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Coachwork by H.J. Mulliner
The R-Type Continental
With all the accolades that the Vintage Bentley has received, there is one post-war model that deservedly garners similar praise. Unquestionable style and quality is associated with the Rolls- Royce-built Bentleys, but the R-Type Continental Fastback is, quite simply, a stroke of genius.
The R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner represents the essence of 1950s luxury grand touring. Upon its release, the R-Type Continental was both the world’s fastest genuine four-seater and the most expensive production car. Those fortunate enough to own one could reach 80 mph in second gear and continue on to a 120-mph top speed in the utmost comfort, luxury, and style.
Of the 207 production R-Type Continentals built, 192 received fastback coachwork by H.J. Mulliner as developed on the prototype, known affectionately as “Olga.” In every respect, the H.J. Mulliner Fastback is a stunning work of the coachbuilder’s art. From the gently curved front windscreen to the slightly raked grille and finned rear fenders, the design is breathtaking and evokes the graceful, effortless performance that Bentley provided with the specialized continental chassis.
The exceptional design of the H.J. Mulliner Fastback was the result of extensive collaboration between the coachbuilder and Crewe design offices. Mulliner went so far as to consult with Pinin Farina in the early planning stages and conducted aerodynamic testing at Milford Read’s Hucknall Flight Test Establishment using a quarterscale clay model. The result of this extensive development was a 0.388 coefficient of drag, a figure that bests the Malcolm Sayer-designed Jaguar E-Type of 1961.
Weight savings was a critical factor and this was achieved with Mulliner’s proprietary all-aluminum lightweight construction method. The elegantly styled and aerodynamic coachwork utilized Reynolds alloy for the panels, inner structure, and window framing while the carpets, leather, and glass were referred to as “aero-grade” and weighed less than standard materials. The Mulliner Fastback proved extremely popular and the basic body style was fitted to all A- and B-series Continentals. Only 15 cars from the C, D, and E series were fitted with alternative coachwork.
Production of the exclusive Continental commenced in January 1952, and the limited production was marked by gradual evolution and improvement. In July 1954, Bentley Motors unveiled the D-series chassis, which was equipped with the larger, more powerful 4.9-litre engine. Significantly, the R-Type Continental line was consistently designated by a special prefix chassis “BC” to distinguish it from more pedestrian models.
A credit to its unique combination of luxury and performance, the R-Type Continental attracted an elite clientele that included the Maharajah of Indore, Emperor Bao-Dai, the Princess of Berar, the Countess of Suffolk, Count Pinci, Lord Carnegie, and Prince Frederick of Prussia. The original Continental was particularly popular with wealthy sportsmen: William Spear, Briggs Cunningham, George Filipinetti, Dr. William Burden, André Embiricos, Aristotle Onassis, and Jack Dunfee; and each owned at least one example of the ultimate Bentley R-Type.
The R-Type Continental Fastback presented here is a truly exceptional example that boasts the most desirable factory specification, a welldocumented history, and an exquisite presentation that is second to none.
BC5LD is the second of only seven left-handdrive, center-shift R-Type Continental chassis originally delivered with the high-performance 4.9-litre engine. In total, just 13 of the original 82 4.9-litre R-Type Continentals were configured in left-hand drive; of those, nearly half were equipped with the optional automatic transmission.
Completed by Bentley Motors on May 31, 1954, BC5LD was sent to H.J. Mulliner’s New Kings Road workshop in Southwest London to receive coachwork. There, the chassis was clothed with the iconic fastback body, internally designated design 7277. According to copies of the original H.J. Mulliner build records, the coachwork fitted to this Continental Fastback, number 5711, was originally painted dark green and upholstered in gray with House of Commons Green inset panels and green piping. The Mulliner records indicate that this color combination was the same applied to body no. 5559 – a B-series fastback delivered to the US.
Elegantly appointed with Wilmot Breedon bumpers, optional chrome moldings, heavy “renillum” seats, door pockets, and armrests, the striking Continental Fastback was completed on September 3, 1954, and prepared for delivery to J.S. Inskip, Inc. in New York.
On September 16th, BC5LD was entrusted to Claridge Holt & Co. and shipped from London to New York aboard the SS American Planter. According to Continental historian Stanley Sedgwick, this ideally specified Bentley was probably retained as the demonstrator as it was not sold until December 8, 1955. The first owner, Dr. Keith Merrill, a British-born surgeon living in New York, enjoyed the Bentley for almost a decade before returning it to J.S. Inskip.
In September 1965, the R-Type Continental was sold to its second owner, Rene Avigdor of Western Massachusetts. Three years after acquiring the Bentley, Mr. Avigdor shipped BC5LD to Crewe, England, for a major overhaul and the thoroughly freshened car returned to New York in October 1968.
In 1980, ownership passed from Mr. Avigdor to his wife Arlene D. Lawrence who, in January 1989, gifted the Bentley to her son John T. Dodge III of Sanbornton, New Hampshire. Although Mr. Dodge intended to restore the classic Continental Fastback, the project never commenced and, in March 2000, BC5LD was sold to Rolls-Royce and Bentley specialist Richard Gorman of Vantage Motorworks.
When the R-Type Continental arrived at Vantage Motorworks it was a remarkably original, 71,000-mile car. Although painted silver during the Avigdor family’s ownership, the car displayed no evidence of any major collision damage and was complete with the original fender spats, specially ordered chrome rocker moldings, bumpers, lamps, and fittings. Significantly, the original 4.9-litre engine, BCD5, remained intact and the correct Continental-specific exhaust system had survived in very good condition.
Over the next three years, BC5LD was treated to a no-expense-spared restoration carried out to Vantage Motorworks’ famously exacting standards. During this process, every aspect of the Bentley was addressed and a tremendous effort was made to return this magnificent car to its original, factory-delivered appearance and specification.
This thorough undertaking resulted in the spectacular presentation seen today and BC5LD has upheld an undefeated record in concours competition, never scoring anything less than a first place.
Over the past decade, BC5LD received Best in Class awards at Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, Meadow Brook, and Fairfield – four of the most competitive concours d’elegance in the US. Beyond these impressive honors, the R-Type Continental defeated the famed “Olga” prototype to win a First in Class at the 2004 Quail Motorsports Gathering and captured a first prize at the annual AACA Fall Meet at Hershey.
Dutifully maintained in show-ready condition, BC5LD is generously outfitted with the Continental Spares Touring Kit, a complete took kit and two pieces of authentic Revelation fitted luggage trimmed in House of Commons Green to match the upholstery.
Amazingly, the Bentley retains its original owner’s manual (stamped with the names Keith Merrill, Rene Avigdor, and A.D. Avigdor), the rare H.J. Mulliner Coachwork Maintenance Instruction booklet, an original maintenance data sheet, and a Smiths automatic lighter hang tag. Completing the exceptional presentation is the serial-numbered Palawan Press large-format edition of Stanley Sedgwick’s definitive Bentley Continental Sports Saloon, copies of factory build records, a photographic record of the restoration process, and a custom-designed scale model mounted on a display stand.
In its day, the R-Type Continental Fastback was the most sensational road-going car available; and today, it remains among the top tier of collector cars. Because of their unmatched quality, style, and sophistication, these special Bentleys have always maintained a peerless reputation and a vibrant international following. Sixty years after their introduction, these important Bentleys reside in many prestigious collections and continue to inspire serial ownership.
Given its ideal specification, documented provenance, world-class restoration, and intrinsic quality, BC5LD must be considered among the finest R-Type Continental Fastbacks in existence. For the collector who demands only the very best, we recommend serious consideration of this important Bentley motorcar.