Monterey | Lot 347
1953 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback Sports Saloon by H.J. Mulliner
$1,435,000 USD | Sold
| Monterey, California
14 August 2021
- Offered from a decade of enthusiast ownership
- Original left-hand-drive, center-shift manual, lightweight bucket seat example; original factory 4.9-liter engine upgrade in period
- Factory-style air conditioning and big-bore cylinder head conversion by marque specialists
- Meticulously maintained restoration; well-documented history
- Simply put, the ultimate-specification R-Type Continental
THE MODERN MAGIC CARPET
In the early 1950s, there was no other automobile quite like the Bentley R-Type Continental, the ultimate gentleman’s express. 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 Bentley Drivers Club 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.” It was the fastest four-seat production car in the world—and the most expensive—cementing its exclusivity with only 207 made and earning its reputation as “the car of kings.” In total, 43 left-hand drive examples were produced, of which merely 23 were equipped with the center-shift manual gearchange
CHASSIS NUMBER BC1LB
Chassis number BC1LB, offered here, ticks all the boxes for R-Type Continental connoisseurs. It was one of only two of the second-series “B” models supplied with both left-hand-drive and the desirable, sporting center-shift manual transmission, and was also fitted 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 thing that it lacked when new was the more powerful 4.9-liter engine – because it did not yet exist; the engine would only be introduced for the final “D” and “E” cars later, in 1954.
That was shortly remedied for 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 was totally remanufactured to the most current specification—and one does mean “total,” as essentially an entire new automobile was created in Crewe. The chassis was rebuilt to the latest, and lighter, welded-frame construction, crowned with its fresh 4.9-litre engine, and then sent back to Mulliner for a full new body to the original design, no. 5706, all as documented in original build paperwork and Christian Heubner’s Bentley R-Type Continental Register. The build documents indicate that only some trim hardware was reused from the first iteration. It is significant to note that, 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 Masons Black livery with Tan leather interior, going on to garner RROC Senior awards between 1989 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 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 delivered air-conditioned from the factory. Further, in its current 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 current owner has driven the car in the 2012 Copperstate 1000, where it never “failed to proceed,” and won the Distance Award. Yet it also remains show-worthy, as seen by its Best Rolls-Royce or Bentley trophy from the Greystone Mansion Concours in 2012, Best in Class at the Amelia Island Concours in 2013, Best in Class during the Bentley feature year at Mar-a-Lago Classic Sports Sunday in 2014, and Most Elegant Bentley at the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance in 2019 (the Bentley Motors centenary year). In fact, the only show at which it has appeared where it was not an award-winner was at the Audrain Concours, also in 2019... as the owner was judging at the event and thus withdrew it from concours consideration. That same year the R-Type Continental was returned once more to Vantage Motorworks, this time for a mechanical service and cosmetic freshening, including the fitment of new Wilton carpets.
Accompanying the car are the aforementioned copies of build and Register documentation, partial restoration photos indicating a full body-off renovation, plus invoices from maintenance undertaken by Vantage Motorworks and Paul Russell & Co. during the decade of current ownership—as well as assorted trophies and awards garnered during that time. Of course, 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 Vantage Motorworks engine upgrades, should a new owner prefer to return the car to its 1954 engine configuration.
An R-Type Continental Mulliner fastback is the most celebrated of all postwar Bentleys. Consistently maintained, appreciated, and improved over its long life, BC1LB exemplifies the most desirable and sporting specification, and is most certainly among the handful of “ultimate examples” of the model, now presented in superb running and cosmetic order, from one enthusiast to another.
Please note that accompanying original engine components for this car will remain in Massachusetts and can be shipped to the buyer post-sale at the buyer’s expense.