1954 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback Sports Saloon by H.J. Mulliner
Sold For $1,870,000Inclusive of applicable buyer's fee.
- A genuine left-hand drive, U.S.-delivery example
- One of only nine LHD examples equipped with the advanced Cadillac-derived automatic transmission
- Well-documented and distinguished provenance; five owners from new
- Fresh, exhaustive, body-off restoration by marque specialists
- Wonderful original color combination; matching-numbers original engine
- Factory original handbook, tools, and rare Continental Spares Touring Kit
178 bhp, 4,566 cc OHV inline six-cylinder engine with two SU carburetors, four-speed automatic transmission, independent front suspension with wishbones, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar; live rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs; and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 120 in.
THE MODERN MAGIC CARPET
Even after becoming the “Silent Sports Car” in the mid-1930s, Bentley held tight to its performance heritage. Later in the decade, the company began experimenting with aerodynamic designs and eventually created the Georges Paulin-designed Corniche prototype of 1940. While the Corniche did not survive World War II, its spirit did, and after the War, it evolved into H.I.F. Evernden and J.P. Blatchley’s R-Type Continental. It is “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 and roadability.”
H.J. Mulliner was contracted to design and clothe the prototype Continental, which was based on the frame, suspension, steering, and braking components of a standard R-Type. Numerous components, notably including the entire body, were built of light alloy, resulting in a four-passenger body that weighed only 750 pounds and less than 4,000 pounds when mated to the chassis. After extensive road tests in France, the prototype’s overdriven top-gear gearbox was found to be unsuitable for the rpms offered by the engine, so it was replaced by a direct-ratio top gear and lower axle ratio, which was a combination that proved best for both high-speed touring and well-spaced gear changes for city driving.
Of the 207 production Continentals built between May 1952 and April 1955, Mulliner would body 193 of them to variations of their prototype design, which was dubbed the Sports Saloon. The Mulliner-bodied R-Type Continental created a space for itself that was unique. It combined the swiftness of a Jaguar XK, the driver-friendly agility of an Alfa Romeo, and the luxuriant comfort of a Rolls-Royce in one elite, built-to-order package that cost $18,000, making it the world’s most expensive series production car as well as the fastest four-seater any money could buy.
In the early 1950s, there was no other automobile quite like it in the world, which made it a “must-have” for heads of state, captains of industry, as well as the burgeoning jet set. James Bond drove a version he had Mulliner re-body from a wreck in the 1961 novel Thunderball. Famously, in the words of Autocar magazine, it was “a modern magic carpet.” In the words of modern BDC members: “Best car I have ever owned.” “Hope to take it to Heaven with me!” “Would not swap it for a thousand camels, even in the middle of the desert.”
CHASSIS NUMBER BC66LC
Of the 193 Fastback Sports Saloons produced by H.J. Mulliner on the R-Type Continental chassis, only 43 were left-hand drive from new, and of those 43, a mere nine were fitted with an automatic gearbox, a reliable GM-based Hydra-Matic 4-speed transmission. Those who may scoff at the automatic gearbox will be enlightened to know that the automatic transmission has a higher final drive ratio, giving the automatic cars the highest top speed of any R-Type Continental – making them truly the “fastest of the fastest” four-seat production automobiles of their era.
The rare factory left-hand drive, automatic gearbox example offered here, chassis number BC66LC, was originally delivered by J.S. Inskip to prominent yachtsman John Dimick at his Constitution Avenue address in Washington, D.C. Copies of the original build documents, which are on file, indicate that the car received such bespoke features as Wilmot Breeden bumpers, sealed beam headlamps, flashing turn indicators, twin fog lamps, right-hand-door locks, and “radio delete” (to lighten the weight of the completed car).
The Bentley remained with Mr. Dimick for 10 years, after which it was owned by B.R. Franko-Filipasic of Morristown, Pennsylvania, the inventor and patent-holder to an innovative flame-resistant fabric. It was subsequently owned by longtime collector William T. DiCurcio of New Jersey, from whom it was acquired by the renowned film actor and automotive connoisseur, Nicolas Cage. Cage, in turn, sold the car in 2008 to its current owner, only the fifth since new.
During the intervening years, the car underwent a true body-off, frame-up restoration contracted out to various California Bay Area craftsmen for each important sequence, mainly Bentley and Rolls-Royce experts, with invoices and a huge quantity of impressive progress photos available upon request. Every single component was removed, cleaned, stripped, and then correctly plated, painted, or repaired; what few components required replacement were changed out for authentic original parts. The body was stripped to bare metal, revealing in the process the original and highly attractive Silver Blue paint color, which has been faithfully and flawlessly reproduced. Original Connolly hide color numbers were researched, allowing the Light Blue interior to be recreated, along with the correct carpeting, headliner, and trim. The woodwork, instruments, and interior hardware were restored and refitted by a Bentley Works-trained specialist. A Pebble Beach Bentley team judge was retained to act as consulting supervisor during restoration to warrant authenticity and accuracy of detail.
The freshly completed car is accompanied to the new owner by its aforementioned factory build records, along with an original hardcover owner’s handbook, complete sets of road and hand tools, and the rare and valuable Continental Touring Spares Kit that was available from the factory. Simply put, this rare and exquisite left-hand drive example stands ready to become the finest R-Type Continental on the show circuit, and the most beautifully, correctly restored example to be offered at public sale in recent memory.
Please note the shift linkage into reverse has developed a problem which will be resolved post-sale at the consignor’s expense. The consignor has agreed to deliver the car to the new owner, to any location in the US 48 states.