This 1958 Bentley, once stolen by Saddam Hussein, has returned to its original glory
Of all the perfectly turned-out classics we saw gracing the lawn at the Inn at St. John’s for this year’s Concours of America, none could top the backstory of this 1958 Bentley S1 Continental. Rescued by Jim and Patty George of Clinton Township, Michigan, this sporting four-place convertible coupe was originally sold to an Iraqi crown prince. It logged barely 10,000 miles during its star-crossed Iraqi days.
That’s probably the least interesting part. It was eventually confiscated from its rightful owner by Saddam Hussein. We’ll get to that. First a brief history.
Upon its introduction, Britain’s Autocar exclaimed, “The new Bentley offers a combination of safety, comfort, and performance beyond the imagination of most of the world’s motorists.” Period documentation indicates that the Park Ward coachwork over the Bentley’s chassis cost Prince Abd al-Ilah of Hejaz the equivalent of $13,000 in 1958—or $112,000 with 60 years of inflation factored in. The 4.9-liter inline-six F-head engine produced 178 horsepower and was teamed with a four-speed Hydramatic, good for a top speed of 120 mph. The standard equipment list included power steering, automatic transmission, two-mode rear dampers, radio, Connolly Vaumol leather trim, and fold-down rear back rest. Only 31 S1 Continentals were configured with left-hand drive.
The Bentley left England with a silver metallic exterior, but Prince Abd al-llah only had a few months to enjoy it; he was killed in the 1958 Iraqi coup d’état on July 14 that year. Ten years later the car was acquired by Baghdad businessman named Janabi, who painted it white to use for his son’s wedding. The car then appeared in the 1992 Iraqi film King Ghazi, which garnered the attention of dictator Saddam Hussein. Saddam allegedly first offered to buy the car, but after several refusals simply took the Bentley for his own collection. At some point the car was repainted in silver and blue two-tone.
In the aftermath of the second Iraq war and the fall of the Hussein regime, the general mayhem reached the Bentley and the car was mutilated by vandals and even received some axe wounds. On bright side, Janabi wisely kept registration documents and he was eventually restored as the car’s rightful owner when hostilities subsided. Steven Maman, a Montreal-based broker and collector, purchased the tattered remains in 2015 and shipped them from Iraq to Canada. In 2016 the Bentley was sold to Jim George and transported to Richard Gorman’s Vantage Motor Works in North Miami for its 17-month restoration. (Editor’s note: A previous version of this story described some of the damage resulting in bullet holes. Mr. Maman states that was not the case, having seen the car in person before restoration.)
Craftsmen overhauled the engine, replaced broken glass, installed missing parts such as the decklid, straightened the aluminum bodywork, refurbished the slashed upholstery and splintered dash, installed a new fully-lined convertible top, and painted the Bentley the same silver metallic hue it was born with. To commence its second life in style, the car appeared at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Based on its unique history, current condition, and sales of like cars, the Georges’ Bentley is worth at least $2 million. It won a blue ribbon for best in class status at this year’s Concours of America.
George, a retired real estate developer, loves sharing his collection of two dozen keepsakes with classic car enthusiasts. No fan of trailer queens, he adds: “Weather permitting, I drive at least one of my cars every day.”