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Lot 137

2016   |   Scottsdale Auctions 2016

1955 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback

Coachwork by H.J. Mulliner

SOLD $1,017,500

Estimate

$1,300,000 - $1,600,000

Chassis

BC67LD

Engine

BCD66

Car Highlights

Desirable Late-Production Continental Fastback
Specified from New with 4.9-Litre Engine and Lightweight Seats
One of as Few as Nine Left-Hand-Drive, Automatic Examples
Consistently Maintained, Preserved, and Highly Original
Documented by the Bentley R-Type Continental Register

Technical Specs

4,887 CC F-Head Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Twin SU H6 Carburetors
178 HP
4-Speed Automatic Transmission
4-Wheel Servo-Assisted Hydraulic Drum Brakes
Front and Rear Independent Coil-Spring Suspension
Live Rear Axle with Leaf Springs
Register to Bid

Factory Delivered Left-Hand Drive, 4.9-Litre ExampleJ. Guinness, Monaco (acquired new in March 1955 via Franco-Brittanic Automobiles)M. Chauvel, France (acquired in 1960)M. Bonnal, France (acquired in 1963)M. Meuli, France (acquired in 1968)Christian Teissier, Bordeaux, France (acquired in 1980)Michel Kruch, Brussels, Belgium (acquired in 1998)Philippe Lancksweert, Brussels, BelgiumFriedhelm Loh, Haiger, GermanyPaul and Chris Andrews, Fort Worth, Texas (acquired from the above)Current Owner (acquired from the above)

Injecting a brilliant, almost otherworldly vision of beauty, luxury, and speed into postwar Britain, the Bentley R-Type Continental prototype – registered in England as OLG 490 and affectionately known as “Olga” – broke cover at the Paris Salon and London Motor Show in late 1951. Initially costing £4,890, the R-Type Continental gained immediate fame as the world’s fastest four-seat production automobile. Today, it reigns as one of the most desirable classic Bentleys, exemplified by BC67LD, this wonderful late-production fastback.

An enduring design and engineering masterpiece, the Continental was the brainchild of Bentley’s chief projects engineer, Ivan Evernden, who sought to reinvigorate Bentley’s “Silent Sportscar” reputation with a long-range Grand Touring model suited to Europe’s new high-speed motorways. Body design was led by John Blatchley, head of the new Rolls-Royce styling department. Reminiscent of the promising Georges Paulin-styled “Embiricos” Bentley of the late 1930s, Blatchley’s long, low, and smooth design for the new Continental was perfected in the Rolls-Royce wind tunnel. Key elements included the raked radiator grille and windscreen, fastback roofline, rear-wheel spats, and finned rear fenders promoting high-speed stability.

Using the Mark VI chassis – re-designated “R-Type” in 1952 – as the prototype’s basis, its 4.5-litre inline six-cylinder engine was conservatively but effectively tuned and mated to a four-speed manual gearbox with overdrive top. A numerically low 3.077:1 final-drive ratio was selected for high-speed cruising at low engine revolutions. H.J. Mulliner was commissioned to produce the Continental bodies in lightweight aluminum, further unlocking the Continental’s performance in concert with aluminum window frames, windscreen surround, backlight, seat frames, and bumpers.

In testing at the Montlhéry circuit in Paris during September 1951, the Continental prototype achieved a five-lap average speed of 118.75 mph. While Evernden later stated that further aerodynamic work and development could have yielded even greater flat-out performance, the car was most importantly capable of cruising at 90 mph for extended periods in uncanny silence and comfort, making it a true “Continental” in every sense of the word.

Careful development defined R-Type Continental production, which ran from 1952 to 1955. Among the updates, the later “D” and “E” series cars benefited from increased power by virtue of a larger bore yielding 4.9 litres’ engine displacement, and the General Motors Hydra-Matic automatic gearbox was made available. Other updates included a lowered roofline, one-piece windscreen, and revised fender lines.

From introduction, the R-Type Continental garnered accolades from respected motoring publications, including from UK magazine Autocar, which declared, “…this Bentley is a modern magic carpet which annihilates great distances…” Predictably, R-Type Continental owners were the era’s top business, entertainment, and social luminaries; among them were Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and Italian industrialist Gianni Agnelli.

Just 208 R-Type Continentals were built, including the prototype. Of them, all but 15 featured the definitive alloy fastback coachwork of H.J. Mulliner, including BC67LD. According to the Bentley R-Type Continental Register and copies of the factory production records, BC67LD is an original 4.9-litre, “D-Series” left-hand-drive export model originally equipped with a metric speedometer, damper-pressure gauge, high-frequency horns, and a fuel-octane selector. The vehicle was built to customer order for Monaco resident J. Guinness, completed on November 22, 1954, and road-tested on December 16th of that year.

The production details of BC67LD and Bentley’s diligence in accommodating Mr. Guinness are documented by the R-Type Continental Register: “The body on this car, No. 5732, was originally erected on BC16LD. Hence the body number is lower than that found on other late D series chassis. To expedite the delivery of an automatic chassis to Mr. Guinness, this body was removed by Mulliner at a cost of £157 and re-installed on chassis BC67LD.”

Built to H.J. Mulliner Design No. 7277, the body of this Continental was further equipped with a “knife-edge” mounted center armrest, door pockets on both doors, and a rear-window blind. Following completion, the car was dispatched to Ferryfield Airport and airfreighted to Le Touquet in Northern France by Silver City Airways on March 1, 1955, with Mr. Guiness taking delivery via Franco-Brittanic Motors nine days later. Franco-Britannic went on to sell the car to its next three recorded owners – all French residents – in 1960, 1963, and 1968. Subsequent owners include noted collectors in France, Belgium, Germany and the US.

While BC67LD was repainted in its present black finish and updated with S1 taillights at some point in its lifetime, it is believed to have never been fully restored. The interior, which was refreshed as needed, retains the lightweight aluminum-framed seats and maintains a wonderful patina. Significantly, the Continental retains its original 4.9-litre engine, numbered BCD66. Already exceedingly rare as one of just 43 left-hand-drive R-Type Continentals, BC67LD is far more so as one of a mere handful – as few as nine – also equipped with the automatic gearbox.

A dossier containing copies of the factory build records accompanies the sale of BC67LD, plus literature including H.J. Mulliner Coachwork maintenance instructions, a guidebook listing Rolls-Royce service locations, a Lucas electrical service directory, and recent maintenance and parts invoices.

While few in number, the R-Type Continental’s influence remains profound, and it continues to seduce onlookers today. As written by Bentley expert Johnnie Green in Bentley: Fifty Years of the Marque more than four decades ago, “The Bentley R-Type Continental became a classic in its own time, and a collector’s piece without experience of which no connoisseur of motoring can consider his life complete!” Certainly, the same holds true for BC67LD.