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  • Left-hand drive, centre gearchange, lightweight seats from new
  • With manual gearbox and central gearchange, a car for a sportsman
  • Complete with tools, Continental Overseas Touring Spares Kit and much documentation
  • Original matching numbers engine, the ultimate in advanced British engineering paired with French flair
  • A special commission for French textile magnate Edouard Vandendriessche
One of only three Franay-bodied R-Type Continentals to this design, the sole LHD manual car

1954 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback Saloon

Coachwork by Franay

Only the very fluent can coin the exact phrase to describe such a car – others have to copy. Personally, I will borrow a ready-made phrase from The Autocar’s Road Test article: a Modern Magic Carpet.” – Raymond Mays, amateur racing driver of note and the man behind E.RA. and B.R.M., writing about a journey from Bourne, Lincolnshire to Berne, Switzerland in an early R-Type Continental.

The R-Type Continental Fastback in its time was the most expensive, finest, all-round touring car in the world: the ultimate in transcontinental land travel for the super-rich owner-driver.

A total of 207 (plus the prototype) were built in five series: ‘A’ to ‘E’, from May 1952 to April 1955, and no two were the same. All but 15 were bodied in fastback style by the company’s in-house coachbuilder HJ Mulliner as the era of bespoke commissioning was almost over. But for the fortunate few it was still possible to order a rolling chassis for bespoke bodywork to a client’s specific requirements.

On 21 December 1953, a '(chassis-only) Continental Sports Saloon' was despatched from England on the SS Deal for delivery to one of the great French coachbuilders, Carrosserie Franay of Paris.

Some five months later, the gleaming car was ready for its first owner, textile magnate Edouard Vandendriessche.

This Motor Car

Vandendriessche was managing director of the family concern Vandendriessche & Fils, textile producers with an address at 170 rue de Guise, St. Quentin (Aisne) France. Post-War business had clearly been good to the company, so through the offices of Bentley’s French distributor, Franco Britannic Automobiles Ltd, an order was placed for a rolling R-Type Continental chassis (to the same specification as the HJ Mulliner cars) for delivery to Franay. Among the special features indicated on the factory sheets were a central gear change and a radio. Naturally, for driving in continental Europe the steering wheel was on the left.

Franay penned a similar fastback design to the Mulliner classic yet made it more muscular: the rear wing line was more upright and exaggerated, the rear windows slightly larger and the front wings blended into the doors with more aggression. With a central manual gear change and lightweight bucket seats, it was a car for a sportsman.

The Parisian carrossier bodied only three cars in this design. Chassis BC51LC is one of only two on the desirable left-hand drive chassis (with the other’s whereabouts unknown for nearly 50 years) and the only LHD example produced with a manual gearbox.

Vandendriessche retained his special Bentley for nine years. The car was returned to Franco Britannic in 1963 and resold to Farnham Rehfisch, a Parisian high school teacher, who kept the car for only three months. The third French owner was a medical doctor in the Parisian suburb of St. Cloud, Pierre Mauranges. In January 1965, the Bentley was purchased by American marque and model enthusiast DJ Smith, who enjoyed the car in the US for 12 years.

In 1977, the Bentley was sold to American professional golfer Gene ‘The Machine’ Littler. Littler, based in California but a great friend of Bill Harrah in Reno, Nevada, enjoyed his Continental for five years, after which it was owned by a succession of other West Coast enthusiasts as well as the Illinois car collector Bill Jacobs, who was so taken with the special Bentley that he owned it twice!

In recent years, the car underwent a comprehensive mechanical restoration performed by well-known US specialists Vantage Motorworks; the engine, transmission, and clutch were completely rebuilt, and the engine bay and chassis were fully detailed, after which the car was shown at the 2012 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Since then, the car has been regularly exercised. With reliability and power in mind, the 4,566cc engine was upgraded with a larger cylinder head (correct for a late S1) with dual, two-inch SU carburettors.

Our client purchased the car in 2017. It comes with a raft of documentation, correct books, tools, the rare and valuable Continental Overseas Touring Spares Kit and recent service records.

In Bentley’s Centennial year we can think of few cars that sum up the ethos of the marque better than the R-Type Continental. Powerful, once the fastest and most expensive four-seater in the world, a car for kings, plutocrats, captains of industry and the aristocracy. This example, with stylish and rare coachwork by Franay is a delicious twist on the enduring rivalry between Britain and France: British engineering of the early jet age married to sublime French styling. A dangerous liaison, perhaps, but nonetheless a successful one. 

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