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The Bentley T1, My Second English Saloon

By the late 70s, my high-end audio business was running on all cylinders. I had expanded my footprint to four retail locations and even started a professional equipment division. When rock stars needed the right gear for the stage (or to replace gear that they smashed on stage), I was there to thrill them so they could thrill their fans.

By jeff mason

May 5, 2021

I decided to use the fruits of my labor to buy a house and then proceeded to add an indoor pool. Remember this was Buffalo New York, where it snows approximately 300 days a year. I expected the house/pool project would keep me interested. It didn’t. I was itching to get out among car-minded people and do something exciting. Following my passion, I decided that flipping exotic cars was the ticket for me.

A New Car Flipping Venture

My approach to this new business venture was varied. Sometimes I’d buy a car outright. Sometimes, I would just broker the deal. I enjoyed the action and along the way met a host of interesting characters. One was a gent named Larry Farrell, who I’ll never forget. He was one of the first people to figure out how to lease a high-end exotic vehicle.

A 1977 Ferrari 308 GTB Robert Minnick leased in 1978.

We take leasing for granted now but there was a time when few exotic car manufacturers had captive lease programs. Leases were simply not available for certain cars; you were expected to pay cash if you planned to drive one home. I leased the red 1977 Ferrari 308GTB in the photo above from Larry (I finally got my “red” Ferrari).

His out-of-the-box approach eventually morphed into a full-blown business, becoming today’s Putnam Leasing Company, LLC, headed up by my friend Steven Posner. But, before his notions blossomed, I just knew Larry as a good friend who was fun to hang and talk cars with. I immediately said yes when he called to ask if I was available to “pitch in” at the Aston Martin exhibit at the 1978 New York Auto Show.

Aston Martin wasn’t really selling many cars those days. They’d recently been acquired by Peter Sprague and, as part of the company reorganization, Larry became the unofficial finance guy. I became the unofficial, roaming sales agent.
Morris Longstreth Hallowell IV, the new (official) CEO at Aston Martin, Larry, and I manned the booth at the show, which was stocked with an outrageous 1977 Baby Blue Lagonda (sporting a nifty set of white wall tires) and several examples of the V8 and Vantage models. The show was a rousing success and we sold four cars, including an Aston Martin V8 painted a dark burgundy with cream hides and burgundy piping. Very tasteful. I love contrasting piping to this day. This brokered deal involved taking two cars in trade: a Black 1973 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and a two tone Brown/Taupe 1973 Bentley T1. Each car had less than 10,000 miles on the clock and were cosmetically perfect.

The Rolls would prove to be an easy resale but the Bentley posed a real challenge. Rolls owned Bentley and that made for too much overlap, unlike today, with BMW owning Rolls Royce and VW owning Bentley. Bentley’s T series was identical in every way to the Silver Shadow but for the grille. The traditional round-shouldered Bentley grille gave the T an assertive look but it was a dud in the resale department. The Bentley was no match for the aristocratic lines of the Rolls Royce and its iconic grille. My deal for the Aston Martin was about to fall through if I couldn’t come with a home for the T.

Closing the Bentley Deal

Determined and stubborn as usual, I decided to fly to Waco, Texas to meet a potential buyer and see what I could do to close the deal. And close it I did. I ended up buying the Bentley for myself. Turns out, the Texan was a much better salesperson than I was. His name was Ed Swearingen, the founder and CEO of Fairchild Aircraft. Ed knew his way around airplanes and cars.

He was also a good guy and gave me a great deal. I was able to buy the Bentley for less than wholesale, drive it for a bit, and then resell it to a dealer in Florida. If you’ve read my car stories, you’ll remember this was the second Bentley I owned.

For a Friday date night, I didn’t mind driving the T1, even though it didn’t have tables in the back, like my Bentley Bar Car, which was a 1956 Bentley S1 Saloon.

The car did have thick Wilton hand-tufted carpets with mouton rugs, which I just thought was the cat’s meow. The nap on that stuff was incredible. I used to drive around with my shoes off just to feel the carpets.

Beyond my fleeting infatuation with the floor covering, I didn’t have the car long. I was getting my thrills from the profits, from the buying and the selling. I knew that if I bought the car at the low (low, low) price being offered and added a bit of time, I could find a sale that would net me more than a few bucks.

What I couldn’t afford was to lose the sale of the Aston Martin. And, I didn’t.

Robert P. Minnick is founder and CEO of the Piston Foundation. The cars in his life and the people he calls friends because of those cars inspired him to create a national fundraising platform to preserve car culture. He’d like nothing better than to know future generations can have car experiences as memorable as his own.

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