Once upon a time, the most luxurious cars were almost always coach built. To buy a tremendously expensive automobile would involve the selection of a chassis, which often came in rolling form and sometimes with a very large capacity powertrain included, and then the nomination of a design house to produce the metal work to sit on top of it. We’ll all know of many of the firms that became specialists in building these ‘coaches’; the lucrative art birthed well-known names like Mulliners of Birmingham, Bertone and Pininfarina of Italy and Vanden Plas of Belgium, to name a few.
In the post-war period, the practice slowed in demand due to the changing methods of automotive manufacturing, with manufacturers of luxury cars more frequently offering bodies and chassis combined from launch. This included the plushest makers of them all, like Rolls-Royce and Bentley, which produced the Silver Cloud and S2 respectively from 1955 with their own takes on the same curvaceous body and a 6.2-litre V8 on a shared base. Yet still, some of the wealthiest buyers couldn’t let the traditional art of coach building die.
In fact, there was still an enormous amount of money to be made in selling a rolling chassis for coachbuilders to use as a base. So, while ultimately the Silver Cloud and S2 would end up being the last conventional body on frame models to come out of Crewe, the cars’ base felt healthy demand right up until their demise. Some customers chose to have their coach-built cars finished with designs that evolved the formula of the British marques, but some felt the need to create cars so bespoke that chassis aside, they’re completely unique.
Perhaps the most unique example of a Silver Cloud/S2-based coach-built car is the one we’ve chosen as this week’s Showpiece. Having been ordered for a never publicly named New York client by esteemed Rolls-Royce dealership J.S. Inskip, the model retained the standard underpinnings and 6.2-litre eight-cylinder motor, but almost everything that sat on top of it was completely bespoke. Bizarrely, the client – who had originally approached Mercedes to produce a Shooting Brake model based on the W112 300-series chassis to no avail – requested the Crewe-made base feature a Mercedes-inspired body.
That would have almost certainly provided the firm responsible for the coach build, Germany’s Wendler Karosseriebau, with quite the challenge, because you don’t need to sit these two cars side by side to know that a Bentley S2 is far, far larger than Mercedes’s W112. Simply placing a Mercedes bodyshell over the British base was not possible, so instead, Karosseriebau had to set about recreating the lines and shapes of the W112 to work with the bigger footprint. We’ll probably never know who the client that requesting it was, but it suggests they weren’t short of cash – and that not even rejection by Mercedes itself was going to prevent them from getting a W112 Shooting Brake!
The process of fabricating each body part to resemble the German car’s design, while mixing in some features of a Bentley, including that enormous front grille, couldn’t have been an easy one. Certain parts could be bought off the shelf, like the Mercedes headlights and – interestingly – Buick tail lights, so most were hand-made as one-off items. The seller of the car makes no reference to surviving spares, suggesting any accident damage would require the refabrication of a replacement – and an accompanying enormous bill. At least the oily bits were all as Bentley provided them, so should a mechanical issue arise, repairing the car ought to be no more complicated than a regular S2.
Presumably the inside of the NYC one-off was equally as taxing to produce, because each of the dials and switches were, according to the seller, handmade in order to mimic Mercedes items, albeit at a scale that fit the Bentley base. And we suspect the extensive use of oak wood – a fashionable material for American cars at the time – would have required plenty of man hours to achieve the fit and finish. Admittedly, things have been ‘refreshed’, as the 59-year-old estate was restored six years ago using the original colours, as per the records of the Rolls-Royce Owners Club. It’s now described as being back to Concours condition and, of course, is priced as such. You’ll need more than £450,000 to add it to the collection.
Click here for the full ad.