Bentley the Crewe-built cars and me

I’ve always had a love of machines, starting with the tractors and implements on my grandparent’s farm in Georgia.  As I got a older my grandfather let me tinker with cars also.  He bought some fine examples to enthrall any young motorhead – Bentley and Rolls-Royce sedans, a Porsche coupe, and big cruisers from Buick and Cadillac.

Those were the cars I learned to drive in, and in doing so, broke some of them beyond my teenage ability to repair. Consequently, I still remember the way to the service departments at Hennessey Cadillac and Mitchell Rolls-Royce and Bentley in Atlanta, even though those facilities are long vanished to the march of urban development.

All through the 1970s I was an amateur mechanic except for a brief stint as the “electronics guy” at a Buick-Cadillac dealership in Massachusetts.  Then I got into music, and I went on the road with a series of bands.  Some musicians liked American iron, while others preferred European luxury.  I got a taste of both during my time on the road.

By the early 80s I was working in industrial electronics and fixing up and selling European cars in my spare time. Everything changed when I took a chance and bought a three-year-old Mercedes that had been traded to a local dealer.  I sold the car almost overnight and made a profit. The process was a lot easier than fixing and selling the much older cars I had focused on.

Seeing an opportunity I began buying and selling late model European cars and I got to know the staffs at many New England dealers.  One of the places I called on regularly was Foreign Motors West outside Boston.  They were the region’s largest dealer of Bentley and Rolls-Royce and I worked with them to remarket used vehicles.

Many of those cars needed fixing-up, and in those years I did a lot of that myself.  Bentley was just emerging from the shadow of its parent brand in those years and there was a lot of interest in their new models.  The new Mulsanne, Eight, and of course the Turbo R turned heads and generated a steady stream of Crewe-built trade ins.  Whenever I had troubles or questions I turned to Cal West, the regional service manager for RR/B.  He was always helpful and encouraging, and I learned quite a lot about then-current series vehicles.

I trained on the unique hydraulics, and the other mechanicals and accessories.  My experience in electronics and engineering were of great value there. Cosmetics were always an issue and I practiced caring for fine leather and woodwork. 

In the late 1980s I quit my last regular job in electronics and went into the automobile business full time.  We bought and sold cars to the public and other dealers and built a service department to support that operation. With the encouragement of Cal and others Robison Service evolved into an independent business that cared for fine cars throughout the Berkshires and Adirondacks, and the ski areas of Vermont and New Hampshire.  We became a compliment to the distant franchised dealers in Boston and New York.  In those years we were one of three non-dealers who did warranty work for Rolls-Royce America.  Our business moved to the grounds of the old Rolls-Royce factory in Springfield, MA. Where we serviced modern cars near the original factory service depot.

RR-Bentley dealers were necessarily focused on selling new cars, but where we were – at the center of a huge vacation area – there were a great many vintage models on the road and in collections, and those people were not necessarily looking to buy a new car every few years.  Someone had to care for those vehicles and over time it became us.

Gradually our business evolved to become more service and restoration, and less sales.  While the two makes were under one umbrella, I joined the Rolls-Royce and Bentley owner’s clubs and became one of their technical consultants.   We specialized in the car’s I’d grown up with – the vehicles built from the 50s onward, or what enthusiasts refer to as “post war cars.”  Our business moved from the back of my home to a commercial garage in Springfield.  In the beginning we had two bays in part of one building.  Today our complex consists of five buildings with more than 30 bays.  I’m still one of the Club’s technical consultants and I answer member questions almost daily.

I have always been socially awkward, and more comfortable among machines than around people.  Twenty years ago I learned that I am autistic, and that knowledge sparked an interest in helping other young people like me.  In 2007 I wrote a book on growing up – Look Me in the Eye, and over the next decade I followed that with three more titles.

Today my books are sold in 15 languages, in 70+ countries, and outside the auto community I’m more widely known for my writing than cars.  I’ve become an advocate for autistic people. I’m also a proponent of the idea that humanity needs neurological diversity, or neurodiversity. One expression of that is in the art we create restoring fine motorcars. 

A doctor who first characterized autism thought a touch was necessary for creative genius.  Today we know many artists, musicians, and engineers who are touched by autism. We make up about two percent of the population, which ironically is about the same percentage of the population whose standards lead them to Bentley motorcars. 

