Monterey 2024

1953 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback Sports Saloon by H.J. Mulliner

United States | Monterey, California



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  • An original left-hand-drive, center-shift manual, lightweight bucket seat example, with factory 4.9-liter engine upgrade in-period
  • Factory-style air conditioning and big-bore cylinder head conversion by marque specialists
  • Meticulously maintained restoration
  • An exceptional, ultimate-specification R-Type Continental

Chassis number BC1LB was one of only two second-series “B” Bentley R-Type Continentals equipped with both left-hand-drive and the desirable, sporting, center-shift manual transmission, and was also fitted from new with lightweight aluminum-frame bucket seats and Wilmot Breedon bumpers, as well as the rear fender “spats” common to all R-Type Continentals through the late “C” series. The only item among the enthusiast’s wish list of R-Type Continental features that it lacked when new was the larger, more powerful 4.9-liter engine—as it did not yet exist. That engine would only be introduced for the final “D” and “E” cars, in 1954.

This situation was shortly remedied for BC1LB’s original owner, J. Gordon Mack, of the Pennsylvania family that owned the G.C. Murphy variety store chain. Mr. Mack took delivery on 16 July 1953, via New York distributor J.S. Inskip. Less than a year later, presumably following a serious accident, the car was returned to the factory and totally remanufactured to the most current specification—and one does mean “total,” as essentially an entire new automobile was created at Crewe. The chassis was rebuilt to the latest and lightest welded-frame construction, crowned with a fresh 4.9-liter engine, and then sent back to Mulliner for a full new body to the original design, all as documented by original paperwork and in Christian Heubner’s Bentley R-Type Continental Register. The build documents indicate that only some trim pieces were reused from the first iteration; according to the Register, “Upon completion BC1LB was again considered ‘as new’ by the factory and another three-year guarantee was issued.”

The Bentley returned stateside in the summer of 1954, but Mr. Mack passed away soon thereafter. On 3 October 1956, Inskip dealt the car for his estate to the second owner, Robert Publicker. A Schoellkopf card held by the Rolls-Royce Foundation notes that on 26 January 1961, the car was again sold by Inskip, this time to Edmond R. du Pont of Delaware. On 18 July 1966, it was bought by Anthony Thompson, who in January 1980 passed it to Alan W. Rothschild. The car was restored in 1988 to its present livery, Masons Black with Tan leather interior, going on to garner RROC Senior awards between 1988 and 1992, and an AACA National Senior First Prize for Mr. Rothschild in 1990.

In keeping with the tradition begun during original ownership, in 1997 the car was submitted to the marque specialists Vantage Motorworks, and received an air conditioning system that duplicates that fitted to the 1953 New York show car, the only R-Type Continental known to have been fitted with air conditioning from the factory. Further, in its previous ownership, the Bentley received a correct-style aluminum radiator from the UK and, most significantly, an upgrade to the big-valve, six-port cylinder head, as used on the Bentley S1, as well as larger SU carburetors, a special distributor, and a larger-diameter tailpipe, boosting the engine’s output even further to 178 brake horsepower. Known as the “OPWAS modification,” this was originally available through the factory as a retrofit to earlier Continentals in 1955, and has become popular since as a way to optimize the performance of these grandest of tourers.

The prior owner, a longtime enthusiast, drove the car in the 2012 Copperstate 1000, where it never “failed to proceed,” and won the Distance Award. Yet it has also been conscientiously kept cosmetically and is still in show-worthy condition, as seen by its numerous concours honors, including Best in Class at the Amelia Island Concours in 2013 and Most Elegant Bentley at the Boca Raton Concours in 2019. Accompanying the car are the aforementioned copies of build and Register documentation, partial restoration photos indicating a full body-off restoration, plus invoices from maintenance undertaken by Vantage Motorworks and Paul Russell & Co. during the previous decade-long ownership. Also still present are the complete sets of road and hand tools, as well as a correct original hardbound handbook, brochure, parts list, “Private and Confidential” chassis information book, and the original components removed during the OPWAS modification should a new owner prefer to return the car to its 1954 engine configuration.

An R-Type Continental Mulliner fastback sports saloon is the most celebrated of all post-war Bentleys. Consistently maintained, appreciated, and improved over its long life, BC1LB exemplifies the most desirable, sporting specification, and is most certainly among the handful of “ultimate examples” of the model—now presented in superb running and cosmetic order, to the latest in its line of great enthusiast caretakers. It is an outstanding machine.