1954 Bentley R-Type Continental FastbackCoachwork by HJ Mulliner
In its day, the Bentley R-Type Continental was the world's most expensive production car – and also the fastest four seater, capable of achieving 120mph (193 km/h). Most of the 207 R-Type Continentals built were fitted with the elegant fastback aluminium body developed by HJ Mulliner in conjunction with Rolls-Royce designer John Blatchley, formerly chief designer of Gurney Nutting. Both aerodynamic and very light, this design is widely regarded as the most attractive and distinctive to grace any post-war Bentley.
Racing driver Ken Wharton perhaps summed up the Continental's appeal best when he commented: "This is the most perfect piece of road machinery I have ever driven… what fascinates me is the phenomenal restfulness of cruising at over 90 mph with the rev counter showing a mere 3000 rpm ."
Over fifty years after the last car was delivered, the surviving R-Type Continentals are almost all accounted for and well documented. The list of first and present owners reads almost like a ' Who's Who' of the motoring and social worlds, and not surprisingly, values continue to rise as a new generation of collectors wakes up to the grace, pace and historical importance of the R-Type Continental.
Chassis 'BC69D' belongs to the 'D' series, featuring the larger 4.9 litre engine introduced during the spring of 1954 (which was also factory retrofitted to several earlier cars). This HJ Mulliner bodied fastback was completed on 15th November 1954 with body no. 5788 and tipped the scales at 3,852 lbs, making it one of the lightest cars of the series. The late Christian Huber wrote in his authoritative register: "The individual rolling chassis weights varied slightly depending on the specification of the car. Production changes however gave some general weight savings, and the later chassis were in fact lighter. The all welded chassis was the final development. It was far more rigid and saved 30 lbs. due to the absence of rivets….. Contrary to popular opinion a close study of individual weights shows that the later cars were not necessarily heavier ."
The factory build sheets for 'BC69D' show that its specification included synchromesh manual gearbox with right hand floor mounted lever, French headlamps, Continental bumpers, four high frequency horns, mph/kmh speedometer, twin fog lamps, chrome plated discs and 'special steering'. The colour chosen for the all-aluminium coachwork was Black Pearl with grey Connolly hide upholstery. Other details noted by Christian Huber include chromium side mouldings, elbow rests and slit pockets on the doors, backlight blind and a set of fitted suitcases.
Dispatched on Christmas Day, 1954, 'BC69D' was supplied via French agents Franco-Brittanic Automobiles to its first owner, Mr F Dupree, resident in Cyprus, where it must have been quite a sight. Its next owner, from 1 st January 1958, was Sir Lionel Thompson in the UK, followed by fellow Englishmen S Howard-Collins in June 1961, GL Joberns in 1978 and Kevin Pottertonm from 1995. The current American owner, a well known collector and respected concours judge, acquired 'BC69D' last year but has decided that his heart lies with another marque.
As offered, 'BC69D' is in well maintained condition, excellent mechanically and cosmetically commensurate with the owner's high standards. Being fastidious, however, he notes minor imperfections such as blemishes on each front wing under the bumpers, plus some dashboard switches which are inoperative. The odometer reads 17,957 miles (presumably 117,957). The owner sums up his Bentley thus: "My car has some minor faults: the clock doesn't work (Smiths!), the overhead interior light has a wiring problem as does the 12 volt inlet/output on the fascia. The tools are incomplete. The original fitted luggage is long gone as is the elbow rest on the driver's door, the backlight blind and the St. Christopher medal…The paint (a grey tinged with possibly the faintest of green - everyone remarks on the color) is flawless save for two very small damages I shamefully caused; they are on the sides of each front fender, just behind the rear tip of each front bumper and cannot be seen unless looking for them - I would have them repaired before selling…The interior has been tastefully redone in black leather. The wood work is gorgeous. The floor rug is new but not of a quality commensurate with the car…Mechanically the car is exactly as it should be as regards oil pressure, running temperature, proper engine sounds, superb gearbox and clutch, brakes excellent, ample power. A delight to drive, as it should be."
Equally at ease touring the Continent or whisking its occupants effortlessly around the smartest parts of town, this handsome and striking Bentley is ready to be enjoyed and a 'must have' model for the serious car collector.