Curbside Classic: 1959-’62 Bentley S2 • Tut tut!


A Bentley in its natural habitat: a steady rain! This was a month on and a few blocks south from where I saw that 1911 Ford; I drove the rest of the way home, parked, and walked back up the hill to see if it would still be there. Or more like sloshed back up the hill as an atmospheric river was making Vancouver soggy while homes, farms, towns, and highways in outlying areas and the BC Interior were getting flooded and mudslid off the map.

Yup, sure enough, there it still was. Parked at the curbside with water obligingly beading up on its well-waxed paintwork and fog on the insides of its windows.

I know not much about cars like this, and I don’t see them very often (there was that one time I sold a set of headlamps to a workshop here in town for one of their customers’ Rolls-Royce. That was about 15 years ago, and I’m still kicking myself for not including a jar of Grey Poupon in the box).

There are fabulous details all over this car, including several suggesting this is not a doesn’t-drive-it-just-rubs-it-with-a-diapermobile. It’s got regular rather than Collector-type licence plates, for example…

…and shelf-stock American sealed beam headlamps made sometime after 1981 or so:

It’s got lovely Lucas frog lamps I’m betting are not the visually spectacular but optically lousy Chinese-made reproductions; here’s the starboard one…

…and here’s the port one, behind which is what gives every appearance of being a modern engine block heater plug:

Vehicle inspections are done here only when registering a vehicle brought in from out of province. I had to get one when I brought my (not-Silver) Spirit from Ontario. They tell you to display the decal, but there’s no reason; once the car has passed inspection it’ll never have another and it’ll get licence plates the same as any other car. Nevertheless, this car’s owner did as he was told, and the decal in the upper corner of the windscreen suggests this car was brought in this past March:

We also see the dashboard-mount rearview mirror, the central radio aerial, the left-hand drive, the blue shade at the top of the windscreen (was that original? An image search suggests maybe not), and a very high standard of coachwork fit and trim alignment.

“Elegant” is applied without warrant to so many cars, so much too often, that it scarcely stands out from the tiresome din of car-adjective buzzword bingo. I don’t consider many cars elegant, but this one surely qualifies:

And speaking of tiresome-tripe tropes, I almost always curdle at the notion of a car having “hips” or “haunches”, because just no.

Almost always:

This car is fine art, designed and built and maintained with great skill, talent, and love. I can’t find a faulty line, curve, angle, or bit of trim. Everything is shaped and placed and finished and fitted just right:

These look like little orange telltales for the driver at the top of the park/turn signals (“sidelights/indicators” in British English):

Such presence:

Parked there at the curbside, in the rain, with the owner probably on an errand in one of the shops and restaurants around—many of which are quite good, and none of which (that I know of) is at all snooty. It’s parked nearest an Italian cheese shop and deli where they make a terrific meatball sandwich.

I think I’ve done a fine job keeping quiet about a detail that caught my eye first and hard, and now my resistance runs out. Look at the taillights:

They’re all amber!

At first I thought this was the second British car I’ve seen with amber tail and stop (brake) lights; the first was a Jaguar of similar vintage I saw in traffic about 15 years ago in Frankfurt. That used to be a thing in various places round the world, amber tail and/or stop lights. In the 1930s Germany legislated for red tail and orange stop lights:

Hella’s rear lamp range, ca. 1935. At that time, Germans said rotgelb (“redyellow”) for orange.


 

That requirement went away when Europe standardised on red stop lights in the ’50s-’60s. In North America, SAE standards allowed stop lights to be red or amber until 1970, though almost all vehicles had red ones. So what’s the deal with this Bentley’s amber rear lights? I found the replacement lens:

And then I found the complete replacement lamp:

Ah, there’s a red filter in there between the tail/stop bulb and the outer amber lens. I looked anew and saw the same in my pics of the lamps on the white car. Very clever; you only see it if you know to look closely. This way Bentley provided red stop/tail and amber turn signal lights from a lamp appearing to be all one colour.

Here’s the back of that lamp, showing the unsealed sleeves apparently meant to accept the tinned (leaded?) brass bullets Lucas liked to put on the ends of their wires:

These—like another kind of unsealed Lucas connection described by Bill McCoskey—relied on the integrity of lamp-to-car-body sealing to prevent corrosion. That’s certainly an imaginative idea:


 

Very few countries required amber rear turn signals in 1959-’62; the list gets sparse after Italy and Australia, though many countries allowed them. In the States, this car would’ve had red lenses instead:

Maybe they used the amber-with-hidden-red setup in Canada. Maybe the car started with the red lenses and got the amber setup later on. Only its hairdresser knows for sure!