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Reinventing the Wheel

Gary Wales: Holier Rollers

October 29, 1998|PAUL DEAN

Sticking with the British, Gary Wales wraps his visions within the dictums and dreams of Charles Rolls, Henry Royce and W.O. Bentley.

Rolls, a salesman who billed his product "The Best Car in the World." Royce, a manufacturer who believed his partner's best was simply a starting point for making something better. Bentley, the engine builder who said weight and over-engineering equaled strength and durability.

And there is Wales of Woodland Hills, keeper of all three flames, who rescues, restores, preserves--and then redesigns--vintage Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars to his own concepts.

"I like to think I'm improving upon perfection," says Wales, 57, of creations that have included a Boattail Bentley Speedster. It never existed in factory form but showed lines fine enough to fool some Bentley owners most of the time. "I take what is considered junk and bring it back. These old parts are too precious to waste, and what better use than to put them in a new classic car?"

Wales' newest antique and a 15-year personal dream in progress is his handmade Bentley Royale. Again, there never was such a car. But Wales likes to think there could have been had the old designers been able to use his talents and modern construction methods.

The Royale's enormous V-16 engine delivers 600 horsepower from a pair of Rolls-Royce inline-8s linked by coupling gears. The frame is from a 1938 Silver Wraith, the body from a 1939 Sedanca de Ville. The landau top is covered by elephant hide, and the hood ornament is by Lalique.

"Every piece on this car, all the instruments, every nut and bolt, all the systems, are genuine and from every type of Rolls and Bentley built between 1920 and 1970," Wales says. "I add my own design, the way James Brewster added his coach-building designs to Rolls-Royce chassis and engines in Springfield, Mass., in the '20s."

Wales' dream machine is for sale.

At the nightmare price of $500,000.

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