Trans-European camping road trip… in a vintage 1926 Bentley

Bentley-Vanden-Plas-camping-006Dave S. Clark

When one thinks about doing a camping trip of a life time – a 4100-km grand tour of Europe – they think long and hard about what type of car they should take on such a journey. They may think of taking a VW Westfalia or a Volvo wagon. Maybe even a small SUV. What doesn’t come to anyone’s mind is taking an antique Bentley.

Well, nobody except Anthony Belcher. 

Most people probably base the decision on what car to take based on fuel consumption, leg room, comfort and reliability. They would not come up with a 1926 Bentley Vanden Plas bodied tourer.

But that didn’t stop Anthony from starting up the three-litre motor that was nearly 90 years old, packing up a tent in the trunk and hitting the open road with his wife, Ros. The six-week long trip from their home in Britain, to eastern France, then to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Then they’d head back to the south of France then to Calais and finally back home.

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The short-chassis vintage Bentley is very original, still keeping the factory body and Smith five-jet carburetor. Many cars have been coverted to Le Mans-bodied replicas and most owners also change over to Sloper carbs, but not this example.

Anthony purchased it 2004 from Beaulieu Garage in Hampshire and it was a runner, but a bit of a project.

“Mechanically it sounded dreadful with knocks bangs and splutters, but above all this, it had that charisma that you only get from driving a vintage Bentley. I just had to buy it – warts and all,” Anthony recalls.

Just outside St. Moritz, Switzerland.

He drove the car for about two years until he remembers hearing his 18-year-old son shout “Conrod!” after hearing a bang in the engine. He immediately shut off the engine and it was in fact a broken connecting rod, which meant it was time for an expensive rebuild. It would be off the road for six months, but in that time, there was a two-week road trip planned to Devon and Cornwall.

With the Bentley in the shop, what do you do? Rent a car? Nonsense! You take your 1926 Austin Twelve. He had previously taken a camping trip to France in his TVR Taimar, so this wouldn’t be that difficult. Despite rainy weather, there were no problems and the Austin held up.

With the rebuilt engine running smoothly in the vintage Bentley, the next year the couple were off to France again for another big trip. They stayed in small hotels and guest houses and when they returned, Anthony had an idea. He could buy a tent for £50, stuff it in the back of the Bentley and even if they got one night’s stay out of it, it would have paid for itself.

And ever since, they’ve been camping more and more with every trip, which culminated into the massive trip across Europe last September.

The rare car has now not only changed how they travel, it defines it. Imagine pulling  into a campsite and seeing the rare and expensive classic. Beside it, a little blue tent.

“It’s travelling in the Bentley which makes our holiday.  People are always happy to see us and constantly want to know about the car. We have arrived at several campsites and been applauded by all the other campers as we make our way to find our pitch for the night,” said Anthony. “They all want to take photographs and talk about the car before we have a chance to put the tent and get ourselves organized for the night. They, without exception, always wait to see us off in the following morning shouting a cheery ‘bon voyage’. It’s great fun something you certainly would not get travelling in a more modern car.”

So how did the very vintage Bentley hold up for a six-week journey that stretched nearly 2,600 miles? It wasn’t without its hiccups, but it made it back without any major issues. A switch for the brake lights failed, which caused the lights to stay on constantly, so they were disconnected instead. The engine got a bit hot from time to time as it climbed through mountain passes in the Swiss Alps, but that just meant Anthony had to take a few pit stops to let the engine cool for a few moments.

Overall, Anthony was very happy with the Bentley’s performance and can’t wait for the next European road trip!

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