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Lot 121: Bentley R-Type Continental Sports Saloon

Goodwood Revival Sale, Bonhams (15 September 2012)

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 – right-hand drive chassis number 'BC7C' - was ordered new by Greek shipping tycoon, Stavros Niarchos, delivered via H A Fox & Co and kept in the UK. Known as 'The Golden Greek', Niarchos is credited with being one of the first ship owners, together with his great rival Aristotle Onassis, to pioneer the use of 'super tankers' for the transportation of crude oil. This type of ship first appeared in 1952, and when the Suez crisis of 1956 closed the Canal, demand skyrocketed and Niarchos became a billionaire. Accompanying build history shows that the car was originally finished in Circassian Blue with off-white and tan trim, and delivered equipped with manual transmission. It is noted that subsequently the car had the 'suspension tuned' and fitted with a 1" front anti-roll bar. On 1st February 1959, the Bentley passed to its second owner, Mr Gerald Shipman, and while in his ownership was re-sprayed Mid-Coach Green. The third owner, one M A Messenger acquired the car on 7th March 1963 while the next owner, Major F Ingham, had the interior re-trimmed in fawn pigskin. Major Ingham owned the Bentley from 4th January 1969 and during his ownership the engine was completely overhauled and re-bored by marque specialists Rippon Brothers (at 148,000 miles in 1969). On 29th March 1971 ownership passed from Major Ingham to the current vendor, only its fifth owner in nearly 60 years; the recorded mileage at this time being 161,739. The bill of sale shows that the Bentley was purchased from Tony Michael & Co Ltd, Devonshire Place Mews, London W1 for £2,950 (less allowance for a Lancia Fulvia Zagato 1.3 Coupé). The Bentley was used as a working car for the first two years, including daily drives from Kensington to the City of London, as well as regular trips to Cornwall, Northumberland and Scotland. In 1972 the car received a new fuel pump and radiator matrix, had the cylinder head skimmed and was fitted with an oil cooler. Since acquisition 'OLA 796' (its original registration) has also been repainted in its factory livery of Circassian Blue, which was done in July 1989. In 1990 the cylinder head was gas flowed and the compression ratio raised to 8:1 by Holbay Engineering (see correspondence with Christian Hueber) while in 1999 a six-branch extractor exhaust manifold was fitted. A rolling road report, dated 1999, shows a 20bhp increase at the rear wheels. The engine also has a modern spin-off oil filter. Additional mechanical work includes fitting twin 12" electric cooling fans in place of the original mechanically driven fan; enlarging the cooling system with a four-row radiator; fitted a coolant overflow tank pressurised to 6lbs; changing to Lumenition electronic ignition; and fitting a new carburettor air box with ducted fresh air intake and a modern filter. Accompanying documentation includes a file containing a large number of bills and invoices accumulated during the vendor's 40 years with the Continental. The most recent marque specialist assistance has been provided by Harvey Wash Ltd of Kelvedon, Essex (during in 2007/2008), who also worked on the car during the 1990s together with P&A Wood. The vendor first used Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd, Scrubbs Lane to maintain/service the car in 1971 (bills on file). A keen engineer, the late owner carried out a great deal of the general maintenance and upgrades himself. In a letter to Harvey Wash dated October 2002, the vendor comments: 'We covered about 2,500 miles in France on holiday in July in the Continental and it proved that at last (after 30 years) all the overheating and fuel vaporisation problems are conquered so that I can travel at normal French motorway speeds and get stuck in traffic jams in the heat of the summer in the South without worry... It's a wonderful experience to holiday with the Continental at modern speeds on the continent and in the heat of summer!' This was one of numerous continental trips 'OLA' enjoyed in the vendor's possession. Also provided with the car is an original owner's handbook; copy 'Running and Maintenance Instructions'; a motor expenses book (only partially completed); various items of correspondence; copy chassis cards; old-style buff logbook; an almost complete tool kit; and a quantity of expired MoT certificates. The latter shows that the car has covered only 6,400-or-so miles since 2002, the mileage at that time being circa 210,000. The Continental has been SORN'd for the past few years, its last outing of significance being the Helmingham Hall rally in July 2010. Offered with current road fund licence, MoT June 2013 and Swansea V5 registration document, 'OLA 796' represents a rare opportunity to acquire a fine example of the most famous post-war Bentley, sensibly updated and possessing impeccable provenance.

Lot Details
Auction Goodwood Revival Sale
Bonhams, Chichester, Goodwood
Lot Number121
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£350000
Hammer Price (inc premium)£393500
Condition rating1
Registration numberOLA 796
Chassis numberBC7C
Engine numberBC7C
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors2