Car Of The Day: 1952 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback Sports Saloon by H.J. Mulliner & Co.
The R-Type Continental was as rare a sight in the 1950s as it is today – but it went down in history as a benchmark Bentley, and the embodiment of the brand’s grand touring DNA. Its ethos and its exterior design were the inspiration for the first Continental GT in 2003, and it has inspired Bentley Design teams ever since.
The brainchild of Chief Projects Engineer, Ivan Evernden and Chief Stylist, John Blatchley, the R-Type Continental was described in period by Autocar magazine as ‘a modern magic carpet which annihilates great distances.’
Two pre-war coachbuilt specials, the ‘Embiricos’ Bentley and Mk V Corniche, had shown the advantages of improved aerodynamics. In the early 1950s, Ivan Evernden took inspiration from these one-off creations to create a sleek coupé based on the R-Type Bentley saloon. The power of the 4,566cc, six-cylinder in-line engine was raised from 140 to 153 bhp, and the transmission featured a higher final drive ratio. The prototype averaged 118.75 mph over five laps (with a best lap of just under 120mph) at the banked Montlhèry track near Paris.
At the time, it was the fastest four-seat car in the world – a mantle that was picked-up by the modern-day Continental GT in 2003. It was also the most expensive, at £6,928 – nearly four times the 1952 average UK house price.
The first production model was delivered to its owner in June 1952 and by the time production ended in 1955, 208 R-Type Continentals had been made. Of these, 193 were bodied by HJ Mulliner. Others included Park Ward (four dropheads and two coupés), Franay (five), Graber (three) and Farina (one).