Driving a Bentley Collection
August 15, 2019
Above: Eight individual Bentleys, including the 1954 Bentley R Type Continental Park Ward Sports Saloon that was a class winner at Pebble Beach in 2011. Alongside it is the 1959 Bentley S Continental Mulliner “High Wing” Fastback Coup.. The one Rolls-Royce among the group is a Silver Cloud H.J. Mulliner Convertible Coup. (style number 7410).
If collecting could be described as a highly developed form of appreciation, then Fred Kriz is indeed a collector — and the focus of his appreciation is the Bentley marque.
By Rebén Verdés
When you engage with Fred Kriz, you’ll quickly notice a friendly soft-spoken conversational tone — peppered with smiles — coming from a man of elegant form and stature with no discernible accent to reveal his Austrian origins. Those smiles become wider when he is talking about cars, a subject he would much rather talk about than talk about himself.
Like many enthusiasts, his visceral appreciation for automobiles came early: “Well, I’ve always been fond of cars — ever since my childhood.” Yet his road to becoming a collector was a long one. His family moved from Austria to Australia, where he spent his formative years and became involved in the automobile industry. Later, he moved to Canada and then to the United States, where he would develop an expertise in real estate, focusing on commercial and apartment complexes. He then began to spend time in England and Europe and finally settled in Monaco. The growth of his real estate business allowed him to find and buy the cars he had a taste for.
“For the early part of collecting, my focus was on Mercedes-Benz,” Fred recalls. His first serious collector car was a 300 SL roadster he purchased in the 1970s, and his appreciation for the marque grew. “In the 1980s when living in California — I was still very much a Mercedes enthusiast at that time — Scott Grundfor did a number of restorations for me.” Eventually he came to own a prewar example; an impressive 1937 540K Special Coupe that would be the first car he showed at Pebble Beach.
“Scott Grundfor suggested that the cars we were preparing were worthy to be shown,” says Kriz. So he entered his 540K in 1991 in the Mercedes-Benz 1935–1940 class, which included two other 540Ks and three 500Ks. Fred enjoyed the experience and remembers one compliment in particular: “Ralph Lauren came by and congratulated me on what he thought was a winning car.” Indeed, the car was awarded First in Class.
Fred soon started entering vintage driving rallies: “In the early ’90s I was disenchanted with a 540K that I used in a rally — a very difficult drive, a very heavy car to drive. I wanted to do more prewar car rallies, so I asked a friend what he would suggest would be a good driving car — and he asked if I had ever driven a Derby Bentley. I went to see P & A Wood, drove one of their cars and became a Bentley fan, which is what I’ve done since — purchasing, restoring, and collecting.” The “Derby” Bentleys were those cars made by Rolls-Royce at its factory in Derby after it acquired the Bentley marque in 1931. After the Second World War, all automobile production moved to the company’s factory at Crewe, where wartime aero-engines had been built and where Bentleys are made to this day.
Fred dove right in: “I purchased two Derby Bentleys from Paul Wood, and I have two Derby Bentleys now, but they’re not the same cars. The first car I brought from him, which was a Gurney Nutting Owen Sedanca, I took on two Monte Carlo rallies, which were about a five-day drive. I had nothing but fun and success with them as a driving prewar car.”
Over the years, Fred built a collection of dozens of Bentleys, with a few examples of Rolls-Royce and other marques, and he has definite ideas about his approach: “In an ideal situation, one tries to find the most original, un-tampered-with car that is possible. However, that is not always possible. Rare cars are more interesting to me. I do like the more standard cars from the top British coachbuilders (H.J. Mulliner, Park Ward, James Young, etc), but the one-off designs — particularly from coachbuilders that rarely mounted bodies on Bentley chassis — if you have the opportunity to buy it, you’re happy to have it.” As his collection progressed, his attraction to each new acquisition “evolved over time, with the objective of filling an open spot in the collection. For example, if you have an automatic example of a model, finding a manual version is attractive.”
While he began with Derby Bentleys, his focus has evolved toward the postwar coachbuilt cars — especially the Bentley Continental R-Types and the S1, S2, and S3 — as well as the rare and attractive examples of coachbuilt Mark VIs. And by the same criteria, the same is true for Rolls-Royces, although Bentleys are now about 75 percent of the collection.
In addition to his evolved focus in collecting, he has also focused on his go-to sources. “I’ve been very fortunate because the two gentlemen that I’ve worked with — Richard Gorman at Vantage Motorworks in Florida and Paul Wood at P & A Wood in England — both have done beautiful restorations for me. I’m very cognizant of their ability and integrity in what is correct for the cars, and they are my biggest go-to for what to buy and guiding the restorations.”
Reflecting on his longtime relationship with Fred, Richard Gorman says, “Fred is a pleasure to work with. His sensitivity to color and design as well as respect for the history and correctness of his cars
is quite an inspiration for any restorer.” Paul Wood adds that “Mr. Kriz is a great enthusiast and has built up a remarkable collection of rare and interesting Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars. We feel privileged to have sold him his first Bentley, a Bentley 4¼ Litre Gurney Nutting Sedanca Coupe, which I think sparked his enthusiasm to go on and form his collection.”
Fred regularly participates in Bentley Drivers Club and Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club events throughout Europe and also enjoys showing his cars all over the world. Last year, he entered cars in the Cavallino Classic Sports Sunday at Mar-a-Lago, the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, and the Hampton Court Palace Concours in addition to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
“Pebble Beach is the most prestigious concours d’elegance in the world,” says Kriz. “And if I have something that they’re happy to show, then I’m delighted to be there.”
Fred enjoys collecting Bentleys because of the variety of coachbuilt models and the satisfaction achieved in driving them. Kriz says he likes to “concentrate on a particular marque that has many derivatives, many coachbuilders,” and he notes that in the classic era “English car builders — epitomized by Rolls-Royce and Bentley — were at the top of their game.”
When asked if he has a favorite example in his collection, Fred takes a long moment to ponder the question — he really likes all of his cars — but then he answers. Among his Bentleys, he favors what he refers to as “the S2 Onassis car”— and his favorite among the other marques is a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II H.J. Mulliner 4-door convertible. “They had a real winner with that car.”
The “Onassis car” is a 1960 S2 Continental with fastback coachwork by H.J. Mulliner. In the postwar era, Bentley and Rolls-Royce began to build complete cars, i.e., both the chassis and the bodies. (In the prewar era, as for most premium marques, the two companies produced only the chassis; the bodies were designed, built, and mounted on those chassis by an array of coachbuilders, often to customers’ exacting specifications.) While manufacturing complete cars marked a new direction in the postwar era for Bentley and Rolls-Royce, there was still the possibility of engaging a coachbuilder for those who desired that premium service.
There were no standard-bodied postwar Bentley Continentals — this model was conceived to always have exclusive coachbuilt bodies. The first iteration of one iconic design was made for the R-Type Continental — H.J. Mulliner’s “2-door 4-light lightweight saloon,” design 7277, with its attractive and sleek “fastback” lines. That design was revised and redesignated 7400 for the S-Type, the chassis that followed the R-Type and was later known as the S1 after the introduction of the S2. There were no plans to revise that design for the introduction of the S2, which featured a new V8 engine to replace the straight six of the S1, but an exception was made for one car ordered by shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who wanted a 7400 body on his new S2 Continental chassis BC41LAR. (Chassis numbers are very important for the Bentley and Rolls-Royce enthusiast and collector; and here we can fully identify the chassis: “B” for Bentley, ‘C’ for Continental, “L” for left-hand drive, and “41” in the sequence of the “AR” series.) The new model required modifications to the design, particularly due to the new V8 engine — so much so that a new design number was assigned: the 7519. For unknown reasons, Mr. Onassis did not take delivery of the car, and no other examples of that design were made. While at first glance the car looks just like a 7400, there are various pronounced changes — like the forward slant of the grille, and the single-piece rear bumper.
Fred’s favorite Rolls-Royce is also a one-off — a 1961 Silver Cloud II long-wheelbase chassis (LLCB16) with 4-door cabriolet coachwork by H.J. Mulliner. This car was ordered by Louis Marx, the toy manufacturer (who is often and wrongly credited for inventing the yo-yo, though his version was wildly successful). Marx built what became the largest toy company in the United States by the 1950s, appearing on the cover of the 12 December 1955 issue of Time magazine. He also enjoyed fine automobiles: for example, in 1933 he purchased a new Chrysler Imperial (chassis 7803648) with Dual Cowl Phaeton coachwork by LeBaron. And he liked to be chauffer driven, so he owned a 1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith (LDLW42) with touring limousine coachwork by H.J. Mulliner. He also admired another H.J. Mulliner creation, their 2-door convertible design 7410 — and he ordered one — but he specified that it be a 4-door convertible, so he could be chauffer driven. The result was design 7484. The most stunning feature is that the rear doors are not mounted in a “suicide” configuration but on a free-standing B-pillar, allowing a sleek look with the top down (just like a 7410). Two more versions of this design were created for five subsequent Silver Cloud III chassis (still retaining the two-headlight configuration of the Silver Cloud II version), but LLCB16 was the first and only Silver Cloud II with this coachwork.
When discussing his cars, Fred often focuses on their driving attributes: “I drive all the cars in my collection; and I regularly drive from London to the South of France. I find the Bentley Continental revs around 3000 [rpm] at near-to-slightly-above the speed limit, which makes for an enjoyable drive.”
Fred shows no signs of slowing down in business, or in collecting and driving cars. But as he looks forward to the long road ahead, which car will he choose to drive? Fred smiles, “That will be the most difficult and thrilling decision of the day.”