- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

Because everyone in William Thomas' car pool 30 years ago drove Cadillacs, they called themselves the Group DeVille.
He commuted from his Arlington, Va., home to work at the Atomic Energy Commission in Germantown, Md. On days when he was a passenger he would mentally calculate the time left before he could retire.
After deciding that there would be no need for him to work past 1971 he set about accomplishing two tasks.
First, he wanted to find something perhaps a hobby to occupy his newfound hours of leisure. He had spent years commuting by a car lot that specialized in British motor cars and had become enamored of the R-Type Bentleys that sometimes were on display. The R-Types were built from 1952 to 1955.
Secondly, he determined to keep checking the car lot for an old Bentley.
In November of 1972 three right-hand-drive R-Type Bentleys suddenly appeared directly from England. "There were three on the lot," Mr. Thomas recalls. "One of them was a real junker."
What a great car for a handy retiree with plenty of time.
He purchased the rust-plagued 1954 R-Type Bentley as it sat in a puddle of automatic transmission fluid that had leaked out.
The leaking transmission was repaired at a commercial garage. When the bill was presented Mr. Thomas vowed that would be the last time he would pay for labor on his Bentley.
Rusty parts of the body were replaced with healthy steel. Especially cancerous were areas on the rear fenders. Even the rear springs were rusty. Mr. Thomas discovered that his car had left the factory at Crewe wearing a coat of dark blue. The car was a two-tone medium green and silver when he bought it. When all the body work and body-putty messiness was concluded, Mr. Thomas stripped his Bentley down to bare metal. He even removed the sunroof before he repainted his Bentley in a subtle two-tone gray paint scheme.
Turning his attention to the interior of the typically well-appointed Bentley, he glued the sun visors back together and refinished the burl walnut dashboard along with the Zambrano window frames.
Additionally, Mr. Thomas replaced all the glass except for the rear window, which has a defogger.
The 16-foot-long car features two heaters and a bolster on the floor for the comfort of the rear seat passengers.
When Mr. Thomas bought the Bentley the odometer indicated it had traveled 60,000 miles or as Mr. Thomas questions, "was it 160,000 miles?" That's a mystery figure we'll never know.
With all the cosmetic tasks tended to, Mr. Thomas gave the mechanicals a thorough physical examination.
The whisper-quiet F-head, 260-cubic-inch, six-cylinder engine is fed by a pair of S.U. carburetors. A trouble light on the fire wall is positioned to help troubleshoot any problems.
Although the speedometer is calibrated to record speeds up to 110 mph, Mr. Thomas has his doubts.
"I think it'll do 100," he said. "At 60 it's just warming up." Not a bad testament for a 46-year-old car.
Bringing the 4,235-pound Bentley to a halt is the chore assigned to the hydraulic front brakes working in conjunction with the mechanical rear brakes.
Riding on a lengthy 120-inch wheelbase supported by 6.50x16-inch tires, the luxurious yet nimble car can be turned in a 41-foot, 2-inch circle.
Positioned behind the steering wheel the driver can't help but notice how small and dainty is the rearview mirror in comparison to the rest of the car. Mr. Thomas points out that the mirror is tiny because the rear window is tiny as well. A larger mirror wouldn't be of any greater use.
The starter is on the dashboard. When activated, it brings the engine to life with the fan drawing air through the 19 vertical louvers in the grille. A single pilot ray light with a double-filament bulb which turns in the direction the front wheels are turned, is mounted in front of the grille.
Mr. Thomas guesses he completed the restoration of his Bentley in 1974 or 1975, insofar as an antique car is ever completed.
He still changes the 10 quarts of oil the crankcase holds and enjoys sunny-day cruises on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
With the odometer now past 96,000 miles Mr. Thomas and his wife of 56 years, Virginia, like to motor alongside the river in their stately 5 and 1/2-foot-tall Bentley. They will undoubtedly be out cruising in their Bentley today, celebrating Mr. Thomas' 85th birthday.
The only complaint Mr. Thomas has concerns the trafficator that operates the mechanical signal indicators. "The semaphore arms," he explains, "are more of a hindrance than a help. People stop to look at them."

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