1953 1953 Bentley R Type Continental

Summary

  • Year of manufacture 
    1953
  • Car type 
    Other
  • Lot number 
    119
  • Drive 
    LHD
  • Condition 
    Used
  • Location
  • Exterior colour 
    Other

Description

PROVENANCE
Ivar and Josephine Bryce, New York, New York (acquired new via Ian Fleming)
Mary Osgood Kester, San Francisco, California (acquired from the above circa 1960)
Dr. Roger H.L. Wilson, San Francisco, California (acquired from the above circa 1964)
Captain Robert Emery Wanless, Carmel, California (acquired circa 1970)
John F. Ling, Santa Monica, California (acquired from the above circa 1975)
Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired from the above in 1978)
Current Owner (acquired from the above)

EXHIBITED
Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, May 1971 (First in Class)

LITERATURE
Christian Hueber and David Sulzberger, The R-Type Continental Register, discussed on p. 46
Martin Bennett, Bentley Continental, chassis no. listed on p. 189
Robert T. Devlin, Pebble Beach: A Matter of Style, pictured on p. 223

THIS CAR
The Bentley presented here, chassis no. BC10LB, is a truly exceptional example of the marque’s most iconic postwar model, the R-Type Continental Fastback. Recently discovered in a Southern California garage, where it had been quietly sitting for over three decades, this rare, unrestored Bentley is all the more fascinating as it is inextricably linked to famed British author Ian Fleming and his lifelong friend Ivar Bryce.

In 1917, Fleming met Bryce on a beach in Cornwall, England. Sharing similar interests and social status – Bryce’s father made a fortune in the guano business and Fleming’s grandfather founded a Scottish merchant bank – the two became fast friends. During the 1920s, both attended Eton College and partnered on the purchase of a second-hand Douglas motorcycle. Bryce and Fleming kept in contact throughout the 1930s and reconnected when they were conscripted to military service. During WWII, Bryce worked for William Stephenson, the head of British Security Coordination, and Fleming served as personal assistant to Admiral John Godfrey, director of British Naval Intelligence. In 1941, Fleming visited Bryce at his home in Nassau, Bahamas, and, inspired by his time in the Caribbean, remarked, “When we have won this blasted war, I am going to live in Jamaica. Just live in Jamaica and lap it up, and swim in the sea and write books.”

In 1945, Bryce helped Fleming purchase 12 acres of land outside Oracabessa, Jamaica. There, Fleming built a house that he named “Goldeneye,” after a wartime project he had conducted in Spain. It was at this Jamaican home that Fleming created James Bond, naming his most famous character after the author of a book titled Birds of the West Indies.

Unsurprisingly, Fleming’s James Bond novels are full of references to Bryce and their lifetime of shared experiences. In fact, the Bryce surname appears in Dr. No and Live and Let Die, and Fleming’s character Felix Leiter, who first appears in Casino Royale as a CIA operative and Bond’s friend, is based largely on Bryce, whose middle name was Felix.

In 1950, Bryce married heiress Josephine Hartford, an incredibly wealthy woman – her grandfather founded the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company and her father was president of the Hartford Shock Absorber company.

In late 1952 or early 1953, Fleming ordered a new Bentley R-Type Continental on behalf of his dear friends Ivar and Josephine Bryce, handling the purchase personally.

As noted in The R-Type Continental Register, the Bryces’ Bentley, BC10LB, has the distinction of being the first example built on the revised R-Type frame, with earlier cars using the Mk VI or Mk VII chassis. Given its relatively early build date, this B-Series Continental was equipped with the 4.5-litre engine and, as it was ultimately destined for use in the US, specified as a left-hand-drive car.

Among the 43 left-hand-drive R-Type Continentals built, BC10LB is even more special, as it is one of only 34 examples specified with a manual gearbox and just 11 equipped with the rare, left-hand-drive-only column change.

Completed by Bentley Motors on January 9, 1953, chassis BC10LB was sent to H.J. Mulliner’s workshop, where it was clothed with the iconic fastback body, internally designated design no. 7277. The body fitted to BC10LB, bearing no. 5553, was originally finished in the attractive combination of Deep Grey over black Connolly leather upholstery. Perhaps it was Fleming who selected the car’s original color, as Bryce noted that his friend constantly drove “elephant’s breath grey” cars.

