We take to the road in a well-maintained example of the imposing and luxurious Bentley S3

Words and images: Jack Grover  With thanks to: Villiers Classics

The Silver Cloud III/S3 incorporated only small improvements over the previous model (which had seen major mechanical upgrades with the arrival of the V8 engine), many of which were required by safety legislation. Hence the padded fascia and the change to twin front seats rather than a bench (albeit still touching and with individual armrests). There were also upgrades to the power steering and the V8 had a little more power.

By this stage the standard Bentley S3 was identical to the Silver Cloud III other than its badges and the radiator shell (which allowed it to be priced slightly lower than the Cloud). The last glimmer of Bentley independence was that buyers could still opt for a coachbuilt Continental with aluminium coupe bodywork, to designs by either H.J. Mulliner or Park Ward (although both names had been under Rolls-Royce ownership and combined operation since 1961).

Mulliner also produced the famous Flying Spur four-door sports saloon variant of the Continental. These coachbuilt models cost about 50 per cent more than a standard S3 saloon, which itself cost more than three times as much as the most expensive Jaguar MkX.

Speaking for myself, I’ve always thought that the final version of the Bentley S-type/Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud was one of the best-looking cars Crewe ever made. I know that many others dislike the mix of the modern quad headlamps and low-cut front wings with the traditional sweeping rear wings and a ‘razor edge’ tail, but that’s exactly why I like it.

These are imposing cars, by both sheer size and their finely-hewn shape, and the vague nod to the 1960s at the front end adds a level of smooth muscularity that, if it doesn’t exactly speak of speed, certainly speaks of power. That’s especially true for the Bentley S3, where the round-topped radiator shell blends with the new front-end lines better than the Rolls-Royce Grecian temple, giving the car a look that, to me, alternately conjures up either FAB 1 from Thunderbirds or one of those streamlined American steam locomotives from the 1930s.

It looks particularly good in this combination of blue over silver/grey, set off by gleaming brightwork and teamed perfectly with a light blue/grey leather interior. With just under 120,00 miles recorded, this Bentley S3 is not a low-mileage stunner by any means, but its overall condition speaks of a car that has been well maintained and had all necessary work and refurbishment done as required. At time of writing the car is for sale at Villiers Classics in Lincolnshire.

The car has been through six previous keepers, the one before Villiers Classics owning the car since 1997 and being responsible for most of the crucial cosmetic and mechanical upkeep during the 30-something years/100,000 miles part of its life when old cars, even Bentleys, can quickly deteriorate. It has its original handbook, logbook and servicing invoices going back to the early 1980s.

Using the familiar dainty key to bring the big V8 rumbling into distant life, the most striking first impression was chilled air issuing from the dashtop vents. Not only was the Bentley S3’s functional air conditioning a very welcome situation, but it’s very unusual on cars of this age. It also felt rather odd to be sitting in a 1960s car with the décor and styling that wouldn’t be out of place in the 1940s and having cold air wafting in your face. The big gear selector clicks from neutral straight into ‘4’ with the usual hefty feel and, barely needing more than a fast idle, the Bentley sets off.

A brief stint on narrow country roads is not the best ground to fully evaluate a Bentley, but this one had all the mechanical smoothness, structural solidity and audio refinement that you could expect. It ghosted up to 30mph with barely any throttle travel, with the gearbox shifting smoothly (almost imperceptibly on light throttle). The power steering acted silently and with a finger-tip lightness. It’s always rather incredible how these preposterously large, heavy cars with their separate chassis and leaf springs manage to somehow hide their size and weight when you’re behind the wheel.

Bentley S3: our verdict

The T-type/Silver Shadow is still many people’s default choice for a practical classic from Crewe. But prices for good T-types are now far above the realms of ‘bargain’ or even ‘affordable’ for many – you’d pay the same for a good S3 as for a good T1. That being the case, why not go for the Bentley S3 – a car that really looks and feels like a classic Bentley – rather than the ‘everyman’ T-type?