2022 | London Auction
1953 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback
Coachwork by H.J. Mulliner
£625,000 - £725,000
Bentley’s 1953 Geneva International Motor Show Car
Early Production, Original Right-Hand-Drive Example
Equipped with Lightweight Seats, Rear Spats, and Manual Gearbox
Presented in Factory Colors, Retaining Original Engine per Copies of Factory Records
Recent Mechanical Servicing by Marque Specialists
4,566 CC F-Head Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Twin SU H6 Carburetors
153 BHP at 4,500 RPM
4-Speed Manual Gearbox
4-Wheel Servo-Assisted Drum Brakes
Front Independent Suspension with Coil Springs
Rear Live Axle with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs
Louis Schneiter, Coffet, Vaud, Switzerland (acquired new in 1953)
Lamont Haggarty, US (acquired in 1960)
Anthony “Bud” Korteweg, River Edge, New Jersey
Current Owner (acquired from the above in 2014)
Geneva International Motor Show, Switzerland, 1953
With design heritage dating to aerodynamic research conducted at Rolls-Royce during the 1930s, the streamlined Bentley R-Type Continental reasserted Bentley’s legendary performance image and continues as an automotive landmark and true object of desire for collectors today. In the early postwar years, H.I.F. Evernden and J.P. Blatchley were assigned the task of designing a lightweight, aerodynamic, and unabashedly beautiful Bentley capable of carrying up to four adults in comfort and at high speed over long distances in the finest grand touring tradition.
After creating some lightweight bodies on the Bentley Mark VI chassis, coachbuilding firm H.J. Mulliner was contracted to design and construct the R-Type Continental prototype, affectionately named “Olga.” Styling was finalized by Stanley Watts of H.J. Mulliner. The body, window frames, and seat structures were of light alloy, resulting in a four-place body weighing just 750 pounds and the complete car less than 4,000 pounds. Aerodynamics were refined by Evernden’s assistant, Milford Read, at the Rolls-Royce wind tunnel, including the reduced frontal area, sleek fastback roofline, and discreet tail fins. Exhaustive road testing resulted in modification of the gearbox to a direct-ratio top gear and a lowered rear-axle ratio for enhanced performance. These modifications provided high-speed touring capability and well-spaced gears for around-town drivability and took full advantage of the Continental’s tuned, 153 hp, 4,566 cc, F-head six-cylinder engine. The world’s fastest production four-seater in 1953, the A-series R-Type Continental was capable of reaching 115 mph.
The most expensive production car of its day, the R-Type Continental was hand-assembled, superbly finished, and astronomically priced. A total of 207 were built in all, plus the prototype, from May 1952 to April 1955. Of them, 193 – including this early example numbered BC20A – were fitted with the most desirable Fastback body design by H.J. Mulliner. Interestingly, despite the “20” in its chassis number, BC20A was actually the 19th Continental built, given the marque’s traditional exclusion of the number 13 in its numerical system.
According to the copies of factory records supplied by the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club (RREC) on file, BC20A was originally equipped with lightweight, adjustable front seats, plus numerous special-order features. Among them were flashing-type turn signal indicators with amber lenses, double-filament headlamps, high-frequency horns with a muting switch, and a speedometer in kilometers, plus twin fog lamps and a radio. While included in the Continental’s price as standard equipment, a radio was normally installed only at the buyer’s request to save weight. Upgraded mechanical specifications included uprated front dampers, special steering gear, a 17" high-speed cooling fan and unique radiator.
Finished in Dark Green over Beige Connolly leather upholstery, BC20A was completed on January 30, 1953, and road tested on February 4th. Next, BC20A was shipped to Switzerland, where it was delivered to its first owner, Louis Schneiter, followed by a high-profile display on the Rolls-Royce and Bentley stand at the Geneva International Motor Show in March 1953.
By January 1960, BC20A was acquired by Lamont Haggarty and exported to the US, and subsequently purchased by Anthony “Bud” Korteweg of New Jersey, the founder of The Coachworks, a Bentley and Rolls-Royce restoration specialist. A restoration was completed during Mr. Korteweg’s ownership, and BC20A is believed to have been the last automobile restored for his personal enjoyment.
In 2014, the Continental was sold to a new owner in the UK, followed by extensive mechanical servicing performed in 2015 by The Chelsea Workshop in London, with emphasis on preparing the car for regular driving enjoyment as desired. Invoices on file detail nearly £50,000 in work performed on the brakes, clutch, four-speed manual gearbox, and suspension, as well as significant engine work. Further service was subsequently completed by the Rolls-Royce and Bentley marque experts at P & A Wood. Of particular note, BC20A retains its factory-original engine, no. BCA19, per the copies of factory records, and is accompanied by a dossier including articles, registration paperwork, records, and aforementioned RREC documents, plus a tool set. Exceedingly rare, beautifully styled, and handsomely presented, BC20A is unquestionably a design icon and one of the most influential grand touring cars of the postwar era. Ready to collect and enjoy as desired, this 1953 R-Type Continental Fastback exemplifies the Bentley ethos in all respects.