When the UK’s first Bentley Bentayga went on display in London this in December the self-proclaimed ‘world’s fastest and most luxurious SUV ever’ took up residence with a company that has played a key role in Bentley’s fortunes for almost 90 years. The name on the (very ornate) doors? Jack Barclay.
Would Barclay, a Bentley Boy with a string of victories and speed records at Brooklands in the 1920s as well as a large gambling habit, have approved of such a radically different new breed of Bentley?
‘I think he would have loved it,’ says Derek Bennett, Jack Barclay general manager. ‘He embraced lots of different designs and would have seen the relevance today of a car like the Bentayga. He certainly would have seen the business sense in it.’
On the eve of the new car’s arrival GRR paid a visit to the showroom in Berkeley Square, Mayfair, for an insight into one of the greatest names in the luxury car firmament, purveyor of Bentleys (and also Bugattis) to the rich, the famous and the royal.
It is the oldest Bentley dealership in the world and the only one allowed to keep its name (by Bentley’s rules, the sign should really read Bentley Mayfair). Most years Derek, an affable Kiwi, and his team sell more Bentleys from Berkeley Square than any other dealer, anywhere. No wonder then it is the Bentley flagship dealer for its parent H R Owen, the UK’s leading luxury motor dealer group.
Jack Barclay is also about to have something of a makeover. The showroom, which the founding Bentley Boy moved here from nearby Hanover Square in 1953, has held out against Bentley’s corporate identity introduced in 2003, but now the ‘country house’ look is finally on the way out.
Derek, who is also H R Owen’s Bentley brand director, tells us: ‘Not everyone bonds with a black and white tiled floor – that look can be a barrier to some people. We are trying to appeal to a new sort of buyer. The risk is if you stay too far in the past you don’t embrace the future.’
So for 2016 there’s to be a refit of the Berkeley Square showrooms: a ‘fresh interpretation’ of the approved corporate look, says Derek, and more of an alignment with Porsche, Bentley’s new platform-sharing stablemate within the VW empire.
Traditionalists might like to hear, however, that while the wood-panelled boardroom where we met Derek is going to be reassambled elsewhere, the huge basement showroom – complete with said black and white floor, archives, heritage pictures and even the iconic 1950s ‘Jack Barclay’ fluorescent signs that used to hang in the showroom windows – will be staying pretty much as is.
Significantly, the refit will also result in a much-needed separate showroom for Bugatti, fronting on to Bruton Street, which will be ready in time for the Bugatti Chiron’s arrival later in 2016. Jack Barclay Bugatti is the UK’s sole Bugatti dealership and, as with the Bentayga, the Chiron’s arrival will represent the public’s first chance to see the car in the flesh in this country.
And will the public be welcome to come in and have a look, we ask?
‘We want to encourage people to come and see the cars,’ says Derek. ‘We want people to take pictures. We want people to follow us on Facebook and post pictures on social media.’
And why not? In the Bentayga and the Chiron Jack Barclay has two of 2016’s hottest motoring properties. Obvious jibes about ‘fast lorries’ (Ettore Bugatti’s famous Bentley put-down) aside, the first Bentley SUV has had a good reception so far and Derek says Jack Barclay is already sold out for the first year.
‘From everything we have seen and heard about it the Bentayga is going to be very successful.’ Biggest selling Bentley in the range? ‘Right up there, I suspect,’ says Derek. ‘The best advert for it will be when the car drives down Park Lane and pulls up next to a Range Rover…’
What else would Derek like to see in the showroom? He is a fan of the EXP10 Speed 6 concept from Geneva this year (lots of clues there, he says, to the look of the next Continental GT), and the new Flying Spur he says is on the way. ‘When you think about it, we have really only had one car since 2003, made into lots of different shapes. Now Bentley is starting to branch out with lots more models. It is a very exciting time.’
Even the poshest of car dealers must sell pre-owned cars too, though at Jack Barclay you may have trouble picking them. One of the things that Bentley Boy Jack was known for when he first took his mother’s bail-out, paid off his gambling debts and set up as a Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealership in Mayfair in 1927 was ‘service after sale’. Another was an insistence that new and used cars be sold together.
Both are aspects that Jack Barclay today takes very seriously. Minus numberplates and stone chips, new and old Bentleys, Jack Barclay style, are indistinguishable. When we visited, the showroom had two Mulsannes – one £300k and new, the other £150k and several years old – and the only way we could tell them apart was the spec. Ditto a pair of Conti GTs: and they were 12 years apart!
All the preparation of pre-owned Bentleys is done in-house, which is an appealing thought when you are spending £40k on a Jack Barclay approved entry-level used Continental GT. And yes, the top people’s Bentley dealer does list all its cars on Autotrader!
Nothing beats walking through the famous glass doors on Berkeley Square though. ‘We enjoy embracing our custodian’s job,’ says Derek. ‘We know this is not just a car dealership, this is Jack Barclay. People come here to celebrate success. If you are spending £300,000 on a car you are doing it because you feel good. It is important we create an environment where we match our customers’ enthusiasm and join in their fun.’
It must be easy selling super-desirable cars in a part of London chock-a-block with high net worth individuals? ‘In some respects it makes it harder because the expectations are higher,’ says Derek.
It appears, however, he won’t be short of customers any time soon. ‘For many people a big part of the enjoyment of having cars is buying a new one. Some people just have to keep buying, like a never-ending appetite. I have one customer who has had 14 cars from me, including three Bugattis and three Rolls-Royces…’
Surely even Jack Barclay – racing driver, winner of the inaugural Brooklands 500-mile in 1929 and the original ‘gentleman car dealer’ – would be pretty chuffed with that.
Photography by Tom Shaxson