No, I’m Not Kidding: A Cheap 1989 Bentley Eight! And Also, A Pretty Cool Geo Storm

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Attention, Autopians: This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill. I have found a Bentley, an honest-to-Crewe Bentley, in our price range. That’s right: a hand-built luxury British saloon (don’t you dare call it a sedan) for shitbox money.

And also a Geo Storm, and I always thought those were really cool.

So let’s get yesterday’s convertibles out of the way first:

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I honestly had no idea which way this one was going to go. But apparently someone out there agreed with you all, as the be-stickered, dog-friendly, Gambler-veteran Eclipse is already in a new driveway. As for the Mustang, the only thing I can say for certain is that nobody who wanted it intended to leave it stock.

But now, on to more pressing matters. Internet classifieds are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. And that’s what makes this job continually fun, especially when I stumble across the ultimate in British yard art. So without further ado, I present to you…

1989 Bentley Eight – $2,150 (seriously!)

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Engine/drivetrain: 6.75 litre V8, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Olive Branch, TN

Odometer reading: 69,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sadly, no; has been sitting for five years

First, let’s define what we’re dealing with here, because the ad is rather short on details. This is a Bentley Eight, the “entry-level” Bentley (ugh, how common), not the Mulsanne or celebrated Turbo R. But it’s still hand-built, one of only around 1700 of its kind, built in the same factory in Crewe by the same blokes who built every Rolls-Royce and Bentley. It’s still special. The Eight uses a naturally-aspirated version of the Rolls-Royce 6.75 liter V8, and, believe it or not, the same GM Turbo-Hydramatic 400 transmission as your cousin Randy’s Chevelle.

The ad is lacking in photos as well as text, but seeing such a fine British motorcar in a yard in rural Tennessee is surreal enough in small doses. I do wish we got a look at the interior, however, as it’s the condition inside that will determine if it’s worth fixing up. The “oily bits” are much easier to deal with than the leather and wool.

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The seller has it listed as a “parts car,” but Bentleys are not the sort of motorcars from which one pulls parts. Due to the commonality with Rolls-Royce models of the time, most everything you need to bring this splendid lady back to life should be available… at a price.

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Now, let’s be honest: there is every chance that this car will never move under its own power again. There is also a chance that the only way to make it move is to replace that famous Rolls-Royce powerplant with an LS V8 or something. But there is also the chance that the seller (or whoever parked it) simply doesn’t speak British car, or Bosch fuel injection, and some simple ministrations under a more knowledgeable owner will have it humming in no time. There’s no way to know until you dig into it.

The trouble with finding a car like this for sale, for my purposes, is what do you pair it with? What’s worthy of comparison to a hand-built Bentley?

1991 Geo Storm GSi – $1,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter DOHC inline 4, 3 speed automatic, FWD

Location: San Lorenzo, CA

Odometer reading: 88,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs but not drivable; brakes are out

I will freely admit it: I love the Geo Storm. I had a chance to buy one, a GSi like this but with a manual, and passed it up in favor of a 4 door Ford Escort hatch. Not one of my prouder automotive moments.

The Storm, for those outside of the US, is also known as the Isuzu Piazza or Impulse, depending on where you are. The Impulse version was also sold here for a while, featuring a prominent “Handling by Lotus” badge. I don’t know for sure if Lotus did the suspension tuning on the Geo version, but I do know that these cars attacked freeway cloverleaf on-ramps like they were mad at them, and gobbled up twisty roads like Augustus Gloop in the chocolate factory.

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The only trouble is that, when this particular Storm was ordered new, some idiot checked the “Automatic” box on the options form. I can cope with automatics in some small cars, but dammit, a Geo Storm deserves better. Step one for this car should be to find a wrecked Storm, Impulse, I-Mark, or Chevy/Geo Spectrum with a manual and get to swapping.

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The rest of the car looks decent, if not pristine, and I suppose even if you had to drive it as an automatic for a while, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. These things are getting rare, and beggars can’t be choosers sometimes. At least it’s a nice low-mileage platform to start with. The seller does say that the brake master cylinder is shot, preventing the car from being driven at the moment, but a new master cylinder is included. You and a friend could have it stopping properly and roadworthy in a couple hours.

Well, there it is: Shitbox Showdown history. I doubt we’ll ever have a chance to feature another Bentley, but someday I will find a manual Storm for us to consider. In the meantime, do you choose the safe and easy path and fix up the Japanese sports coupe, or tackle a budget project of epic proportions and attempt to revive one of Britain’s finest motorcars?

