Derry Mallalieu was one of the first of the Bentley Mk6 special builders to put a special into production, and one of the most prolifc. The easy availability of rusty Mk6 Bentleys and their separate chassis proved ideal for the construction of basic sports bodies and a number of firms flourished in the 1970s, building these sporting chariots for the brave few.
Mallalieu built his first special in America during the 1960s, but returned to Abingdon, Oxfordshire, with the idea of making the car in series. Using a modified Mk6 chassis, he built a fabric-covered aluminium body over an ash frame. With cycle wings, a long bonnet and right-hand gear lever, the result evoked convincing images of Bentleys in the 1930s.
The frst Mallalieu, built in 1974, was a 2+2 called the Barchetta, but Mallalieu already had plans for a two-seater with flowing wings to be called the Mercia (later, the Oxford). Unfortunately, he died in 1975 and never saw the new car, which his company completed in 1976. By this time, demand for both models- especially from the USA - had made Mallalieu one of the biggest Mk6 conversion firms, if not the biggest.
The cars were not cheap - 9,950 pounds for a Barchetta and 15,000 pounds for a Mercia in 1977. But their prices reflected the time it took to hand-build the cars: four months for a Barchetta and six for a Mercia.
Without a doubt, these were impeccably con- ceived vehicles offering vintage grand touring without vintage reliability headaches. There were even the options of aluminium disc wheels, high-geared rear axles for touring, and a supercharger.
The company branched out in a very different direction when it announced plans to manufacture the William Towns-designed Microdot microcar. How- ever, with its luxury specification indicating a price of 10,000 pounds the project looked unfeasible and the idea was dropped.
In 1980 Mallalieu built a one-off for an American client, John Weitz. Called the X600, this strange- looking Camaro-based sports car looked for a time as if it might be built to special order by Mallalieu. But by early 1981 the firm was experiencing financial diff- culties which led to insolvency. It left behind a legacy of several dozen delightful Bentley sports cars.

© and Copy, 1996-1998:

Paul Negyesi