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Lot 649: 1955 Bentley R-Type Continental Sports Saloon
Coachwork by H J Mulliner

Collectors' Motor Cars and Motorcycles, Bonhams (3 December 2007)

Described by The Autocar as, ‘A new stage in the evolution of the post-war Bentley,’ the magnificent Continental sports saloon has been synonymous with effortless high speed cruising in the grand manner since its introduction in 1952 on the R-Type chassis. Of all-welded construction, the latter enabled the incorporation of a much-needed improvement to Rolls-Royce’s standard bodywork in the shape of an enlarged boot together with associated changes to rear wings and suspension. The R-Type and its Rolls-Royce sister car, the ‘E’ Series Silver Dawn, were notable as the first Rolls-Royce products available with automatic transmission, the company having opted for General Motors’ Hydra-Matic, a state-of-the-art four-speed unit permitting manual selection. The standard R-Type was a lively performer, achieving 106mph in silence and reaching 50mph from standstill in 10 seconds despite a kerb weight approaching two tons.
The Continental raised this already superlative combination of high performance and exceptional refinement to hitherto unattained levels. Rolls-Royce’s six-cylinder, inlet-over-exhaust engine had been enlarged from 4,257cc to 4,556cc in 1951, and as installed in the Continental benefited from an increase in compression ratio - the maximum power output, of course, remained unquoted. Unlike the ordinary ‘standard steel’ R-Type, the Continental was bodied in the traditional manner and first appeared with what many enthusiasts consider to be the model’s definitive style of coachwork - the lightweight, wind tunnel-developed fastback of H J Mulliner.
The Continental’s performance figures would have been considered excellent for an out-and-out sports car, but for a full four/five seater saloon they were exceptional: a top speed of 120mph, 100mph achievable in third gear, 50mph reached in a little over 9 seconds and effortless cruising at the ‘ton’. Built for export only at first, the Continental was, once delivery charges and local taxes had been paid, almost certainly the most expensive car in the world, as well as the fastest capable of carrying four adults and their luggage. ‘The Bentley is a modern magic carpet which annihilates great distances and delivers the occupants well-nigh as fresh as when they started,’ concluded Autocar.
The example offered here - ‘BC7E’ - was delivered to Jack Barclay’s representative on 26th April 1955 and thence to its first owner, one G C V Brittain, via area retailer, Agnew & Graham Ltd, of Belfast. An automatic transmission model, ‘BC7E’ was ordered with bench-type front seats; recesses in both doors with nearside picnic set; time-of-trip chronograph; under bonnet lights; red piping in boot; ‘GB’ letters; badge bar and electric aerial.
By the dawn of the 1970s, the Continental had enjoyed a further three owners, and before the end of that decade had undergone a major mechanical overhaul at Gibson Engineers, Leeds; been re-trimmed in red and re-sprayed Morocco Brown. The car was displayed in the Black Collection in Yorkshire between 1987 and 1994, and during that time was repainted in its original Midnight Blue livery with red coachline. More recently, the car competed in the 46th Rallye Internationale des Alpes Historique in 2002 and the R-Type Continental 50th anniversary reunion at Silverstone in August that same year.
Offered from the well-known stable of a long-standing Rolls-Royce and Bentley collector/driver, ‘BC7E’ benefits from recently fitted new red leather door panels and rebuilt carburettors, while sensible upgrades include electronic ignition and a radio overhauled and converted to FM reception with iPod connection. Smartly presented, the car comes complete with period tool kit and is offered with copy build sheets/chassis cards, Swansea V5 document, current tax/MoT and its individual copy of the standard work Bentley Continental Sports Saloon by Christian Hueber and David Sulzberger.

Lot Details
Auction Collectors' Motor Cars and Motorcycles
Bonhams, Olympia, London,
Lot Number649
Outcome NOT SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Condition rating
Registration numberKFO 780
Chassis numberBC7E
Engine numberBCE7
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors