To describe this magnificent Bentley R-type Continental, it is difficult to improve upon the typically perceptive and balanced analysis that George Daniels himself wrote of the car for his autobiography All in Good Time — Reflections of a Watchmaker, published in 2000:
“The ease with which the Continental will cover vast distances without discomfort to its occupants is now legendary. It is silent, smooth and spaciously comfortable. At the cool, thin-rimmed steering wheel, one looks along a long, slender bonnet reaching proudly into the distance. The controls are beautifully weighted so that one can sense the road and the car’s response to changes in surface and conditions. And, of course, it is very beautiful to behold.”
This car was ordered originally by the Taylor Woodrow construction company for founder Frank Taylor, finished in blue/gray (today, the car’s color looks very much like a Royal Air Force blue) with matching pale-blue interior with the desirable option of lightweight seats. It was first registered to Taylor Woodrow on March 12, 1954, with 5% discount on the price for being “frequent clients” of Rolls-Royce Ltd.
Frank Taylor moved operations to London in 1930, Taylor Woodrow becoming based in Southall, Middlesex, and was building 1,200–1,500 houses each year by the mid-1930s. The company, much enlarged, was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1935. Taylor Woodrow Construction became engaged in defense work, and for six years through World War II built military camps, airfields, factories and many components of the Normandy Landings’ Mulberry Harbor.
Immediately post-war, Taylor Woodrow began building internationally, and by the time the R-type Continental was purchased, the company’s projects involved sites in Africa, Australia, Canada and the Middle East. It was against this dynamic, profit-based background that this Continental was kept by Taylor Woodrow for less than a year before the company probably realized a useful profit by selling it to the car’s second owner, a Mr. J.B. Ashbrook, who took title to it on February 1, 1955.
The car remained with Mr. Ashbrook for the next 23 years until July 25, 1978, when it was acquired — via Stanley Sedgwick of Bentley Drivers Club fame — by George Daniels, a horologist and watchmaker.
This is a three-owner, low-mileage Bentley R-type Continental with the highly desirable specification of manual transmission and lightweight seats that, in its 58th year, is surely one of the finest examples of its illustrious and thoroughbred breed.
|Vehicle:||1954 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback|
|Original List Price:||$17,350|
|Tune Up Cost:||$800 (oil and filters changed, timing and valve clearance check/adjust)|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate on left side of firewall|
|Engine Number Location:||Left side of cylinder block|
|Club Info:||Bentley Drivers Club|
This car, Lot 208, sold for $981,078, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ annual sale at the Goodwood Festival of Speed near Chichester, U.K., on June 29, 2012.
Not to be confused with the similar-looking S-type variants that came later, the R-type was a discreet British hot rod — a distillation of the superb into the extraordinary. Compare this car’s elegant, swooping lines with the staid R-type saloon it is based on, and you wouldn’t think they came out of the same factory — or even the same era. It’s a consummate ground-coverer that must have looked like a teleportation machine to a mere mortal whose tired old Hillman Minx might wheeze up to 65 mph — and sometimes even more — but not for long.
Lighter, sleeker and faster
Relatively light in weight at 1,651 kg (3,639 pounds), 230 kg (507 pounds) less than a standard R-type, our subject car can manage near 120 mph, thanks to taller gearing allowed by the sleeker shape and more torque from the motor enhancements.
It’s faster to 60 mph than the S1 Conti, but what the numbers can’t convey is the lithe swiftness, a lightness of passage that eluded the later cars — and the R-type Continental fastback could travel huge distances without exhausting its occupants.
The former owner, George Daniels, a Manx resident who made bespoke watches for individuals — sometimes as a surprise — used this car for blasts up and down the U.K. and abroad. After such a trip, he wrote:
“I remember an occasion in Yorkshire when heading for Heysham and the ferry boat to the Isle of Man. I had driven from Cornwall by a long circuitous route to take in several appointments on the way. My left leg and shoulder were tired from gear changing in heavy stop-and-start traffic. In Leeds, I was stuck in a traffic jam, and, as I sat there, longing for arrival in Heysham, the words of Laurence Pomeroy, motor correspondent and bon viveur, when testing the Continental in 1953, came back to me. ‘This car,’ he wrote: ‘…is a magic carpet which will carry its occupants to the ends of the Earth, and when they alight, they will be as fresh as when they set out….’”
Better and more rare than an S-type
Accomplishments aside, the reason the R-type is so much more valuable than the S-type is that it’s better, much like a first-500 Porsche Carrera RS 2.7 against a big-bumper ’74, and it is rare.
Only 208 R-type Continentals (including the prototype) were built against 431 S-type Continentals. That’s out of a total of 2,323 R-types, 295 of which had coachbuilt bodies. Most (165) of those cars were right-hand drive, and they were delivered as rolling chassis to H.J. Mulliner & Co. of London, which built nearly all of them in fastback coupe form like this one, and it’s no secret that the rear styling is directly ripped off from the 1949 Cadillac.
Park Ward (London) built six, including a drophead coupe version, Franay (Paris) built five, Graber (Wichtrach, Switzerland) three, one of them later altered by Köng (Basel, Switzerland), and Pininfarina made one. James Young (London) built a Sports Saloon in 1954 for the owner of the company, James Barclay.
The early Continental has the same engine as the standard R-type, but with modified carburetion, induction and exhaust manifolds, and most importantly, higher gear ratios, which the motor can pull thanks to the more slippery profile. From July 1954 on, the bores were enlarged to 94.62 mm (3.7 inch) giving 4,887 cc (298 cubic inches).
Daniels bought this car for rebuilding as a therapeutic exercise during a bout of cancer. He wrote: “Each morning, I attended Middlesex Hospital at 7 a.m., arriving by motorcycle…(and) during the weeks of the treatment, I dismantled and rebuilt the Continental so that it, and the treatment, were finished at the same time. The results, successful in both cases, were celebrated by a tour of France and Switzerland in the car, which behaved impeccably.”
Not a concours car
The panel fits are excellent and the paint is still good, although there is a little bubbling at the door and front wing bottoms. The interior is all original, although the timber has been refinished and remains excellent, as does all the brightwork. This is not a 100-point concours car, and it is all the nicer for it. Low mileage, history and provenance insinuate a far higher cachet here.
Although none has yet broken through the million-dollar mark, R-type Continentals are edging ever nearer to it, while S-type fastbacks — even at the top of the market — have yet to manage half that. Perhaps that is apt, with twice as many to choose from.
As Bonhams put it, this is a very well-known individual among an exclusive, rarefied and much-coveted family of high-performance, luxurious true Grand Touring cars. It still has its original documents, handbook and tool kit, and now reads just 34,700 miles on the clock.
Just to play devil’s advocate — you could just have a ’49 Cadillac, which is arguably as smooth and powerful and probably better equipped, for $100,000 and be done with it.
But if you prefer lifetime shoes to new ones, if you prefer single malts to bourbon, or proper Czech Budweiser to the rice-brewed pretender, you would appreciate the way the Bentley meshes its pure and simple ingredients to transcend the consumer into a wholly elevated (and discreet) experience.
This was, as dealers are fond of saying, a rare opportunity. Once again, supply and demand dictate that the best take top dollar. When will they break a million? ?
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)