Lot Number
221

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

Sold For $1,210,000

Inclusive of applicable buyer's fee.

RM | Sotheby's - MONTEREY 13 - 15 AUGUST 2015


Body No.
Chassis No.
Engine No.
5489
BC25A
BCA24
  • Originally delivered to Aristotle Onassis
  • Desirable early A-series Continental
  • Lightweight seats, rear fender spats, and manual gearbox
  • Formerly owned by J. Heumann and Kent Wakeford
  • Well-maintained restoration by marque specialists

Body Style 7277. 153 bhp, 4,566 cc inlet-over-exhaust inline six-cylinder engine with twin SU carburetors, four-speed manual transmission, independent wishbone front suspension with coil springs and an anti-roll bar, live rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf-spring suspension, and four-wheel servo-assisted hydraulic front and mechanical rear drum brakes. Wheelbase: 120 in.

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, eventually evolving the Georges Paulin-designed Corniche prototype of 1940. The Corniche did not survive World War II, but its spirit did, and after the war, it evolved into H.I.F. Evernden and J.P. Blatchley’s R-Type Continental, “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 build the prototype Continental, which was based on the frame, suspension, steering, and braking components of a standard R-Type. The body, window, and seat frames were built of light alloy, resulting in a four-passenger body that weighed only 750 pounds, totaling less than 4,000 pounds when mated to the chassis. After extensive road tests in France, the prototype’s gearbox overdriven top gear 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 Fastback created a space for itself that was unique. It combined the swiftness of a Ferrari, 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. In the early 1950s, there was no other automobile quite like it in the world, which made it a “must-have” for the burgeoning jet set. In the words of Autocar magazine, it was “a modern magic carpet.”

CHASSIS NUMBER BC25A: THE ONASSIS CONTINENTAL

Initial owners of the R-Type Continental read like a “who’s who” of important world figures, including many of the wealthiest and best-known enthusiasts. Not least among these was Aristotle Onassis. Perhaps best-remembered today for his stormy long-term relationship with opera diva Maria Callas and his late-in-life marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, Onassis built his family’s shipping firm into the world’s largest privately owned fleet. In his time, he was one of the world’s richest men and a flamboyant, larger-than-life society figure whose holdings included his own private island and a 325-foot yacht converted from an anti-submarine frigate.

Onassis ordered and took delivery of his R-Type Continental, an early A-series car, through Paris dealership Franco-Brittanic Autos. His original ownership of chassis number BC25A is recorded in the Bentley R-Type Continental Register and in the records of the Rolls-Royce Foundation, detailing the car’s original build specifications and copies of which are on file. The Continental was equipped with French-specification features; most importantly of all, this is one of the desirable “seats and spats” cars, having been originally ordered with both rear fender skirts and lightweight bucket seats.

The car was delivered in April 1953 and remained with Onassis until 1959. Following four years of ownership by George Cahan, of France, it was exported to the United States in 1963 by famous California exotic car dealer Peter Satori, who sold it to Jules Heumann, of San Francisco. Known simply as “J” to his many friends in the hobby, the long-time co-chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance drove the Continental regularly in the Bay Area for two years, until an unfortunate accident forced him to part with it. It was fully repaired and sold to James Dunbar, of San Mateo. In 1972, it passed to renowned Hollywood cinematographer and car enthusiast Kent Wakeford and then, in 1974, to Charles Anker, of Santa Monica.

In 1988, the car returned to England, only to be acquired that year and repatriated by its present owner, an avid Bentley connoisseur, in whose stable the car has now remained for over a quarter-century. It was restored in 1989 by the renowned Miami, Florida, firm of Vantage Motorworks, which refinished the car in Tudor Grey with Maroon leather interior, the original color combination used for Mr. Onassis. As part of the restoration, a period-correct air-conditioning system was added, ducted below the rear window, to ensure driving comfort.

The car has been regularly maintained by its owner’s professional staff and has been kept in excellent overall order; it scarcely shows the age of its restoration. However, as this R-Type has been used sparingly since being acquired, further minor mechanical sorting would be advised. It is offered here as one of few available early A-series Continentals and one of fewer still that benefitted from ownership of one of the illustrious names that made the Continental famous. It is bold, fast, and exciting—much like Aristotle Onassis himself.


Addendum

Please note this vehicle is titled as a 1954.


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