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Salon Privé and Bentley Drivers Club - Both at Blenheim Palace


© 2019, Classique Car Conduits

© 2019, Classique Car Conduits

© 2019, Classique Car Conduits

© 2019, Classique Car Conduits

© 2019, Classique Car Conduits

© 2019, Classique Car Conduits

© 2019, Classique Car Conduits

© 2019, Classique Car Conduits

 

Each year as summer fades in the northern hemisphere and the traditional holiday season draws to a close, the prevalence of major motoring events in our annual calendars loom large once more. Several have to be crammed into the short number of autumnal weeks before the weather gets too dark and cold to stage them. So, we find a narrow, congested window where completely separate showcase occasions have to compete over the same weekends.

That being the case, what appeared most unusual was having two major events at exactly the same place, as well as in time. The venue wasn’t somewhere that I was planning to visit originally, especially after the Hampton Court concours only on the preceding Friday. However, an opportunity arose to go to Blenheim Palace - incidentally, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill - and see not only Salon Privé but the Bentley Drivers Club meeting, too. Both were naturally celebrating one hundred years since the beginning of Bentley Motors, in 1919.

Primarily, on the purely Bentley side, I was able to catch-up with a few friends and make some new acquaintances, though only much later did I realise the mass gathering of the BDC members meant that a total of 1,341 examples of the Bentley motor car were together in one place, brought from right across the country and many also from overseas. This was the largest collection of “W.O.” cars that had ever been assembled. Most of those with which I had some sort of connection were from the ‘20s and ‘30s era, but also hundreds more came from the silent-engined, aerodynamic styling higher echelons, predominant in the ‘50s and ‘60s decades of manufacturing sophistication. And, notwithstanding those, a huge amount of support had been shown by owners who’d brought along their everyday, luxurious and rapid, modern, modes of transport, used throughout the twenty-first century, so far.

The two organisational camps were actually located on either side of Blenheim Palace, the imposing ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough since 1705, when construction of the building began. In between, congregated a benign army of day trippers who had come out for a weekend of recreation, even though perhaps automotive transport may have been of peripheral interest. Thousands were additional those directly associated with cars, as walking around the picturesque grounds, and wandering within the grand historic buildings of an English Stately Home is an attractive proposition for myriad people seeking a relaxing leisure pursuit.

However, so popular was the combined motoring occasion that the Salon Privé organisers had to limit access to their site by means of single gate, almost literally the bottleneck, in proportion to the restricted green space beyond. In the central open public area, at the front of the Palace, there were queues of several hundred yards of people, patiently lined up waiting for their turn to be allowed in. Entrance could have taken half an hour, even an hour over lunchtime, for those joining the tail end to actually filter through security and gain eventual admittance to the Salon Privé exhibits.

Once the inquisitive were inside, they found that Bentley had also taken centre stage. In fact, several of the same cars I‘d seen the previous Friday at Hampton Court had made their way up to Oxfordshire for a second display on the same weekend. So as not to overcrowd the exhibition itself, most of the Ferraris which had been invited, for their main Saturday concours competition, had not returned. Although, for enthusiasts of such sparkling chrome and polished paintwork, there was an entirely separate supercar concours in its own right. And, of course, the Bentley Drivers Club staged their annual members’ competition on the Sunday.

Of the most important Bentley exhibits - which I hadn’t seen earlier only 48 hours earlier - one was a 1939 streamlined Corniche, with forward facing rear doors. A Bentley collector, whom I’ve known for many years and who possessed quite a range of exciting cars in his garage, felt there was an inherent design fault, given that the aperture of the doors were not of a sufficient angle for him to gain access to the driving seat. Naturally he took the Mulliner designed revelation light heartedly and perhaps realised his decades of good living, in terms of excellent meals, may have been a contributory factor.

There was also a ‘60s coupé which, from a distance, resembled something like the Bentley T1/Silver Shadow based Corniche fixed-head, but it was evidently more Italianate and angular as you approached. It transpired that this was a unique Pininfarina example launched, in 1968, at the London and Paris shows. Still imposing as a two-door, it would certainly have filled more than decent sized parking space in any European supermarket car park, perhaps more appropriately a delicatessen, should it ever grace one on such a shopping trip.

Surprisingly, an even greater footprint was made by the futuristic Bentley all-electric grand tourer, the ‘EXP 100 GT Concept’ that had been unveiled earlier in the year, though now making its public British debut. This was a huge car, precisely 19 feet long by 7.8 feet wide, with a cavernous internal space, rather minimalist in its design but obviously silent running and adopting a very efficient usage of power for propulsion, even offering a self-drive capability. Could this be the way of things to come? Well, it was likely that only those with extremely healthy levels of disposable capital should put their names on the waiting list, and be patient…until 2035. In addition to the Bentleys, many of the most notable and respected UK classic car dealers were present, showing a plethora of their perfectly restored, or ‘gently patinated’ wares. (And still makes me smile, that one!) These included a display of special edition Pagani Zondas, with a supporting cast of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Astons and the less mass-produced hyper brands favouring carbon fibre.

Only when beginning my departure, did I fully appreciate the content of a modest stand introducing a brand-new retro-Bentley - from an independently managed firm - still at the full sized model, prototype, stage. The attractive rendering was proudly described to me as the drop-head coupé that Bentley never made. Loosely styled along the lines and curves of a Jaguar XK120, the company owners hoped its '1950 Bentley Blizzard’ lightweight roadster concept would find favour with a new generation of marque enthusiasts who sought a slightly smaller, sportier, convertible. Only fifteen of them would be needed, to retain its exclusivity and take up the planned production run. Originally imagined by Ivan Evernden, Chief Projects Engineers at Bentley Motors in Crewe, the refreshed idea nostalgically harked back to the days of open road freedom in the early 1950s. Enjoyment of such, meant that the distraction or need for computer tablets, mobile phones and tiny wireless earpieces would never cross a driver’s, or passengers’, minds. Not that it does, for a lot of us, still in this day and age.

‘Past meets present, meets future’, I concluded, could aptly sum up the potential objectives heading both sets of organisers’ agendas and, in terms of the variety and popularity which I had encountered, they were highly successful in achieving these parallel outcomes.

John Godley
Classique Car Conduits