dark grey with a blue leather interior and a “French”-style number plate for its Monaco registration, which was MC 276.

The car entered the United States in 1964, where it remained in California until being purchased by well-known car collector Eugene Beardslee, of Long Island, New York, in the 1980s. Mr Beardslee had it refurbished by his favourite restorer, Bob Turnquist at Hibernia Restorations in New Jersey, and the car was completed in time to be invited to the 1990 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where a team of expert judges agreed it was worthy of a First Place award in the exceedingly competitive Post-War European Custom Coachwork class.

Within the past two years, the car was stripped to bare metal and re-sprayed in a flawless black finish. The distinctive Figoni design cues fitted when new, the double-bladed front bumpers, and its graceful chrome rear wings and rear-quarter embellishments are, in a word, breath-taking. The saddle-tan leather two-seater interior and polished veneers reflect the kind of workmanship which would have been rendered when the car was new.

This recently freshened and exceedingly rare early post-war French-bodied Bentley has not been shown in more than a decade, and it will not only provide its fortunate new owner exceptional delight behind the wheel, but it is sure to also open doors to the world’s most prestigious motor car events and concours.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more