Year of manufacture1953
Number of seats2
In current ownership since 1979
1953 Bentley R-Type 4.9-Litre Continental Sports Saloon
Coachwork by H J Mulliner
Registration no. 813 FUF
Chassis no. BC32C
Engine no. BCC31
'The vocabulary of motoring being a lame and limited thing, it is difficult to put into words the gulf that separates a Continental from the average car in all the qualities that have a bearing on safety at speed. In acceleration, in braking, in cornering power, in roadholding, in responsiveness to the controls, this Bentley is the equal of modern racing cars, and superior to some.' Raymond Mays, The Autocar, 2nd October 1953.
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 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. 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, aluminium, wind tunnel-developed fastback of H J Mulliner. In developing the Continental, Bentley Motors made every effort to keep its weight to the minimum, knowing that this was the most effective way to achieve the maximum possible performance.
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 but has been estimated at around 153bhp. As the Continental matured, there was inevitably an increase in weight, which was offset by the introduction of a 4,887cc engine on the 'D' and 'E' series cars, commencing in May 1954. 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. As Autocar observed: 'The Bentley is a modern magic carpet which annihilates great distances and delivers the occupants well-nigh as fresh as when they started,'.
The example offered here - right-hand drive chassis number 'BC32C' - was ordered new by Papeteries Boucher of Docelles, Vosges, France and delivered via Franco-Britannic Automobiles of Levallois-Perret, having been flown from Blackbushe Airport to Le Touquet on 11th February 1954. Accompanying copy chassis cards and build details show that the Continental was originally finished in Tudor Grey with tan leather interior trim, while special features included an armrest to passenger door, speedometer in kilometres, Wilmot Breedon bumpers, twin fog lamps, and a rear blind. 'BC32C' has the manual gearbox and right-hand gear lever; the latter considered to be far superior to both the steering column and central gear changes, which have the disadvantage of additional linkages resulting in less precise shifting. A published road test of the right-hand gear change on an R-Type Continental noted that the expression, 'like a hot knife through butter!' was especially apt.
The Series-A, B and C Continentals were delivered with the 4.5-litre engine but when the 4.9-litre unit with its hardened valve seats became available in 1954, Bentley Motors offered it to owners of these earlier cars. 'BC32C' received an exchange 4.9-litre engine in February 1957.
Various sources record the first owner one M Cuny, who presumably was either the proprietor or a senior manager of Papeteries Boucher, a stationery company. The chassis cards list only one subsequent owner: M H Finer of California, USA who acquired the Bentley in July 1963. Less than two years later, in January 1965, the Continental passed to the next owner in the USA, W Yeager, who was followed in February 1971 by William A Rose Jr. Mr Rose had 'BC32C' re-sprayed Regal Red in 1972 (it had already been repainted in Sable Brown) and kept the car until circa 1978. The current UK-based owner purchased the Bentley in 1979 from a New York showroom and brought it home to England.
In September 1990 the car was despatched to marque specialists Healey Brothers of Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire for total restoration, a process that would occupy the succeeding five years and cost in excess of £42,000. All bills relating to the rebuild may be found in the accompanying dedicated file. Other files contain invoices from marque specialists West Hoathly Garage, which serviced the Bentley from June 1998 to May 2004, and Royce Service & Engineering (August 2007 to date). The most recent bill on file (for £9,031) relates to a major service and extensive re-commissioning, including a gearbox overhaul and the installation of Lumenition electronic ignition, which was carried out by Royce Engineering in July 2014.
In addition to the aforementioned files of invoices, the car comes with tax and MoT records for the period May 2005 to date; previous and current UK registration documents; and details of the R-Type 50th Anniversary Meeting at Silverstone in August 2002 in which 'BC32C' participated. A copy of the 'Bentley Register' by Christian Hueber & David A Sulzberger; two original handbooks (one in French); and a copy of Stanley Sedgwick's 'R-Type Continental' (1978) are included in the sale.
Presented in generally excellent condition, 'BC32C' represents a rare opportunity to acquire a fine example of the most famous post-war Bentley, possessing impeccable provenance.