The B20BH is estimated at $2.5 million and has been characterized as the most valuable post-WWII Bentley motor car, and arguably the most valuable ever. For that honor, it competes with the famous Blue Train Special and with the "Blower" Bentleys of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Built for the Paris show of 1947 on a right-hand-drive Mark VI chassis, the Franay achieved notoriety by winning "Best of Show" in its first two Concours d'Elegance (Enghien and Boulogne) that same year.
Following its appearance as the centerpiece of the Franay exhibit, the Bentley was delivered to Mr. Gudol, who kept the car for several years before having a larger displacement, more-powerful 4.5-liter engine retrofitted in the early 1950s.
By the mid-1950s, records indicate that car was owned by a family in England, and it next became the property of a Mr. Cohen of Troy, New York. Opera tenor Sergio Franchi and Pebble Beach impresario Lorin Tryon are shown as two of more than a half dozen owners prior to 1979, when present owner Gary Wales acquired B20BH in exchange for a Cadillac-powered Talbot Lago. By that time, the Bentley was a derelict, stripped of its trim and instruments; a badly rusted hulk.
By 1988, Wales had acquired sufficient photos and historical information to begin the restoration. First, the chassis was restored to 100-point condition and was exhibited, sans body, at the Santa Barbara Concours d'Elegance. Even "au natural," it was a hit. Wales then set a target date of August 1991 for the completed project to make its debut at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Actually, the car was exhibited in Beverly Hills at a private press reception a week before going to Monterey.
At Pebble Beach, B20BH was awarded First in Class, and then it was recalled to the judges stand to receive the French Trophy as well. When Best of Show was awarded to another car (a 1932 Chrysler Imperial roadster), it was the only time in memory that the chief judge has ever felt obliged to apologize for not giving the award to a particular vehicle. He commented that the Franay Bentley, indeed, had missed by just one-tenth of a point, the closet margin of victory in the event's history. It easily was the crowd favorite, drawing so many spectators that photography was nearly impossible.
Literally within a few short hours, at the Rolls-Royce Owners Club annual meet being held concurrently with the Pebble Beach event, the B20BH was named best of all post-WWII vehicles in that competition.
Following its triumphant appearance at Carmel, Wales' Bentley garnered class victories and senior awards at the remainder of the year's California contests: Santa Barbara, Thousand Oaks, Newport Beach and San Diego. It was also selected as the feature car by a company specializing in premium-priced automotive finish protection products.
Directly as a result of the Pebble Beach crowd reaction, Wales received an invitation to accompany his Bentley to Germany where it was the focal point of the following year. Since that time, except for a brief period at the Blackhawk Museum in California, the now-famous Franay Bentley has been in Europe where it again has been named the recipient of major awards at the top Concours d'Elegance and classic car exhibitions.
At the 1995 Louis Vuitton (Hurlingham) Concours in London, B20BH was judged Best of Show, and at Paris (Bagatelle), it was further honored by the prestigious Connolly trophy. In addition, at the non-judged Retromobile 10-day exhibition at Paris, B20BH was designated on of the 10 most historically important vehicles on display.
Until returning to the USA for the Newport Beach Rolls-Royce and Bentley Parade, the Franay Bentley, as it now is known worldwide, has been exhibited at the CIA Museum in suburban Paris.
Since 1991, the Wales Bentley has been the subject of articles in England, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, and, of course, the United States. In February 1999, this beautiful, one-of-a-kind vehicle was selected for inclusion in the upcoming book, "The 100 Greatest Cars" (authored by noted automotive expert Dennis Adler) to be published for the millennium. And at present, the Franklin Mint is producing a limited number of collector-quality replica 1947 Franay Bentley models.
Recently (in March 1999), this remarkable Bentley was brought back to its top Concours condition after undergoing a two-month, extensive re-restoration of the paint, top (now in sedanca position) and seat upholstery.
The Story Behind The Car ....The Franay Bentley Awards
For more information on this vehicle, call Gary Wales at (818) 887-6557. Or email him at GLWales@earthlink.net
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