Vintage Bentleys on

the fast track

William Medcalf Vintage Bentley

A MOTOR company is celebrating a year of success, despite selling only 10 cars.

But when those 10 cars are vintage Bentleys with a total value of more than £4.5 million, then the reason why the Champagne corks are popping becomes crystal clear,

William Medcalf Vintage Bentley of West Sussex has cemented its status as the home of the vintage Bentley.

And to put the icing on the cake, company boss William Medcalf has gone the extra 14,000 miles as a mechanic by travelling to Mongolia to deliver a part to a stricken client.

The company is renowned for its truly unique approach to vintage Bentley ownership and the way that it goes beyond the call of duty.

Never was this more evident when Medcalf travelled to Mongolia with an £87 part to carry out a simple, 10-minute repair job - remedying a rear wheel bearing failure on Bill Cleytner's 1924 Bentley SuperSports which left him stranded on the Beijing to Paris rally.

This sort of service is rare these days but it goes hand in hand with the vintage Bentley driving experience.

These cars are like nothing else on the road - I know because I was once loaned a 1929 four-and-a-half litre example by a collector.

Once you have unbuckled the mighty straps that secure the bonnet it is necessary to hand-prime the fuel system starting from cold.

Then set the ignition advance and retard controls on the steering wheel boss and set the hand throttle, switch magnetos to on like in a Second World War aircraft, and press the big mushroom-shaped starter button.

If you have set everything up correctly the big Benters should rumble into life and the adventure starts.

It is hand signals all the way with no indicators or those strange pop-out yellow banana-shaped things of the 1950s. This really is driving with the gloves off.

When it comes to changing gear, there is no synchromesh so it involves declutching to change up and double declutching to go down.

The handbrake is on the outside of the racing style body and the car has the turning circle of a supertanker.

Otherwise it is pure magic. Once you have educated your feet to the central accelerator and got used to the gear change lever on the right which is part of the Bentley DNA, the joys of the open road beckon.

After the first few miles you will have got used to people gaping in admiration as this king of the road rumbles past.

When out on the open road and you give the noble steed the spurs the massive flywheel seems to deliver amazing depths of power.

But you have to have respect because there are no driver aids and the narrow cross-ply tyres on the car I drove could be skittish on wet roads.

A bit of a responsibility really because the newspaper I worked for at the time had insured the car for £120,000 and that was 20-odd years ago. What it would be insured for now I dread to think. But the car was so utterly addictive.

I almost had to be prised away from the wheel when the time came to say goodbye.

So when I returned the car to the collector he said to me: "If you can drive this then you really can call yourself a driver."

Even for somebody who has driven just about everything in a 50 year career in motoring journalism this was, without doubt, my proudest moment.

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