QuizMaker

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72 Responses

  1. Obviously the correct answer of Bentley or Geo is “No.”

    But if I’m going to be wrong, I don’t want to be right. Bentley, LS swap, transmission swap, cry, suspension rebuild, interior scrape, cry, entire electrical system rebuild, and party.

  2. The Bentley, all day.
    I might be a teensy bit biased toward Bentleys though. The first car I ever traveled in was a Bentley 62 years ago, the same one I drove to Sainsburies this morning. I have only owed it for 41 years though

  3. I.. hmm.. of the two choices, if I’m forced to choose, I’d take the Bentley because well, when would I get another chance to buy one? Realistically though I think I’d rather walk..

  4. It’s the Geo, even though the Bentley was fun to think about. Ultimately, as Outofstep mentions elsewhere, the Eight’s mineral oil hydraulics which actuate everything from the brakes and suspension to (practically) the power antenna are a pain in the arse to deal with, plus I can smell the mold in that interior from here.

  5. Gotta go with the Geo here, at least it could make reasonable cheap transportation with a dose of ’90s retro flair (perfect color for that!)

    The Bentley is a nightmarish money pit.

  6. That Bentley is such a terrible idea that only an idiot would pass it up. Go all balls and dive into that nightmare of a project. In the unlikely event that you can pull it off, you’ll have a car fit for a king at a baron’s price.

    The Storm is something a wrencher could fix up for cheap and flip for $3,000. That’s easy money you can use towards the non-op British luxury saloon you just bought.

  7. Shitboxes with a capital S.
    Went with the Bentley for reasons I myself don’t fully understand. I don’t WANT either of these, but the Bentley has a smidge more…prestige? Sure the Storm would be an easier fix, but when you’re done it’s still a Geo.

  8. For me this comes down to which one is likely to have less meth stashed in it, less being more in my book. I think the Bentley probably wins on that, so I will go with it. Plus, even if it won’t run I can say I own a Bentley. I don’t drive one, but I own one.

  9. You could actually get the Storm running and drivable for not a lot of money, and in the current insane car economy that says a lot. The Bentley? Maybe you could get it running, but it will cost you an arm, leg, and several pints of blood.

    Alternatively, throw caution to the wind, buy the Bentley, and turn it into a Gambler 500 entry. At least you’ll arrive in style.

  10. Gotta go with the Bentley for that price. With the transmission already in there, a cheap Chevy small-block would fit easily enough. After that – glass packs, white walls, and maybe… just maybe some flames down the side for a delightful British rat-rod to thrash about.

  11. The Isu-er, um, Geo is the sensible choice. get the brakes fixed, wash it, detail it a bit, and you could probably flip it for a decent profit in today’s crazy market.

    But the get-Bent-ley just has so much potential as a project for some sort Mad Max, chop-shop of horrors, super-happy-fun time shenanigan’s. You can’t pass that up.

  12. Give me the Storm. If I remember correctly the Bentley used mineral oil for the brakes and suspension system and it was known for leaking mineral oil fricking everywhere! I don’t want that headache. Especially when it hasn’t run in years.

  13. I vote for the Bentley. I’m a bit conflicted about what to do with it, though. On one hand, a Bentley rat rod would be amazing. I would swap in a modified, emissions-deleted 6.7 powerstroke, with a straight pipe exhaust that exits in front of the rear wheels. Rolling coal in a stately British sedan turned oil burning hot rod sounds like fun. It would be simultaneously aristocratic and redneck.

    On the other hand, the body looks generally presentable, so it might be worth doing a budget restoration. This could be a reasonably nice car with a bit of effort and $5,000. The powertrain and interior wouldn’t be anywhere near original, but it would be a way to drive a Bentley on a Hyundai budget.

    1. That Turbo R looks really nice. I am genuinely curious who buys a $200,000 luxury car and neglects it to the point where it sold for parts with barely 60,000 miles. That car is only a few miles from where I live. If I had more time and mechanical ability, I would check it out.

  14. There used to be a billboard ad. “Man Lost in Storm.” Showed a guy sitting slumped in a chair, staring at a Geo Storm. Y’know, like it was obsessively pretty or something. I always thought that was a bit much. Before today’s Showdown, I hadn’t remembered what a Geo Storm looked like in years, though I’ve never forgotten the ad.

