Washington, DC — For one afternoon, the residence of the British ambassador to the United States turned into a showplace for vintage Bentley automobiles.
It also became a way station for a stalwart cadre of Bentley classic owners from the United Kingdom, Australia and the U.S. who drove their ancient — and a few modern — Bentleys through seven states, starting in New Orleans and ending in Baltimore on May 20.
Amazingly, the drivers and their partners, many of them spouses, said their Bentleys — at least five were 92, 93 and 94 years old from 1923, 1924 and 1925 — performed flawlessly. They reported one minor accident that bent a fender and a snapped U-joint or two on the propeller shaft of another car.
Many of the owners were similarly vintage, in their 60s and 70s, obviously well off enough to afford the cost of shipping their cars long distances over oceans. It was less expensive but no less daunting for American owners. One from California estimated that the tour cost him $12,000. The event was organized by the Bentley Drivers Club of the UK. There were 30 Bentleys in all, including a flawless 2010 Azure convertible with just 10,000 miles on the odometer. No doubt those drivers traveled more comfortably than Vera Forsyth and Morris Avent of Bath, England, who made the trip in Avent’s 1925 Model 3 roadster.
The trip took a month and covered about 2,500 miles. Participants did not caravan but met each evening at the same accommodations. It was the fifth such tour organized by the UK Drivers Club — this one through the southeastern U.S. Earlier trips went through other areas of the country.
For the British Embassy in Washington, it would not do for the Bentley aficionados to pass so close without recognition. So the participants and their cars were invited to the residence of Ambassador Kim Darroch on Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest D.C., which informally is called Embassy Row.
The gathering and reception started in late afternoon, smack in the middle of rush hour. Traffic on Embassy Row stopped as the vintage Bentleys made their way through security onto the residence grounds.
Inside the cars were arrayed on the lawn and in courtyards while their owners attended a reception in the residence where they sipped tea, champagne and Pimm’s, a mildly alcoholic traditional British cocktail, and nibbled on finger sandwiches and scones.
The residence resembles a castle with ornate rooms festooned with artwork, magnificent staircases and classical furnishings. Manicured gardens surround the residence — not unlike the homes of royalty in the UK.
Ambassador Darroch and wife Vanessa mingled with the guests and wandered among some of the vintage Bentleys. In a brief talk, Darroch confessed that his first car way back was a Triumph Herald. He said that although he did not own a Bentley, he now had become a user — from the back seat with a chauffeur.
Of the Bentley marque, Darroch quoted Winston Churchill as saying that he was a man of simple tastes, “easily satisfied with the best.” It was a certain applause line.
1938 Bentley 8-Litre
Photos (c) Frank A. Aukofer