Hot Wheels

Walter Fields wanted a Bentley. He wound up with two lemons.

Walter Fields grew up wanting in north Philadelphia. His father -- a machinist, caterer and sax player -- worked himself silly. Fields himself took odd jobs before earning an engineering degree, which he considered a down payment on a fruitful future.

"Most of the kids I went to school with are either dead or in prison, and very few have made it," Fields says. "I escaped. I formed my own business. I've been very successful."

Fields designs stereo cables for audiophiles, folks who fawn over $100,000 sound systems. Two years ago, he says, he got to thinking: "My father always wanted a Jaguar or a Rolls-Royce. I decided to get a Bentley on the twentieth anniversary of his death. I wanted to have something for his legacy."

There's no Bentley dealership in Minneapolis, where Fields resides, so he shopped in Chicago and got himself a silver convertible.

"I enjoyed being seen around town in that car," Fields says. But the Bentley was a headache from the get-go -- shoddy carpeting, a body panel needing repair work, brake problems. On one occasion, Fields recalls, the dealer sent the repaired car back "dirty and muddy," with hundreds of miles' worth of joy-riding logged on the odometer. "I was really pissed off."

That's when he found Bentley St. Louis, where the convertible was sent for more repairs. Owners Graham Hill and J.J. Mills "handled things very nicely," Fields recalls.

Though he eventually sold the convertible, Fields decided to purchase another Bentley, and with Hill's help, he settled on a black Continental. Fields gave a down payment of $37,836 for the large "conspicuous-consumption car" and signed a 58-month lease.

The deal quickly soured.

The driver's-side window and active suspension acted up, and the passenger's seat was wired incorrectly, according to a lawsuit Fields filed last month in the U.S. District Court-Eastern District of Missouri against Bentley St. Louis; Bentley Motors Limited and Bentley Motors Inc.; and Putnam Leasing Co.

Fields says Bentley St. Louis repaired the Continental once, but some parts continued malfunctioning. He sent the car to St. Louis a second time, but the dealer wouldn't fix it, the lawsuit says.

Fields demanded refunds from Bentley and Putnam Leasing, which, he claims, they refused to grant. Putnam marketing director Pat McGuirk says Fields stopped making his $3,918 monthly lease payments. But what Fields wants to know is why Putnam sold the car to someone else, yet demanded he pony up almost half of its $300,000 sticker price, according to the lawsuit.

"Not gonna happen!" Fields scoffs.

The Minnesotan wants full reimbursement for all his payments on the car to date -- or a set of keys to a new Bentley.

Bentley Motors' attorney Erin Bernstein says her client cannot provide comment at this time. Putnam attorney Michael Cardello did not return phone calls requesting comment for this story.

Back in Minneapolis, Fields has now resigned himself to browsing for a Toyota Prius. His lesson learned? "Bentleys are garage art. They're not to be driven."

 
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