    Anyway, I picked the Bentley. Even if I dragged it to the top of a hill, covered it in brown fur and rubber cement, set it on fire and ghost-rode it down the hill, it would be a highly amusing waste of money. More likely I’d do something marginally more practical with it, but the options are limitless. The Geo is just a Geo, but the Plutocrat’s Chariot is ripe for some lead-sled-style hotrodding.

  15. I would be all over this Bentley. Totally worth the money, though the interior is likely 100% trashed based on the dash pad you can see in one of the photos. An LS swap would not be easy, but doable. While that is a “GM” transmission, you would still need to use a different trans. The bell housings are completely different and trying to adapt it just wouldn’t be worth it. If you’re dropping in an LS, just drop in another automatic with it.

    That GEO is neat but the automatic makes it a loser for me. The color is great though, it’s SO 90’s. I miss seeing these cars around, they were EVERYWHERE here in metro Detroit back in the day.

    Jim

  16. I like a classic British saloon, but most of them are absolute money pits, especially if they have been sitting and have a flying B or lady on the front(For evidence of this, just look at Season 3 of Car Trek). The Geo is also a bit of a project, but it is guaranteed to be a far easier and cheaper project than an old Bentley and, with a manual swap, it will be a genuinely fun drive, which is something that can never be said for an 80’s Bentley or Rolls.

  17. I didn’t read a single word. It’s the Geo for me. My first car was a red 1993 Geo Storm that I paid $300 for. I learned how to wrench and repair cars on it. I beat the crap out of it and it just kept going. I bought it with 165k miles on it and then sold it to my Dad later who got it up to 329k before he fell asleep at the wheel and ran into a guard rail. Even then, it still ran and he drove it 200 miles home before she went to the yard. Now I’m going to go read. Still voting Geo.

    1. Shame the Storm is an auto. That makes me like it less as mine was a manual. Still I’d go Geo over the Bentley as the Bentley is a bottomless money pit. The Geo could be made into dependable transportation for years on the low. Also it’ll get 30+ mpg.

      Also Mark, the GSI got a 1.8L not the 1.6L (that may have been a 1992 change though). Also also the Impulse also had an RS flavor which was turbo’d.

  18. Bentley + 6.0 liter LS swap + better brake system off of pretty much anything else + airbag suspension + newer Bentley OEM wheels + custom interior as cheap as possible + murder tints for good measure + freshen the exterior + tint all the light housings to hide the fade and imperfections

    = sick baller cruiser for under $10k all told

  19. Hear me out on this: Go with the Bentley, knowing you will need to replace a lot. That’s OK because we’re making a Safari Bentley! Do what Clarkson did with a much lower budget!

  20. My question with the Geo is, if all it needs is a new brake master cylinder which the seller already has in his possession, why the hell didn’t he install it before selling the car? There’s more to that story, mark my words.

    I’d go Bentley. Even as yard art, I’d rather have it over the Geo. I have no use for the Geo in my life.

  21. Is this my only car? I went with Bentley because I have no use for a Geo. If I’m buying a shitbox, let me have one that I actually may want. Who cares if its broken. Its a Bentley

  22. I chose the Storm because RADwood exists and that’s just my era of car interest.
    No to the Bentley because I never cared about chauffeur class cars. Though it would make an excellent, stand out UBER or Lyft (if it wasn’t for the age restrictions). Can you imagine your UBER driver dropping you off at work in that every morning? Coworkers would have so many questions.

  23. Assuming a scenario where somebody offered to give me one of these cars, do the bare minimum of repairs for free and then leave me to sink or swim, I think I’d take the Bentley and just pry off as many of the insignias as possible, throw them in the glovebox and eat McDonald’s in it. Perhaps a few tasteful bumper stickers. Take away all identifiers and what you’re left with is something that looks vaguely familiar but also distinct, like that beat-to-hell convertible Columbo always drove with the top up.

  24. My heart says Bentley because there is nothing I love more than a big luxury car with a stout V8. However, my head is screaming at me to “Run away from a “cheap” British luxury car” and for the moment my head is winning.

    I have dumped more money than I care to think about into fixing up old Cadillacs and Lincolns in the past 25 years. The one lesson I have learned is to stay away from the projects that the price seems too good to be true because they are cheap for a reason and won’t stay cheap for long.

    But then my heart reminds me of the cheap ’78 Mark V that I bought for $250 during my senior year of high school in 2000 because the owner said the engine wouldn’t idle and he thought it needed rebuilt. All it took was cleaning and adjusting the carb and I drove it for 4 years before I sold it. Now I’m leaning towards the Bentley … but my brain is starting to yell at me to “Run Away” again.

