A car that epitomised British luxury grand touring in the 1950s, Bentley’s R-Type Continental had the performance to match its looks and, in some ways, was a successor to the Speed Six of the pre-war era.
Based on Bentley’s R-Type saloon, what set the Continental apart was its curvaceous fastback bodywork. Designed by engineer Ivan Evernden and stylist John Blatchley (both of Rolls-Royce), the bodywork was executed entirely in aluminium; rare for the time and certainly rare for a large sporting saloon.
Under that lightweight body, the engine was the same 4.6-litre straight six used in the regular R-Type, but with modified induction, different carburation, a modified exhaust and higher gear ratios for the 4-speed manual transmission. The combination of more power (153hp vs 140hp) and light weight (even the bumpers were aluminium) made the Continental the fastest four-seater production car of its day – a top speed over 115mph (185+km/h) and the ability to cruise at 100mph (160km/h) all day.
Upon its launch, the R-Type Continental was described by Autocar (UK) magazine as a “modern magic carpet which annihilates great distances”, and despite a price tag almost fifteen times the average annual income of a UK household in 1952, Bentley built 208 Continentals in a three-year period. Most were bodied by H.J. Mulliner, like the 2012 Best in Show winner, but a handful were finished by other coachbuilders, too.
This car - ‘BC12A’ - was originally commissioned by Gianni Agnelli, grandson of Giovanni Agnelli (founder of Fiat and arguably the wealthiest man in Italy), in October, 1952, and ordered with lightweight seats, passenger door armrest and a rear window demister.
Despite the variety of Italian coachbuilders at his disposal, Agnelli chose an H.J. Mulliner body for his car, finished in Traffic Blue paint with a tan leather interior. Curiously, Agnelli also ordered his Continental in right-hand drive.
Imported into Australia in 1960, this example of the most desirable post-war Bentley would be worth more than AU$1 million today.
2019 Motorclassica – Essential Info
Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton (Nicholson St, Carlton)
Friday, 11 October - 9:00am to 9:00pm
Saturday, 12 October - 9:00am to 9:00pm
Sunday, 13 October - 9:00am to 5:00pm
Further Details https://motorclassica.com.au/