Outfitted with Wilmot Breedon bumpers, rear spats, and lightweight seats, the Mulliner fastback was custom-tailored with several special features. Most chrome items, including the radiator shell, were painted Deep Grey, and the Bentley was equipped with Windtone horns, sealed-beam headlamps, two fog lamps, a medium-wave radio, “Made in England” tags, fitted suitcases, and a racehorse mascot. The mascot was undoubtedly a reference to the Bryces’ passion for horse racing. Ivar and Josephine owned several stables and many famous horses including Miss Grillo, winner of the 1948 Pimlico Cup, and Chop Chop, a leading sire in Canada.

Upon completion in April 1953, the new Bentley was collected by the Bryces’ chauffeur, and the car remained in the UK for the next two months while final adjustments were made. On June 15, 1953, BC10LB was flown to Cherbourg, France, collected by Ivar and Josephine Bryce, and used to tour France, Spain, Italy, and Austria. Following its tour, the Bentley was returned to the UK, where it was kept at Moyns Park, the Bryces’ Elizabethan country house in Essex.

In 1955, the Bentley was shipped to the Bryces’ Balcony House in the Bahamas – thought to be the oldest home in Nassau – before being moved to New York City, where they kept an apartment on East 74th Street. Finally, in the late 1950s, BC10LB was kept at Black Hole Hollow Farm, the couple’s country estate in Vermont.

In the late 1950s or early 1960s, the Bryce’s sold the Bentley to Mary Osgood Kester, a former officer with the US Naval Security Station, who ran a general law practice headquartered in San Francisco’s famous Mills Tower. When Ms. Kester moved to England in 1964, ownership of the Bentley passed to Dr. Roger H.L. Wilson, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

In 1970, Captain Robert Emery Wanless, a retired Pan American World Airways pilot and classic car collector in Carmel, California, became the first of the R-Type Continental’s owners to register BC10LB with the Bentley Drivers Club. Wanless recorded the car as having a UK registration number, NXD 335, which was likely issued under the Bryces’ ownership. During his ownership, Wanless refinished the Bentley in its current white livery and displayed it throughout 1971, winning First in Class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance® as well as an RROC National Award.

In 1975, the Bentley was sold to John F. Ling of Santa Monica, California, and, in 1978, it was sold through a dealer named Richter to a Beverly Hills surgeon. The exact whereabouts of BC10LB remained a mystery until recently, when the car was discovered in the exclusive Hancock Park area of Los Angeles, parked in the garage of its long-term owner.

Presented in as-found condition – retaining its original leather upholstery, 1960s-era black and yellow California license plates, and matching-numbers engine – BC10LB is a prime candidate for a complete, concours-quality restoration. Once returned to its original splendor, this historic R-Type Continental Fastback would be a magnificent display at leading international events, from the concours d’elegance events at Pebble Beach® and Villa d’Este to Bentley Drivers Club and RROC Meets.

Offered with copies of the original build records, period service pamphlets, a 1984 edition of Ivar Bryce’s book You Only Live Once: Memories of Ian Fleming, several original tools, and the original owner’s handbook (inscribed with the names of the car’s first five owners), this R-Type Continental is particularly complete and well-documented.

Of the 207 R-Type Continentals built, BC10LB is, without a doubt, among the most extraordinary examples. Ordered new by legendary author Ian Fleming for his closest friend and confidant Ivar Bryce, this left-hand-drive Mulliner fastback was specified with the most desirable equipment, colors, and myriad bespoke features. Its remarkable journey over the past 62 years has seen the car travel from England to Europe and back, then cross the Atlantic to North America, where it moved between the Bahamas, New York, New England, and San Francisco, before retiring to a secluded garage in Los Angeles more than 30 years ago. Never before offered for public sale and last seen by enthusiasts on the award ramp at the 1971 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, this R-Type Continental is surely among the most exciting Bentley discoveries of all time.