The Front Line: Market opinion from Giles Crickmay

The Front Line: Market opinion from Giles Crickmay 29th November 2018

“The real strength in the market that we deal in is definitely in the immediate post-War period – the 1950s up to about the mid-1960s, prior to the Silver Shadow. Looking at our sales this year, it’s mostly been S1s, S2s, S3s and R-types. We’ve sold three S1 Dropheads in the past three months, so that’s a very popular model and seems to be becoming the must-have post-War Bentley for any collector.”

Few people know the Rolls-Royce and Bentley market better than Giles Crickmay. Along with his sister Emma – plus workshop manager Vincent Roma and general manager Greg West – Crickmay runs renowned West London specialist Frank Dale & Stepsons. He joined the company in 2006 and worked alongside his late father, James, and Ivor Gordon. We start by discussing what he learned from the two men…

“What didn’t I learn? Ivor had been doing this since 1959, and there wasn’t much he didn’t know in terms of Rolls-Royce and Bentley. My father joined the company in 1980, and between them I reckon they must have had getting on for 100 years’ experience. So there wasn’t much they hadn’t seen in terms of booming markets and downturns and what’s popular.”

The Franay-bodied Bentley Mk VI pictured outside the company's first showroom in Paddington
The Franay-bodied Bentley Mk VI pictured outside the company's first showroom in Paddington

Frank Dale established his company in 1946, a time when most of the cars in which it now specialises hadn’t yet been built. Inevitably, customers’ demands have changed over the decades.  

“I think that the post-War market is [now] definitely stronger than the pre-War market. A lot of guys who were buying the pre-War cars 20, 30 or 40 years ago are getting into an S1 Continental or a Cloud III, which are much more manageable and less tiring to drive.

“The modern buyers don’t seem to have the love for the pre-War cars that the previous generation did. I see them looking at more modern-feeling classics, such as S1s, S2s and S3s with an automatic gearbox, power steering, a good heating system. They can put a stereo in there somewhere and there’s air-conditioning if they want that.”

Over the course of more than 70 years, Frank Dale & Stepsons has dealt with numerous significant cars. Is there one in particular that Crickmay would love to have back?

“We owned the Franay-bodied MkVI – the drophead with frogskin interior that’s won everything from Louis Vuitton and Pebble Beach to Ville d’Este. We owned that car in the 1950s, and I would dearly love to own it now!”

Frank Dale (centre) with stepsons Ivor (l) and John Gordon (r)
Frank Dale (centre) with stepsons Ivor (l) and John Gordon (r)
L-r: James Crickmay, Ivor Gordon and Giles Crickmay
L-r: James Crickmay, Ivor Gordon and Giles Crickmay

What would he recommend buying now as a good investment? “My honest advice would be an S1 Continental Coupé by Park Ward. The rule of thumb is that a fixed-head version of a model is worth about half the drophead version, but the gulf between an S1 Drophead and its sister, the S1 fixed-head by Park Ward, is vast. It’s approaching a million pounds in some respects.

“If an S1 Drophead is now well over a million for a very good one, an equivalent S1 Coupé is about £300,000. Basic common sense dictates that it should do very well and get pulled along in the slipstream, and perhaps appreciate faster than others.

“Of the S2s, I would say a Continental Coupé by HJ Mulliner. Less than 100 built, all-aluminium, super-stylish. They’re lovely to drive and you can pick one up for less than £300,000 for a really nice one.

“If I had £600,000 sitting about and I wanted to buy two cars that, in 10 years, I want to take the dust covers off and see what they’re worth, those would be the two I’d go for.”

In terms of choosing the one car that he’d have purely for his own enjoyment, Crickmay doesn’t hesitate…

“I’ve already got an R-type Continental, which I’m incredibly fortunate to have. If I picked another car to go with it, I’d have an S1 Drophead – no doubt about it. They’re the two blue-chip post-War Bentleys that most collectors either have or admire or covet. They’re fantastic motor cars, both of them.”

Finally, how does Crickmay view the current market? “Everything’s cyclical. We had a particularly strong time from about 2006 to 2014 – even during credit crunches and downturns and massive uncertainty. The past four years have not been quite so bubbly. A ceiling was reached on some models, and a few came back a bit.

“That’s all settled down now. Nothing goes on forever in terms of continual appreciation. The underlying factor is that the people we deal with still like quality and they will pay for quality. People are becoming more choosy, more selective. If you’ve got attractive cars in great condition with good history, there’s always going to be someone for them down the line. You’ve just got to have the right cars.”

Photos by Frank Dale and Stepsons