1947 Bentley Mark VI Coachworks By Franay

The spectacular automobile was built for the 1947 Paris Auto Show and claimed best-in-show awards at early post-war Concours d’Elegance on the European continent. From 1990 until 2006, it was owned by Gary Wales, a well-known car collector and restoration specialist, under whose care the elegant car won an additional 50 awards.

The spectacular automobile was built for the 1947 Paris Auto Show and claimed best-in-show awards at early post-war Concours d’Elegance on the European continent. From 1990 until 2006, it was owned by Gary Wales, a well-known car collector and restoration specialist, under whose care the elegant car won an additional 50 awards.

In the 1930s, France was the center of the automotive universe — at least as it involved art deco styling with teardrop-shaped and ornately trimmed coachwork. Here the likes of Figoni et Falaschi, Saoutchik, Franay, Bugatti, Chapron, Labourdette, and even Americans “Dutch” Darrin and Tom Hibbard were enhancing the definition of “French curves.”

Then came World War II, and in its aftermath the focus of automotive design shifted across the Atlantic Ocean to Detroit, where big fins and jet fighter-inspired air scoops and chromed afterburner outlets took styling in a very different direction.

But not everyone in France was willing to accept such change. One industrialist in particular wanted to demonstrate to the world that despite the turmoil of the war, the French were still on top of their game and well on their way to a complete post-war recovery. So that industrialist commissioned Carrosserie Franay of Levallois-Perret, Seine, to showcase classic French artistic and metalworking skills on, remarkably, a British vehicle, a 1947 Bentley Mark VI convertible.

Jean-Baptiste Franay had been a saddle maker and later the shop foreman for Henri Binder, a Paris-based carriage maker who became a constructor of bodies for the new-fangled motorcar. In 1903, Franay established his own coachbuilding business. Franay’s son, Marius, joined his father after finishing his formal education, and took over the business when Jean-Baptiste, then in his early 60s, died in 1922.

In its heyday, Carrosserie Franay did custom bodywork on seemingly every luxury brand, becoming best known for its work on Hispano-Suizas, Packards, Duesenbergs, Delahayes, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.

It also built a special Renault Nervastella for the French president in 1937, the same year it created a coupe de Ville version of the Buick Roadmaster. In 1955, just before the conclusion of its business, Franay constructed yet another presidential limousine, this one based on a Citroen 15-Six.

The Bentley Franay was unveiled at the 1947 Paris Auto Show and immediately claimed best-in-show awards at Concours d’Elegance across the European continent. The car’s original French owner eventually had an even larger engine installed and then sold it to a family in England. The car made its way to the United States, where opera tenor Sergio Franchi owned it for a time.

In 1979, Gary Wales, a Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration specialist, acquired what was left of the car in a trade for a Cadillac-powered Talbot Lago. But what was left by the time Wales took ownership was a rusted hulk that had been stripped of most of its interior. Wales spent a decade searching for period photographs showing the car in detail as well as the parts and pieces he would need to restore it to its original glory.

His first effort was simply to restore the chassis, which was so stunning in its own right that it was invited to be displayed at the Santa Barbara concours. Two years later, Wales had the body and interior restored, and the car was invited to the famed Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. At Pebble Beach, the car won its class and a trophy as the best French-built vehicle, but missed “Best in Show,” Wales was told, only because of an unwritten rule that only a pre-war vehicle could win that most prestigious honor.

The car went on to receive honors at some 50 major classic car gatherings around the globe, including “Best in Show” at the Rolls-Royce Owners Club. Later it returned to that same event and was voted the best of all the previous best-in-show winners.

In 1995, the car was awarded best-in-show recognition and also took the “People’s Choice” trophy at the Louis Vuitton concours at Hurlingham, England’s top classic car event.

“I remember seeing this car for the first time on the lawn at Pebble Beach,” recalled Gary Bennett, Barrett-Jackson’s vice president of consignment. “The thing that struck me about it, besides the beauty of its sweeping French design, was the frog-skin interior — and it had a pair of matching lady’s frog-skin shoes and a purse.”

The car is a long and low-slung convertible with fenders that cover all but the bottom edges of its four tires. Among the features setting the car apart is its chrome trim. One piece marks the leading edge of each front fender. Another starts as a large scallop just behind the front bumper and tapers back the length of the rocker panel to yet another scallop at the rear wheel before tapering back and wrapping around the trailing edge of the fender. Yet another piece, again with various flourishes, surrounds the passenger compartment.

