Bentley Mark VI Drophead Coupe by Park Ward
Unlike many prewar automobile manufacturers, Rolls-Royce survived the ravages of World War II and emerged into the new peacetime environment in relatively good financial health primarily because of its line of powerful and reliable aero engines, including the “Merlin” liquid-cooled V12 and its variants. Of course, Rolls-Royce immediately translated this sterling wartime experience into its all-new and highly refined postwar automotive designs, continuing a long and enviable tradition.
Company management acutely understood the new realities of the difficult postwar economy and began to embrace greater standardization, higher production volumes and their resulting economies of scale, a product of the demands of the war years. The new Bentley Mark VI was introduced in 1946, marking the first postwar Bentley automobile of Rolls-Royce design, and most significantly, the Mark VI represented a complete break from the past, being designed and built as a complete car and fitted with new, standardized pressed-steel saloon coachwork. The Pressed Steel Company of Oxford built the bodies, which were reminiscent of the Park Ward-bodied Mark V models of the late 1930s, while ex-Gurney Nutting Chief Designer John Blatchley applied the highly refined detail features.
While the “Standard Steel” bodies of the Mark VI signaled the end of the era of the custom coachbuilding trade, they were trimmed and painted to a standard that often rivaled the work of the finest custom coachbuilders of the era. This was quite a change in philosophy on the part of Bentley’s parent, Rolls-Royce, yet it reflected the reality that high-quality standardized bodies could be built in greater numbers at the new factory in Crewe.
Mechanically, a 4.3-liter (4,257 cc) inline six-cylinder engine initially powered the Mark VI, with its aluminum-alloy F-head combining overhead intake and side-mounted exhaust valves. Similar to the B60-Series engine of the war years, this new design was much simpler and utilized a one-piece cylinder block casting with an integral crankcase, as well as a fan belt-driven generator and water pump. Combined with a four-speed manual gearbox and an independent front suspension, the Mark VI provided outstanding performance and was capable of top speeds approaching 95 mph.
Contemporary Bentley advertising for the Mark VI quoted an RAF Wing Commander and highlighted the car’s rare blend of practical elegance, comfortable seating for five passengers and its smooth-shifting transmission, as well as its around-town drivability and capable open-road performance. Available information indicates total production of Mark VI chassis between 1946 and 1952 to have amounted to about 5,000 chassis. While the vast majority of cars were built with Standard Steel production bodywork, a variety of bespoke custom bodies were still available at the buyer’s discretion from a number of renowned English coachbuilders, including such highly respected firms as Freestone & Webb, H.J. Mulliner, Hooper and Co., James Young and Park Ward.
Park Ward, which was founded in 1919 by William M. Park and Charles W. Ward, was based in Willesden, North London, and after initial work producing bodies for a variety of cars during the early 1920s, the firm’s efforts were closely aligned with those of Rolls-Royce and Bentley. While Park Ward’s first project with Rolls-Royce was a stillborn effort to produce standardized bodies for the relatively small Twenty model, the firm did progress to the production of custom bodies for Rolls-Royce customers, including an example of the 40/50 model which appeared at the 1924 British Empire exhibition. From that point forward, Park Ward concentrated its efforts on Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis, and in 1933, Rolls-Royce purchased an equity interest in Park Ward which in turn became the primary supplier of custom coachwork to Bentley’s discerning clientele.
Most importantly, Park Ward pioneered the use of all-steel body construction processes, which were developed in addition to the more traditional wood-framed metal bodies more closely associated with the immediate prewar era. As their business alliance matured, Rolls-Royce purchased the remainder of Park Ward in 1939, which then became a wholly owned subsidiary of Rolls-Royce. As a result, Rolls-Royce had acquired a considerable technological asset in Park Ward, which it applied to the development of the new Mark VI following the war’s end.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2010 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.
132 bhp inline six-cylinder F-head engine, dual SU carburetors, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with wishbones and coil springs, rigid rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and servo-assisted hydraulic front and mechanical rear drum brakes. Wheelbase: 120"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel