I imagine most would think my ownership experience with weird old cars is a road map of exactly what car enthusiasts should never do. Trading a modern Mercedes-Benz for a vintage Bentley Turbo R may seem like one of these examples — but I don’t think so. For someone looking for a bargain old school luxury experience, it’s hard to beat an old Rolls-Royce or Bentley, but the key is finding the right car to start with. While my car seems like it will have a happy ending, my friend, unfortunately, decided to buy the worst Rolls-Royce I’ve ever seen that still moves under its own power — and his life is surely ruined.
I’m not saying my 1991 Bentley Turbo R is perfect — far from it. It looks to have been repainted by candlelight using rattle cans, but it still drove well enough. Unfortunately, the delicate mineral oil system that controls the hydraulic suspension and braking system was leaking badly, and there were numerous other little problems. Being a lifelong California car, though, it had none of the common rust issues, and it came with loads of service records. Sorting out all the issues wasn’t particularly challenging, or ridiculously expensive either. By rebuilding a few parts himself, and finding some good used parts online, my mechanic, the Car Wizard, saved me about $1,500 from his original $5,000 estimate.
This means I’m into this classic British luxury liner for around $20,000, which is an incredible value for a car that cost $200,000 new. My total investment is also less than the depreciation hit most would take the moment they drive a new Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7 Series off the lot, and while a new luxury sedan will dazzle with all the latest technological wonders, it won’t have the magic of an old Rolls-Royce/Bentley product of this era. The impressive quality of materials found throughout, the deeply cushioned seats and relaxed driving experience are nearly extinct in modern luxury cars– which favor a sporty edge and gadgetry to these original luxury car traits.
If you enjoy all this pomp and circumstance over the latest infotainment systems, then you’ll be extremely happy with the numerous examples available on Autotrader for under $30,000 — but if you’re not used to something always needing attention, and the large repair bills that usually follow, then you’ll probably want to leave the royal family faster than Harry and Meghan. In my mind, though, it’s worth it, since spending $3,000-$5,000 a year on maintenance and repairs is still cheaper than a car payment and depreciation on a new Mercedes C-Class.
Since these cars will always be broken in some way, including mine, which I’ve discovered has a small engine oil leak, it’s easy to let issues pile up to the point where it becomes overwhelming. While my Bentley wasn’t a lost cause, my friend decided that trading his BMW 3 Series for an extremely neglected 1979 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith II was a good idea. The previous owner had gotten it running (barely) by purchasing a generic fuel pump and dropping it into the dirty fuel take — but it needs literally everything.
Rust holes in the roof caused by leaks in the vinyl top allowed water to penetrate the interior — and ruin everything inside. The engine refuses to idle, and the exhaust has a major leak, or perhaps no longer exists, and even the General Motors transmission was slipping under heavy throttle. So other than the spirit of ecstasy ornament, there is nothing else on this Rolls-Royce that’s salvageable. It was amazing to see one of these stately old beasts in such disrepair — and after tour of everything ruined on this tragic roller, I attempted to go for a drive. This lasted about half a mile before leaving me stranded, and rather than continuing to share this nightmare with my friend, I decided to walk home.
He’s vowed to fix the car, which makes me look like a totally rational individual in comparison, but I can’t say much considering I’m the closest living example to the metaphorical man in the glass house when it comes to owning terrible cars. Still, as if you didn’t know this already, you should never ever buy a cheap old Rolls-Royce or Bentley. Find a Rolls-Royce for sale or Find a Bentley for sale