1952 Bentley R Type

Summary

  • Year of manufacture 
    1952
  • Car type 
    Other
  • Lot number 
    024
  • Drive 
    LHD
  • Condition 
    Used
  • Location
  • Exterior colour 
    Other

Description

PROVENANCE
André Simon, Paris, France (acquired new via Franco-Britannic Automobiles in 1952)
M. Permanis, France (acquired via Franco-Britannic Automobiles in 1953)
Father Joseph Reagen (acquired via Vintage Car Store in 1959)
Mr. Theurer (acquired via Vintage Car Store in 1961)
Phillip Lacios (acquired via Vintage Car Store in 1963)
B. Eskow (acquired via Vintage Car Store in 1968)
Eric Weissberg, Brooklyn, New York (acquired via Vintage Car Store in 1970)
Current Owner (acquired from the above)

LITERATURE
Christian Hueber and David Sulzberger, , discussed on p. 12
Martin Bennett, , chassis no. listed on p. 189

THIS CAR
The Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner represents the very essence of 1950s grand touring. When it was unveiled in 1952, the Continental was both the world’s fastest genuine four-seater and the most expensive production car. Those fortunate enough to own one could reach 80 mph in second gear and continue on to a 120 mph top speed in the utmost comfort, luxury, and style.

Of the 207 production R-Type Continentals built, 192 received fastback coachwork by H.J. Mulliner as developed on the prototype affectionately known as “Olga.” In every respect, the H.J. Mulliner Fastback is a stunning work of the coachbuilder’s art. From the gently curved front windscreen to the slightly raked grille and finned rear fenders, the design is breathtaking and evokes the graceful, effortless performance that Bentley provided with the specialized Continental chassis. To differentiate these high-performance chassis from the more pedestrian R-Type models, Bentley designated the Continentals with a special “BC” chassis number prefix.

The exceptional design of the H.J. Mulliner Fastback was the result of extensive collaboration between the coachbuilder and Bentley engineering offices. Mulliner went so far as to consult with Pinin Farina in the early planning stages and conducted aerodynamic testing at Milford Read’s Hucknall Flight Test Establishment using a quarter-scale clay model. The result of this extensive development was a .388 coefficient of drag, a figure that bests the Malcolm Sayer-designed Jaguar E-Type of 1961.

Weight savings was a critical factor, and it was achieved with Mulliner’s proprietary all-aluminum lightweight-construction method. The elegantly styled and aerodynamic coachwork utilized Reynolds alloy for the panels, inner structure, and window framing, while the carpets, leather, and glass were referred to as “aero-grade” and weighed less than standard materials. The Mulliner Fastback proved extremely popular and the body style was fitted to all A and B series Continentals. Only 15 cars from the C, D, and E series were fitted with alternative coachwork.

Of all the R-Type Continentals built, the car presented here is surely among the most significant; BC1A is the first production car delivered to a customer. Just one car preceded BC1A in the development of the Continental, that being the aforementioned prototype, which was completed in August 1951 and retained by Bentley Motors until 1960.

The fascinating history of this car can be traced to February 1952, when Bentley constructed the rolling chassis of BC1A. Like the vast majority of A-series Continentals, this car was specified in right-hand drive and had a 4.5-litre engine mated with a floor-mounted gear change. Upon completion, the Bentley chassis was transported to H.J. Mulliner, where it was fitted with the iconic fastback coachwork, designated by design number 7277. The body fitted to BC1A was numbered 5466 and finished in attractive Moss Green with tan Connolly leather upholstery.

According to factory records, BC1A was originally outfitted with lightweight bucket seats and alloy bumpers – features that contributed to a relatively light curb weight of 3,765 pounds. A variety of custom features were specified, including twin fog lamps, door pockets in the seat backs, rear defroster, and radio. Furthermore, it was requested that the Bentley be delivered with a plain radiator shell, with no cap or mascot.

Once returned to Bentley, BC1A was road-tested on May 14, 1952. As noted in Christian Hueber and David Sulzberger’s definitive Continental Register, this car was the subject of a special 393-mile test at the famed MIRA Proving Grounds, attended by Bentley’s chief engineer, Ivan Evernden, and H.J. Mulliner’s managing director, Arthur Talbot Johnstone.

On June 4, after final preparations were made for delivery, this Fastback was shipped from Folkestone, England, to Boulogne, France, aboard the SS Maidstone. Two days later, the official French concessionaire Franco-Britannic Automobiles sold the Bentley to its first private owner, André Simon, who registered the car in Paris as “8 BH 75.” M. Simon retained BC1A for just one year; it was sold in 1953 to another Frenchman, M. Permanis.

In 1959, the car was acquired by Ed Jurist of Nyack, New York, and imported to the US. Jurist was the proprietor of the Vintage Car Store, one of the preeminent dealers in fine classics and exotics. During his decades in business, some of the most important collectible cars passed through his hands, such as Alfa Romeo’s 8C 2900 and the 540 K from Mercedes-Benz.

In June 1959, Jurist sold the R-Type Continental to its first private owner in the US, Father Joseph Reagen, but kept close track of the car, brokering its sale to subsequent owners throughout the 1960s. In January 1970, Jurist sold BC1A to musician Eric Weissberg of Brooklyn, New York, a multi-instrumentalist who performed with the folk group The Tarriers and later gained fame when his banjo recordings were featured in the film Deliverance.

In 1974, Mr. Weissberg treated the Fastback to a cosmetic freshening, which included refinishing the coachwork in Antelope Brown and trimming the interior in matching brown leather. Remarkably, Mr. Weissberg retained the car for over 45 years, during which time it was driven sparingly and remained virtually unknown to the collector-car community.

Offered for public sale for the first time in its history, BC1A presents today in fine, largely unrestored condition. Still wearing its 1970s-era paintwork and upholstery, this Continental Fastback has never required a complete, body-off restoration, a testament to the enduring quality of Bentley craftsmanship and the care it received in the hands of its long-term owner. Overall, the car possesses a consistent, inviting patina and performed well on a recent test drive with a Gooding & Company specialist. Significantly, this important Bentley still retains its original engine (numbered BCA1), H.J. Mulliner body tag, and French-language chassis plate.

The R-Type Continental Fastback was the most sensational road-going car of its day – a grand touring machine of unmatched quality, style, and sophistication. Nearly 70 years after their introduction, these cars maintain a peerless reputation and an international following, with most examples residing in prestigious collections. Given its unique status as the first production Continental, BC1A must be considered among the most important R-Type Continentals, and thus one of the most desirable postwar Bentleys extant.