craig calder's bentley

Craig Calder in his Bentley in front of the Queen Mary.

Two 86-year-old British ladies — kindred spirits of sorts — met up last weekend. Their intertwined history goes back to the Great Depression, when one of them was merely a number and many had given up on the other.

Queen Mary and a 1934 Derby (pronounced “darby”) Bentley 3½ Liter Coupé-are the two octogenarians that rendezvoused.

“Queen Mary, as she was being built at Scotland’s John Brown shipyard, was known as job 534,” explained Paul Gonzales, a longtime resident, former tour guide and avid ship fan. “The start of the 1930s was not a good time for the John Brown’s workforce. Men who thought 534 would keep them in work for many years found themselves ‘on the brew' (unemployed). The Depression era work stoppage lasted from 1931 until December of 1933. The workers returned in full force in early 1934."

In December 1933, John Brown’s managing director, Frederick Charles Stewart, was so confident that work on 534 would be restarted that he commissioned the build of a right-hand drive red Bentley convertible to celebrate. There wasn’t much of a backlog for highly-skilled automotive craftsmen in the depths of the Depression, so the order was filled quickly.

A few weeks later, the 43rd chassis completed under Rolls-Royce ownership of Bentley was delivered and it became Stewart’s daily driver — a commuter car to the Clydebank shipyard, according to the automobile’s current owner, Craig Calder.

Calder is an on-the-water type as well as a car guy. The Calder family owns a Sea Ray moored in Shoreline Marina and many weekends you will see them at the anchorage near Oil Island White, with their daughter Victoria swimming or playing on their inflatable unicorn.

Born in Manchester, England, automobiles and working on them was always an interest to Craig. Soon after immigrating here, he answered a want ad for an auto parts department clerk; he was hired for the entry level position, and steadily worked his way up in the organization, until one day the owner announced he was closing the business and retiring.

Disappointed, he came home and shared the bad news with his wife. She told him, “This is America — go in to work tomorrow and tell the boss that you want to buy the company.”

He did. Today, the proud owner of Fast Cars Ltd. in Redondo Beach, he has expanded the restoration shop into a full service repair facility that is capable of manufacturing parts. On-line reviews describe the shop: “First of all, visiting Fast Cars is like going to an automotive museum full of rare European Exotics, From Ferrari, to Jaguar to Pantera to Lamborghini to Porsche; this place is an absolute gem.”

Craig clearly picked the right wife — one of their early dates was on a Ferrari Car Rally. The car overheated and they still had a grand time. Soon there was a honeymoon on the Queen Mary. 18 years later, instead of a traditional porcelain anniversary gift, Ofelia Calder scored a yellow 1990 Corvette.

Craig has a passion for all cars, but the Bentley’s provenance is of particular interest.

In addition to the destined-to-be Queen Mary connection, this burgundy leather upholstered automobile has a list of previous owners that reads like who’s who of Scotland, South Africa, and of course California. For example, Sid Craig of Jenny Craig fame once had this stylish example of Bentley’s silent sports car as part of his stable.

The two old girls — both Queen Mary and the Bentley — have had a variety of caretakers over the years. Some kept great records and performed meticulous maintenance on them. Others, not so much.

Some believe material things like cars and ships take on a human-like traits. Maybe it is merely a reflection of the personalities of those who love and care for them.

When the Bentley was leaving Pier J, I sensed her whispering to Mary: “Hang in there, girlfriend, you too have admirers who will give you the love you deserve."

Thank you reader, Naples resident, and friend Jeff Hoffman for introducing me to the Calder family and suggesting I write their story. Please share your “On the Water” ideas with me at Jo@JoVenture.com.

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