The first Abbott two-door coupe to grace the R-type chassis made its debut at the 1952 Earls Court Motor Show, alongside an equivalent drophead design. The chassis on which these and the fourteen subsequent cars built differed from standard, having a lowered radiator and steering column rake, and carrying a 3.41 rear axle ratio. The Abbott coachwork, of similar design to that of the Mulliner-built Continentals, was penned by Peter Woodgate. It was not until May 1953 that a production version would be supplied to their first customer, being this car, B135SP, sold to Mr. R.R. Burton.
Subsequently, full ownership history is recorded in the car’s old buff logbook, the R-type having just three owners before being acquired by the present family in 1969, when it joined a stable of Bentley motor cars.
Correspondence with the former owner at the time suggested that the buyer was very happy with the car, but in keeping with the sporting nature of the marque, shortly after purchase the coupe was forwarded to S. Brunt of Silverdale to have a high-compression cylinder head fitted to improve performance. In the mid-1970s a more detailed restoration was undertaken.
However, from the mid-1980s she has seen little use until a recent recommissioning. Cosmetically the car can best be described as an older restoration; there are a few very minor areas of surface corrosion to the bodywork, but it is otherwise sound, and the chassis is in very good order. The interior leather and carpet present well, and the dash has the unusual additions of a Halda speedometer, 8-day clock and thermometer.
With its uprated engine specifications, and high ratio back axle, combined with one of the most attractive specialist coachwork designs of the post-war years, the rare Bentley offers excellent and stylish high-speed touring potential.
This Abbott-bodied Bentley R-type sold at Christie’s on November 20, 2000 for $30,300, including buyer’s commission.
Two things are worth knowing before bidding on Bentleys. First, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and second, things are not always what they seem. In this case, the buyer would be making a serious mistake if the identification of this car as an “R-type” and the off-hand reference to the “Mulliner-built Continentals” led him to think that he might be looking at an actual “R-type Continental.” It is not. And in spite of its coach-built nature, graceful lines and rarity, it isn’t a particularly valuable Bentley.
After World War II, recognizing the growing market for “off-the-peg” automobiles in contrast to the bespoke cars that had been their prime profit generators before the war, Rolls-Royce rationalized their product offerings. While Rolls chassis were still customized by approved coachbuilders for very affluent customers, most Bentleys were bodied in the Rolls plant, using the Rolls chassis slightly detuned engines. The first of these postwar Bentleys was the Mark VI, produced from 1946 to 1952. In response to criticism, these cars were modified in 1952 to increase luggage space. On the build cards the new chassis were first called Mark VIIs, reflecting the chassis changes, and later “Bentley Rs” since Jaguar had in the meantime pre-empted the Mark VII name. They were marketed as “Bentley Sports Saloons,” however. (The “R-type” designation was only later applied to the cars once Bentley released the subsequent “S-type” Bentley.)
Most Bentleys were produced by Rolls with the four-door Sports Saloon steel body. However, a high-performance model was developed in conjunction with Mulliner coachbuilders. It had an aluminum alloy body to reduce weight, aerodynamics tested in the Rolls-Royce aircraft engine wind tunnels, and a highly tuned engine with close-ratio gearbox. These two-door coupes were marketed as Bentley “Continentals.” With their high performance and distinctive interiors, they are highly prized by collectors and sell for well over $100,000.
This car sold by Christie’s is not a Continental, however. Though some coachbuilders besides Mulliner did build a very few Continentals, Abbott’s was never authorized to produce that model, nor was the high-powered engine available to them. Nevertheless, the Abbott two-door steel bodies built on the R-type chassis shared many of the styling trends that inspired the Continental design. Although Abbott built only twelve to fifteen of these R-types, and even though they have many attractive features, they have never had the collector appeal of the Continentals.
On the positive side, this car is certainly more interesting than the typical R-type Bentley; on the negative side, its description suggests some expensive work will be required before it can be driven with pride on a Bentley Drivers Club tour. The new owner paid precisely what he should have for this unusual but not highly valued runner.—Gary Anderson