I suppose my father was in some ways quite 'continental' in his approach to motor car ownership because he wasn't inclined to trade them in all that frequently. Once he'd got the car he really wanted, he'd keep it stored safely away in his garage for many years to come; using a cheaper 'run-around' for all the menial chores and the daily grind.

His cherished cars almost became part of the family. He kept his 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SE for 17 years and it still looked like a brand new car when he eventually upgraded to a more modern Mercedes S500. The day he traded in the 450SE was actually quite an emotional time (daft as it might sound). But a car that's been around for 17 years tends to become a constant, a rock of ages. It'll have 'been there' with you through thick and thin. The old faithful.

Automotive aspirations

My father had always dreamt of one day being the proud owner of a Rolls-Royce or Bentley. But actually owning such a grandiose motor car was perceived as quite a leap, even when it became clear that he was able to afford to realise this most decadent of automotive aspirations.

Despite being surrounded by a certain cachet, to some less enthusiastic souls, a Rolls-Royce is just another car - albeit a rather expensive one. But my father feared that the realities of owning and driving such a vehicle, whilst still in his 30s, might create a certain impression. An impression which may not have gone down particularly well amidst some of his peers. After all, a Silver Shadow was hardly a young man's choice chariot? Most aspiring 30-somethings would have probably opted for a sporty Jaguar or the cutting edge prowess of a powerful modern Benz. Opting for a wafting, 'pipe & slippers' Shadow might have seemed a little O.T.T. and perhaps even somewhat premature.

However, our family interest in the Rolls-Royce brand goes back a long way. My grandparents bought themselves a beautiful dark blue (Windsor Blue), Silver Shadow MK2 (1978). I remember going along to Henlys' of Chester with them when the car needed to be serviced or repaired.

My childhood memories of Henlys' provide vivid recollections of palatial showrooms populated by strange looking gentlemen dressed in pinstripe morning suits. These chaps spent their days chasing every last spec of dust that dared alight onto the lustrous flanks of those exquisite motor cars. They'd immediately rub away any greasy finger marks which may have mysteriously appeared onto the chromed radiator grilles or door handles. All this made for a showroom experience like no other. It was on another level. Distinctly, absolutely and quintessentially British in every sense of the word. A relic of old decency and quite simply unique.

However, my father didn't actually become a Rolls-Royce or Bentley owner until the 1990s. He kept his aspiration simmering for twenty years before actually taking the plunge and actually buying one. Until then, he'd stayed faithful to his lovely S-Class Mercedes cars which were (arguably) a much better driver's car than most of the great Crew-built leviathans of the 70s and early 80s.

Bentley Eight

He eventually decided to buy a 1988 Bentley Eight. The Bentley Eight was the model which Crewe had initially introduced as an 'entry-level' Bentley, featuring a more basic specification and a highly distinctive diamond wire mesh "chip cutter" style grille which harked all the way back to Bentley's famous Le Mans heyday.

However, very few Bentley Eight models were ever commissioned with just that basic factory specification of plush velour seats, steel wheels, straight-grain walnut veneers and that unique wire mesh grille. Most Bentley Eights were actually very highly specced. A few of them ended up being some of the most opulent naturally aspirated cars to leave the factory. The options list was limited only by the thickness of the buyer's wallet or perhaps by their ability to call a halt to such automotive excesses.

Eventually, the Bentley Eight model was replaced by the more fully specced Bentley Brooklands which could be specified with a low pressure turbo version of the 6.7 litre V8 Rolls-Royce engine, the engine which had powered every Royce or Bentley to have left the Cheshire factory since 1959.

Post 1986 Bentleys morphed into something that were very distinctively Bentley despite sharing much of their underpinnings with the Rolls-Royce models of the day. A Bentley came with huge, sporty-looking twin Cibié headlamps. They could also boast powerful turbo charged engines and came with notably stiffer suspension systems; a suspension system which helped deliver markedly sharper handling characteristics which helped harness all that incredible extra "oomph!"

All the attention that had been lavished onto the Bentley brand paid huge dividends for the company because it successfully tempted an ever younger following to the fold. A brand new, more youthful and aspirational client base began to appreciate Bentley's new-found coolness, drivability and prowess. There was also a genuine appreciation for the marque's illustrious lineage and legendary sporting heritage.

By the end of the 1980s and into the early 90s, the Bentley name had become synonymous with a brand new breed of highly capable sports saloons. Bentley motor cars no longer resided on the sidelines, merely existing as re-badged Rolls-Royces. Instead, these magnificent creations outsold Rolls-Royce models for the first time ever. It was very easy to understand why because there was an unmistakable level of unashamed luxury and a large degree of Bentleyesque opulence in every car that left the gates of the Crewe factory at Pymm's Lane. An opulence that easily matched that of any Rolls-Royce. Bentley managed to encompass all of it in cars that also provided boundless driving pleasure. Their cars could also provide a serene and relaxing 'first class' environment for aspiring moguls who might have preferred to employ the services of a professional chauffeur.

The fashionable new Bentleys of the 1980s and 90s were a collection of motor cars that could effortlessly rise to any occasion and by so-doing excel at every turn of the key. They truly were automotive behemoths, monarchs of the macadam and a true source of pride and prestige for all those fortunate enough to have experienced them.

The example my father eventually bought was:

A Bentley Eight which had covered just 7,000 miles from new, finished in Royal Ebony metallic. The vehicle came with full RRSH, Parchment leather seats piped Slate with Slate top roll, Parchment knee roll and Parchment rear parcel shelf. It came with beautiful Bird's Eye Maple veneer including the waist rails. The Wilton carpets were beige, piped Slate including tailored Rolls-Royce lambswool over rugs. It was fitted with Bentley alloy wheels and white wall tyres.

The car was purchased from Michael Powles of Norwich.

I still own this vehicle to this day. It has still only covered 44,000 miles from new.


Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring. 

Douglas Hughes