And when the top is down, the car’s red-dyed, frog-skin interior is revealed.

In 1999, Wales freshened the restoration and in 2006 sold it at Barrett-Jackson’s auction in Palm Beach, Fla. Not only does it return to the block this week in Scottsdale, but it has been out of show circulation long enough that it again is eligible for a return to the world’s major concours venues.

Though he no longer owns the car, Wales has strong feelings about its place in the classic car world.

“Mechanically and visually, it’s the best, one of the greatest show cars of all time, and certainly in the post-war era,” he said, adding that the car’s enduring popularity shows in the fact that not only did the Franklin Mint make a 1:24 model of the car, but more recently a French company has been producing a 1:43 version that sells for some $300.

“And,” he added, “it’s been off the show circuit long enough that it can go back, and win anywhere in the world.”

—     By Larry Edsall

 

1947 BENTLEY FRANAY MARK VI CABRIOLET AWARDS

August 1991

Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance
First in Class
French Cup

Rolls Royce National Meet
Best of Show

September 1991

Santa Barbara Concours d’Elegance
First in Class
Chairman’s Award

San Diego Concours d’Elegance
First in Class
Best of Show

October 1991

Newport Beach Concours d’Elegance
First in Class
Runner up Best of Show

December 1991

Essen Motor Show – Germany
Special Display

Spring 1992

British Day – Balboa Park
People’s Choice (Top Award)

April 1992

Santa Anita Concours d’Elegance
Best of Show
Brace Award

April 1992

C.H.V.A. Concours d’Elegance – Balboa Park
Best of Show

May 1992

Hillsborough Concourse d’Elegance
First in Class (99.75 points)

The British Meet – Ventura
First in Class
Best of Show

June 1992

Silverado Concours d’Elegance
First in Class
Most Exotic

Deer Park Concours d’Elegance
Pride of Excellence
(Second Best of Show)

Milestone Car Society Concours d’Elegance
Best of Show
People’s Choice

July 1992

Le Cercle Concours d’Elegance
Most Elegant
Year 1993

Blackhawk Museum – Danville, California
On display through November 1994

December 1994

Retromobile National Car Show – France
Featured Display

February 1995

Centre International de L’Automobile Museum Major Display – Paris, France

June 1995

Hurlingham, England
Best of Show
Spectator Trophy

September 1995

Concours Automobiles Classiques
Louis Vuitton – Bagatelle
Connolly Award

May 1997

Rolls Royce and Bentley Parade
Guinness Book of World Records
Lead Car for Bentleys
Newport Beach, California

July 1997

Classic Car Club of America
National Judging Award
First Place

August 1997

Rolls Royce Motors – Pebble Beach
People’s Choice

June 1998

Concours d’Elegance on Rodeo Drive
Second in Class
Meguiar’s Award
(Most Outstanding Paint Finish)

October 1998

The Louis Vuitton Classic at Rockefeller Center
One of Fifty Cars Selected to Exhibit

February 1999

“The 100 Greatest Cars”

Selected for inclusion in the upcoming book by Dennis Adler, to be published for the millennium

April 1999

RROC Picnic With The Ponies
Best of Show – Post War
People’s Choice Award

May 1999

Annual Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance
First in Class
People’s Choice Award
Best of Show

May 1999

Muckenthaler Concours d’Elegance
The Muckenthaler Award

June 1999

Le Cercle Concours d’Elegance
Best of Show

British Wings & Wheels

Museum of Flying Santa Monica
First in Class
Best of Show

Chosen to be Poster Car for the upcoming Santa Barbara Concours d’Elegance in September 1999.

July 1999

Grand Classic CCCA
First Place – Senior Division
(with a score of 99.75)

9th Annual Ventura All British Day
First in Class
Best of Show

August 1999

RROC 48th Annual Meet – Dana Point , CA
Royce Memorial Trophy
Best of Prior Best of Show
(Top Senior Award)

September 1999

Santa Barbara Concours d’Elegance – CA
The Montagu Trophy

Year 2000

The first all European Concours d’Elegance at Schloss Schwetzingen

The chosen Poster/Program Car
Year 2003
Acura – Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance
Best of the Best class of the past 10 years of Palo

At Present

Franklin Mint Precision Models
A limited number of collector-quality replica 1947 Franay Bentley models are currently in production.

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