I’m still overseeing the service and restoration of Bentley and other cars in our workshop and I write and do technical seminars every year.  You can find a large library of my articles and columns on Bentley motorcars both on and

People come to the Robison Service complex in search of advice and job skills for autistic teens and young adults.  Four years ago we joined forces with a local nonprofit and set up a high school campus here in the complex.  Today our TCS Auto Program teaches life skills to teens with autism and other differences and emotional challenges from high schools all over Western Massachusetts.

Our students are proud to work on the fine cars entrusted to us by our clients.  And they do their own work as well.  This year they started building a vintage Bentley Continental to race the Carerra Pananmerica through Mexico.  Bentley Motors is supporting us in that venture, which you can follow online at  Our friends at are making a documentary film about the kids, the dream, the car and the race.  We hope you will join and support this great mission.

30-some years ago Robison Service started out as a small garage repairing used cars. Today we engage in major repairs and extensive restoration, and vintage Bentley owners all over North America look to us for overhaul and renovation. We’re proud to claim winners at many shows and events.  In addition to car service our complex is home to the school, the backup emergency ambulance services for our city, the transfer ambulance operations for Western Massachusetts, our city’s child safety seat program, and two general auto service garages.

J E Robison Service and the Springfield Auto Complex are on Page Blvd in Springfield, MA

Our specialty remains Bentley, and we believe independent businesses like ours compliment the Bentley dealer network by providing restoration and customization services franchised dealers are not able to provide.  Our mission to preserve the Bentleys of yesterday helps enhance the value of Bentley for tomorrow.

This year you can look forward to more stories about vintage cars, and also profiles and stories about the race car, and Bentley of today and tomorrow. 

Here are some Bentley related essays:

Thoughts on buying a used Rolls Royce or Bentley - applies to Silver Cloud and newer series cars
More thoughts on Spur - Spirit - Turbo era car buying
Thoughts on restoration - applies to all cars
Evolution of the RR/B models - Silver Shadow through Arnage/Seraph - original article from the Robison Service website
Inspecting a Rolls Royce or Bentley - Applies to Corniche, Continental, Azure, Turbo R, Mulsanne, Eight, Turbo R, Silver Spur, Silver Dawn, Silver Spirit
More Things to Look For in a 1981-2000 Rolls Royce or Bentley - this is the original article from the Robison Service website
The last Crewe built Rolls Royce and Bentley convertibles - applies to 2000-2002 final Series Corniche
Repairing convertible top hydraulics - Applies to 1996-2004 Rolls Royce and Bentley Corniche and Azure cars
Head gasket failures in Bentley Turbo cars - applies to Turbo R, Continental R and T, Azure, Arnage
Checking engines after head gasket failure - Applies to all cars
Checking and inspecting Crewe hydraulic systems - all cars after Silver Cloud and print to Silver Seraph. Applies to all Shadow/Spur era vehicles
Case Study - brake failure in a Shadow - Silver Shadow era cars with RR363
Rear suspension gas springs - Applies to all 1981 - 1999 cars prior to Silver Seraph
Changing batteries in seat and ECUs, Applies to 1980s-1990s Silver Spirit / Silver Spur / Mulsanne /Eight / Turbo R
Changing alarm ECU batteries,  Applies to 1980s-1990s Silver Spirit / Silver Spur / Mulsanne /Eight / Turbo R
Servicing Bentley T/Shadow and Mulsanne/Spur series brakes - applies to 1966 - 1999 cars after Silver Cloud and prior to Silver Seraph
Alcon racing brakes for Continental and Azure - Applies to all 1990s cars but most particularly to the final series Azure, which had these brakes fitted at the factory - a unique variant
Fixing Power Steering Leaks - applies to 90s cars with the reservoir above the alternator
Questions and answers on collector car storage - Applies to all cars
Evaluating paint - Applies to all cars

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, independent restoration and Bosch Authorized Car Service specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Bentley, Land Rover, Porsche, and Rolls Royce Owner's Clubs, and he’s owned and restored many of these fine vehicles.  Find him online at or in the real world at 413-785-1665

(c) 2017 John Elder Robison all rights reserved

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