AS A wee boy in Glasgow, David Watt loved going out in his dad’s car. It was always quite an adventure, not least because his father was paralysed down his left side and had to ask David or one of his sisters – or anyone else who happened to be with him at the time – to operate some of the controls, like the switch for the windscreen wipers.
“I remember on some occasions my sister turning on the wipers and then being asked to hold the steering wheel while dad cleaned his glasses with both hands off the wheel. Terrifying!” In the 1960s, there were many trips on family holidays to the seaside in Ireland and the north of Scotland, and the car always came home full of sand and a collection of seashells inside. The car was something special – not just for the memories, but also because it had been in the family for many years.
A period of absence followed, but now, after many more years, piles of paperwork and a fair bit of expense, the car is back in the family having returned from across the Atlantic to reside in the Scottish Borders with the grown-up David and his wife, Victoria.
The splendid 4.9-litre straight-six engined Bentley S1 had been bought first of all by his grandfather, Philip Ellis, in London in 1957 – at more than £4,600 (including Purchase Tax), it was the price of a family home, so a major investment. But Philip had always wanted a Bentley after seeing them race at Brooklands in the 1920s. In 1965, it was passed on to Philip’s son-in-law, David’s father, Eric McKellar Watt – the founder of the famous sausage company who’d established his business in Dobbies Loan in post-war Glasgow.
During the war, in 1943, Eric was shot and seriously wounded while serving with the army in Greece. He made it back to the UK but, at the age of 23, was told that he would never walk again or drive.
However, Eric was a determined man. Not only did he get back on his feet eventually, even though he was paralysed down his left side, he also managed to get back behind the wheel thanks to power steering and a gear change lever on the right hand side of the steering column of a 1950s Rover.
The Bentley had the same set-up so it was ideal for Eric’s limited mobility. He took over ownership in 1965 and, over the next six years, used it every day. “That car always went wherever dad went – even down rough country tracks, usually leading to remote lochs… Dad was a very keen angler!” David recalls. One day, at the McKellar Watt factory, word spread that the boss planned to sell the Bentley and replace it with a Mercedes. “That didn’t go down well,” says David. “A union official asked to see dad and told him the employees wouldn’t accept that – they wanted the boss to be seen driving a Bentley!”
David was eight when his father sold the S1 to a dealer from London, a decision which everyone in the family regretted. “At every family gathering after that, there was always talk about the old Bentley and why on earth Dad had parted with her. The car said everything about him and his determination to fight back after being so badly wounded in the war,” adds his son. And no-one regretted the loss of the Bentley more than David. “It was probably the childhood memories but I always thought I’d love to have a Bentley like dad’s and granddad’s.”
Then one day at work he saw a sheaf of papers on the desk of a colleague who was going to Wales to buy a Bentley from a specialist dealer, so David went along for the ride. “He had some fabulous cars and I mentioned Dad’s old car. He asked me the chassis number which of course I didn’t know, but thank goodness I remembered the registration TLL 360. He tapped that into the computer and up came all the paperwork relating to the car, including granddad’s spindly signature on the original purchase documents.”
The good news was the car was still on the road. The bad news was that the road was in Canada. The S1 had been bought in 1971 by a Canadian Consulate figure in London who then took it with him when he returned home. After two subsequent owners, it had ended up in the hands of the secretary of the Canadian Rolls Royce Enthusiasts’ Club, Roger Hadfield, father of Chris, the Commander of the International Space Station who hit the headlines recently with his social network rendition of Major Tom while in zero-gravity, miles above the earth.
David contacted Roger but was told the car wasn’t for sale, as it was destined for Chris… but then, four months later, word came back that Roger had now decided it could be passed on. “Roger told me there was only one person in the world he’d sell her to, and that was me. It was an unbelievable moment,” says David.
Much paperwork later – and for the price of a modern family hatchback – the car arrived back in Scotland. “Roger had fully restored the car and she drives beautifully. It is hard to say for sure how many miles she’s covered but I reckon about a quarter of a million, if not more. I’ve clocked up about 10,000 miles in the seven years I’ve had her, but I only take her out in the summer months.”
One of its most significant journeys was in 2007 for the wedding of David’s nephew, Mark Plews – great grandson of the original owner. “It was only two weeks after we got her back and my mum Pat was in the car for the trip up to the wedding and she was quite moved as there were so many memories.
“Dad would have been tickled pink to know I’ve got her back – and that she’s still doing great work for the family. Unfortunately, he died in 2001 but the happy memories live on – as does TLL 360.”