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1954 Bentley R-Type Continental H. J. Mulliner Sports Saloon

Lot 22 | Monterey Jet Center Auction | Estimate: Not Sold

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1954 Bentley R-Type Continental H. J. Mulliner Sports Saloon

Lot 22 | Monterey Jet Center Auction | Estimate: Not Sold

Highlights

  • Featured car in the 1954 New York Auto Show
  • One of 41 left-hand-drive standard shift examples of Design 7277
  • Stunning fresh and complete restoration by marque specialists, Vantage Motorworks
  • Illustrious first owner, William Brewster, associated with famed Rolls-Royce coach builder, Brewster & Co.
  • Authenticity and correctness validated by Bentley marque specialists

Description

Chassis No. BC35LC
Engine No. BCC34

Rolls-Royce famously began to experiment with aerodynamic designs in the 1930s. The Streamline Bentley Mark II project, “The Scalded Cat”, was one such design. Later, in 1938, the original Corniche, a prototype for the short-lived Bentley Mark V was completed. World War II suspended car-building operations while the company supported the war effort building exceptional aircraft engines. Not long after the war ended and sensing cultural changes, the Works re-tooled back to its primary business building fine motor cars. Innovative design cues from the 1930s experimental cars were re-visited when Chief Project Engineer H.I.F. Evernden and designer J. P. Blatchley were assigned to create a lightweight, aerodynamic Bentley capable of carrying four adults in supreme comfort. Their briefing instructed, “...produce a car which would not only look beautiful but possess a high maximum speed coupled with a correspondingly high rate of acceleration together with excellent handling qualities and roadability...”

After producing successful lightweight bodies on the Bentley Mark VI chassis, H.J. Mulliner was contracted to design and construct the R-Type Continental prototype. The body, window, and seat frames were made of a light alloy resulting in a four seater body with bucket seats forward and a rear bench seat divided by an armrest. The body weighed only 750 pounds, or less than 4,000 pounds when fitted on the chassis. After extensive road tests, mostly in France, the prototype's transmission overdriven top gear wasn't suitable for the rpm range offered by the engine, therefore it was replaced by a direct-ratio top gear, and a lower axle ratio. This combination proved to offer the best for high speed touring, as well as well-spaced gear changes for city driving.

The first cars were constructed for export only and many of these early R-Types, one of the costliest production cars in the world, came to the United States. Despite its high price ($18,000 in 1953) Americans were willing to pay for a luxurious, high speed package. Motorcar publication test drives and reviews were unanimous in their praise for the new car. England's best known car publication, Autocar, stated, “A modern magic carpet annihilating great distances.”

A total of 208 Continentals were built, plus a prototype H. J. Mulliner Sports Saloon very similar to this car. Of the 207 serial production Continentals built between May 1952 and April 1955, 193 were fitted with the prototype's H.J. Mulliner body No. 7277, an aerodynamic design known as the “Fastback.” The other 14 chassis were fitted with bodies built by Park Ward, Franay, Graber, and Pininfarina.

H. J. Mulliner was in operation from 1900 to 1968 and produced hundreds of special-order bodies on Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis. Their post-war Bentley Continental designs, especially the fastback like this example, are highly sought after by enthusiasts today and have become almost cult-like among serious car collectors. Rolls-Royce Motors acquired the company in 1959 and in 1961, they merged H.J. Mulliner with their other coachbuilding company, Park Ward Ltd.

All original chassis numbers for this series begin with “BC” for Bentley Continental. The numbers run consecutively, omitting “13” in five alphabetical suffix letters: A, B, C, D and E. The letter “L” before the suffix letter indicates left-hand drive. This car, chassis number BC35LC is therefore identified on its Works build sheet, as being a Bentley Continental, C-series, and left hand drive from new.

The Continental chassis were assembled in Crewe, England at the Rolls-Royce works, then sent by rail to the Lillie Hall Depot in Earls Court, London. Final modifications were then made and the finished chassis were loaded onto special transporters and delivered to their designated coach builders. Bentley representatives visited the body-building facilities ensuring all work was being completed in an efficient manner. Upon completion, the cars were tested and inspected thoroughly by Bentley Motors before being delivered to their first owners.

BC35LC was ordered through famed New York dealer, J. S. Inskip, with an extensive list of special features, including heavier padded seats (more comfortable than the standard lightweight design), the desirable center floor gear change, sleek Wilmot Breedon bumpers, then finished in a color simply called “Maroon,” a dark, rich red. It was shipped to New York on the SS Alsatian, 15 January 1954 and was displayed on the stand at the New York Auto Show. The first owner, William Brewster, is thought to have seen the car on the stand at the auto show and bought it on the spot. An avid car enthusiast and distinguished businessman, he favored Bentley Continentals. His family was connected with Standard Oil, and the great Brewster & Company coachbuilding firm that in post World War I years bodied many of the most beautiful Rolls-Royce cars built in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The next owner preserved it in storage as he considered it an investment. In the 1980s, when owned by Bentley and Rolls-Royce enthusiast, Frank Allocca, it was featured in a fashion photoshoot ad campaign for Ralph Lauren. Transferred through several owners in the U.S., still beautiful and road-worthy, it even competed in the 1999 Copperstate 1000, and the VSCCA Delaware Rally.

Following a recent ground-up, total mechanical and cosmetic restoration by marque specialists, Vantage Motorworks of North Miami, Florida, it wears its original dazzling Maroon paint color. The interior features gleaming veneers in burled walnut, framed in cross-banding, an array of correct and original instruments and superb re-trimming exactly as originally done, but in a very pale parchment leather. This R-Type includes rare and correct hand and road tools, owner's handbook, and original keys. Voluminous records contained in a personalized, leather-bound binder are included.

With very low production and exquisite design a Bentley R-Type Continental should be the cornerstone of any important Bentley collection. These cars are famous for extended high-speed touring, combining its smooth, powerful inline six-cylinder engine, a hot-knife-through-butter gearbox, and delicious road manners, resulting in a car that is as pleasant to drive as it is to view. Knowledgeable Bentley enthusiasts recognize this model as being the one to own and to drive, therefore this car's new owner may be assured of rarity, stunning good looks, and when the day is right, a lovely drive as well.

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Donnie Gould
Senior Car Specialist

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