1952 Bentley R-type Saloon

952 Bentley R-type Saloon side
Tom Wood ©2016, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

The name “Bentley Boys” was given to the group of wealthy young sportsmen who single-handedly kept W.O. Bentley’s company alive in its early years by buying, promoting and racing its products.

Mike Couper, a new-car distributor and gentleman sportsman of some renown, was one of these, partnering with “Tim” Birkin to build the famous supercharged Blower Bentleys, and he remained faithful to the marque long after it passed out of W.O. Bentley’s ownership. He may well have been the final Bentley Boy to compete in a Bentley automobile in international competition when he drove an R-type in the 1949 Rallye Monte Carlo — the first running of this event after World War II.

Couper continued annual participation in the rally for years, using a selection of Rolls-Royce and Bentley products.

In 1953, he took the wheel of this R-type Standard Steel Saloon, chassis number B68SR. Pat Fillingham and Peter Tabor came along for the ride. The car was equipped with special snow tires and a factory-supplied cylinder head similar to that of the famed R-type Continental; this may well have been the first standard R-type to have been so equipped at the factory.

Factory build sheets for the car record it as a “factory trials car,” further confirming that it had been set up by the factory for just such activities. In addition, the car was set up with left-hand springing for driving on European roads — and with a slightly lowered suspension.

The trio of Couper, Fillingham and Tabor began the 1953 rally from Glasgow, Scotland, one of several sanctioned starting points, subsequently passing through Wales and into London via Dover and the cross-channel ferry. Upon arrival in France, they paused for lunch before continuing through dense fog into Belgium, then the Netherlands, and finally on icy, treacherous roads into Paris. From there, the Bentley proceeded south into the snow-covered mountains….

Following the rally, the Bentley resided quietly in Europe until 1968; it was then exported to California, where previous owner George Giese discovered it. Today, Mike Couper’s Monte Carlo Bentley remains well preserved and largely original, with the exception of a quality repaint undertaken in its original color during the early 1990s.

This car is perhaps the most significant of R-type saloons. It is a car prepared for competition for the last of the Bentley Boys and winner of the Concours de Confort in one of the most significant motoring events in the world.

Paul Hardiman

SCM Senior Auction Analyst

Paul is descended from engineers and horse thieves, so he naturally gravitated toward the old-car marketplace and still finds fascination in the simpler things in life: looking for spot-weld dimples under an E-type tail, or counting the head-studs on a supposed Mini-Cooper engine. His motoring heroes are Roger Clark, Burt Levy, Henry Royce and Smokey Yunick — and all he wants for next Christmas is an Alvis Stalwart complete with picnic table in the back and a lake big enough to play in.

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