The parking lot at Nobu restaurant has seen its fair share of luxury and exotic cars pull up for valet service over the years, but nothing holds a candle to the spectacle there Friday afternoon when nine rare Bentleys pulled in for lunch. The historic open-air British racing cars were driven in by their owners—most wearing vintage-looking goggles or sunglasses, and none needing valet help. Each driver backed his exclusive motor car in side-by-side for a spectacular sight—as attention getting as paparazzi and a starlet. These rare, vintage racers were part of a car rally working its way up the coast in honor of the storied manufacturer’s centennial.
Craig Ekberg drove in a 1928 4.5-liter Bentley. He’s had it for four years and, as an owner of many other luxury cars, the Los Angeles resident said, “They’re all my favorites, but this one is right at the top.” This is Ekberg’s third Bentley car rally, but he said this week’s rally will be a long one. The group will travel 1,700 miles in two weeks. And, of course, the group is motoring in style. One of the first stops was at Nobu for lunch. Then, the rally winds its way up the coast to reach Pebble Beach to join the noted Concours d’Elegance car show.
Although Ekberg and Malibu local Doug Weitman didn’t drive far to get to the rally, other drivers had their Bentleys shipped or flown into town from as far away as England and Germany. “They come in from all over. They fly them in, ship them in. You name it,” said organizer Trevor Johnson.
Johnson, who owns Luxury Rally Club, noted, “This is a special year because it’s 100 years of Bentley.
“Twenty-five cars are participating in total,” the organizer described. “The rally is also exclusive to only W.O. Bentleys.” W.O.s are Bentleys built in Cricklewood, North London, between 1919 and 1930, before the company’s purchase by Rolls Royce in 1931. W.O. refers to Walter Owen Bentley, who designed and built the cars.
“It’s ultra-luxury. Everything’s very first-class,” Johnson stated. The Malibu stop was only the first leg. The group started in Palos Verdes, drove to Ojai and then to Malibu for lunch. Their trip will take them to Santa Barbara, Paso Robles and Monterey for Pebble Beach car week. “Our Bentleys are a featured group at car week,” Johnson said. One hundred vintage Bentleys are expected in total. The group will then cap off the rally in Napa for a couple of days.
Joel Laub came in from Las Vegas for the rally, but his car just arrived here last week from England where he had it shipped to earlier for engine work before the big event. Laub’s Bentley is 91 years old. He’s a member of the West Coast Vintage Bentley group that’s participating in the historic ride.
“They’re designed like aircraft,” Laub explained. “W.O. Bentley designed aircraft engines during WWI. These cars have dual plugs, dual ignitions and, basically, they’re just super reliable. I’ve had my car for over 20 years and I only just had the engine rebuilt. I’ve driven it probably 100,000 miles.” Laub traveled to England to buy his vintage car. “I grew up on muscle cars, but I just gravitated toward these old race cars from the ‘20s,” he said. “These cars are meant to be driven.”
Bentleys are expensive, to say the least. Depending on the model, provenance of the car and if they were actual race cars, they can be worth upwards of $15 million. The average, according to some of the drivers on scene, could start at one million dollars but, Laub said, “You could buy a ‘bitsa’ car, meaning it’s put together with other car parts, for less money, but it’s still expensive. If you have a W.O. Bentley car, that’s a big deal.”
Ekberg elaborated, “It was the most advanced car of the day. In 1928, you could not buy a better car. Today, the Bentleys are worth at a minimum of one million dollars and go up from there.”
He joked, “I like it just a little bit less than my wife.”