This One-Off 1937 Bentley 4¼ Litre Is Perfect For Delivering Champagne
Photography by Maxence Massaro
Photography by Maxence Massaro
For more than 700 years, the Dampierre family has maintained close ties to the Champagne region of northeastern France. Traditions took root, and, perfected over time, led to Comtes de Dampierre champagne becoming a favorite in French embassies and Michelin-starred restaurants. When the champagne house changed hands some years ago, there were a few things would stay exactly the same under new ownership: a love of champagne, a focus on the best possible terroir, and a passion for vintage sports cars.
To dig into that last piece, we recently caught up with Philippe Rosy, the current chairman and custodian of Champagne Comtes de Dampierre. We meet in the garage where the champagne house’s unique delivery vehicle awaits in half-shadow. It is a one-off Bentley 4¼ Litre that’s almost too perfectly suited for carrying champagne cases through these vineyards.
Philippe, when did your love of Bentleys begin taking its course?
Individuals who pursue a quest for perfection, advanced engineering, performance, and style have always fascinated me. W.O. Bentley is easy to place in that group, both for his extraordinary cars and the life of Bentley Boys that were inspired by his creations. So it came naturally, to be pulled towards pre-war Bentleys. I was interested in them from an early age, and I actually purchased my very first pre-war Bentley at the age of 24. It has remained my day to day car after all these years. My collection continued to grow following this first acquisition.
One can assume that W.O. Bentley and the Bentley Boys were also champagne lovers?
Yes of course! They were living life to the fullest, with panache and exuberance, and champagne was all but de rigueur in most of their ventures. And as a great lover of white wine, I could never forget champagne, which on top of being associated with celebrations or parties, is fore and foremost, a great wine. So when the opportunity arose to own Comtes de Dampierre—a house known for its Grand Cru champagnes—I could not refuse such an opportunity.
Tell us more about the house’s delivery vehicle—what are we looking at here?
As you may know, some champagne houses have a special vehicle, such as Krug and their Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow delivery van. As a true pre-war and vintage Bentley enthusiast, I could not imagine doing our special deliveries or vineyard tours in something like a modern white van. So we brought into the house this one-off 1937 Bentley 4¼ Litre shooting brake, a car with a very special history.
She started her life as a Vanden Plas-bodied tourer before being re-bodied as a shooting brake in 1949 by Vincent’s of Reading. This special machine was then sold in Pebble Beach in 1998 to Roger Saul, founder of the Mulberry fashion house. Under his possession, it was kept for several years at his country hotel in Somerset, England, where it was used to convey guests on fishing trips. It changed hands again in 2003, and was acquired by a hotel guest who decided to have the car restored. I bought it a few years later, and it immediately made sense to bring it to Champagne.
And you brought another Bentley along for the day. Can you tell us a bit about that one?
I believe that Bentleys are cars best enjoyed on long distance journeys, as those long trips allow you to be immersed in these very special cars to the extent that you can’t achieve with just a short drive. So today for instance, I have driven from Bruxelles in the ex-Shah Of Iran’s Bentley Corniche coupe that he used to drive in Geneva. We exhibited this car in Chantilly Concours in September, as the organizers wanted to give a special tribute to the Bentley Centenary.
Speaking of the Bentley Centenary, it seems Comtes de Dampierre was the champagne of choice?
Absolutely. We could not miss this unique occasion, so we teamed up with Bentley Motors to release a special champagne to celebrate the marque’s 100 years of extraordinary achievements. In true Bentley Boys tradition, we sent some bottles to Crewe in a Bentley Continental in July for the official celebrations, where Bentley Motors unveiled the EXP100 prototype to symbolize what a Bentley car could be in another hundred years’ time.
In Pebble Beach, where one of the biggest gathering of extraordinary pre-war Bentleys took place this year, we unveiled the limited edition gift-box that contains a bottle of champagne and a stopper that was directly inspired by the iconic winged-B mascot of 1930s Bentleys, especially the 8 Litres. Our giftbox was offered to Sir Michael Quadric, the owner of this year’s Concours’ best of show winner, a 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Gurney Nutting Sports Tourer.
We also attended the largest-ever gathering of Bentleys in Blenheim Palace in September. Over a thousand cars of all ages attended the event. Quite a sight for sure! A testament to the history of the brand for sure, but also to the lasting enthusiasm of its fans. For instance, this special anniversary giftbox was a hit in Asia, UK, and the USA. It is still available online on our site, but given its success, we have had to limit orders to three per person. We are shipping it now all over the world, but for some of the more local deliveries we will of course make proper use of our shooting brake.
On this special year, you must have added quite a few miles to the house Bentley, no?
Yes, our shooting brake has been extensively driven this year. We brought the car to the UK, to Belgium, and more recently to the Journées d’Automne event in France, which we were partnered with. I am a regular participant with all kind of cars, but one of the most best memories was the time I brought the 1928 Speed Six.
Though it seems very much like you’ve reached it already, what would be the pinnacle of art de vivre?
There’s no one answer, but I can find one of them right here. Just drive to the top of the Bouzy hillside vineyards in a vintage Bentley, open a bottle of our Centenary champagne, and contemplate the sunset. What else could I ask for?