    Anybody have a coin I can borrow to help me decide?

  25. I suspect there’s something very shady about that Bentley. Looking at average prices, $2150 would be a record low. But if I had room, I’d be all in. Sure, bringing it back to life would be a Sisyphean task, but we’re talking the price of a new iPhone and a few Target runs. Park it in the garage, polish it up, and it’ll be a lawn ornament everyone in the neighborhood is talking about.

  26. Give me the Storm just because I want to actually drive the car I buy.

    The Bentley may only be $2150 but don’t forget about the $21,500 you’d probably need to fix it with the right parts. Also it’s not a simple LS swap and be done with it either. Like others have mentioned, those had the mineral oil hydraulic suspension and brakes so you’d need to either get that system working again which probably isn’t cheap or figure out a custom suspension and brake solution. I wonder if anyone makes coil spring and strut conversions for those.

  27. What can I say????
    If the brake system on the Bentley is gone then major bucks to rebuild. Who knows what the interior looks like??? to quote from Bentley a motoring miscellany ” [this deal is] for all those who like me have pursued their passion for the winged B even unto financial disaster”.

  28. I’d go with the Storm, if only b/c loved them back in the day (slow, but tossable in the turns and with a heart bigger than its muscles), and frankly, teal was the it color of the ’90s (in the same way silver was in the ’00s).

    Could be a Radwood standout as you rarely see these around anymore.

  29. The Storm is the sensible choice and most likely a pretty good deal, but…

    I am head over heels in love with old Bentleys and if I had seen this at the time I was in the market I might have done something silly and bought it regardless of the headaches Instead I settled for a more sensible(?) Jaguar XJ6. Even if it really is a parts car I’m pretty sure you could part it out and make a profit.

  30. The Bently screams money pit. I’ve watched enough Hoovie to know it’s a terrible idea.
    In the early 90s the Impulse could be found as the rebadged Asuna Sunfire in Canada. It has the same “Handling by Lotus” badge and they used to be a lot more common around BC than the Geo version. The ’93 model was pretty decent looking and from what I’ve heard handled quite well.

  31. There’s nothing wrong with that Bentley that an LS, EFI, and an owner with a machine shop, close friend that does upholstery, and a bottomless wallet couldn’t fix. Afterwards it would be better than new!

  32. I am not familiar with the Bentley hydraulics issues mentioned by some here. The engine is steam era technology, so that should not be to challenging to get sorted. It’s a pity the interior looks like it hosted some angry badgers for a party. I don’t really want either car, but I’m voting Bentley because I’m a sucker for elegant outfits.

  33. Gotta go for the Bentley. Worst case scenario it becomes a Lemons car. Wait: did this share that awful suspension &brake hydraulic systems some Rolls had?

    The Geo is a hard NO with that slushbox. I did brakes or something on one, and the ( very brief! ) test drive was terrifying cause the shop was on a major 45mph road that everyone did 55-60 on. I about got run over! And, I’m not unused to low-power cars: I dailyed a 60-some hp Subaru-and was keeping & exercising a ‘58 Morris Minor 1000 at that time. That Geo was dangerously slower than a car some four decades older built under UK displacement tax laws.
    It’ll sell, tho: prices on these got crazy last time gas hit $4

    1. You’re thinking of the Geo Metro which was a Suzuki design. 1.0 3-cylinder engine. Another one on which the manual transmission’s a must; not only is it slow but it extracts a relatively huge gas mileage penalty which defeats the whole point of the car.

      1. “Another one on which the manual transmission’s a must; not only is it slow but it extracts a relatively huge gas mileage penalty which defeats the whole point of the car.”

        Only for buyers who can drive a stick. For those who can’t it’s a moot point anyway.

      2. I don’t mean this as a typical Car Guy putdown, it is more of a genuine curiosity. How/why can someone not tell a Metro and a Storm apart? Especially someone who can make references to a Morris Minor and is at least vaguely aware of Crewe’s hydraulic suspensions? It’s like conflating a Ford Escort and a Probe.

    2. You mean the system that makes a Citroen suspension look about as complicated as a VW Rabbit? Yeah, it has that.

      As for the Geo, if the one you drove wasn’t a GSi, I can see it being sluggish. The standard ones were about 30 horsepower lower. But even those, with an automatic, pass my “Is it faster than a 240D?” metric for vehicle acceleration.

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