Tom Wood ©2017, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
  • 2017 Bentley Drivers Club Concours Best in Class winner
  • Offered from single-family ownership since 1983
  • Formerly owned by Victor Gauntlett; known history from new
  • Matching-numbers factory 4.9 engine, manual transmission and lightweight seats from new
  • Excellent condition, with a recent engine rebuild and a lovingly patinated interior
  • Offered with copies of factory build sheets and bespoke Continental Touring Spares box

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1955 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback by Mulliner
Years Produced:1952–55
Number Produced:207
Original List Price:$18,000
SCM Valuation:$1,210,000
Tune Up Cost:$800 (oil and filter change, valve clearances, plugs, ignition timing)
Chassis Number Location:Plate on left side of firewall
Engine Number Location:Left side of cylinder block
Club Info:Bentley Drivers Club, Ironstone Lane, Banbury Oxfordshire OX15 6ED
Alternatives:1949 Cadillac Sedanette, 1954–59 Facel Vega FV, 1955 Mercedes 300B Pinin Farina coupe
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 144, sold for $1,078,224, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Battersea, London, auction on September 6, 2017.

The standard Bentley R-type — which replaced the Mk VI and with different badges and grille is a Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn — can be had in reasonable nick from $45k upwards.

However, the Bentley R-type Continental is an altogether more special animal, the fastest 4-seater of its time — and capable of covering great distances in style and comfort. Many custodians have likened theirs to “magic carpets,” and they tend to stay in long-term ownership.

These rare cars are not to be confused with the later S1 Continental, which looks superficially similar, but is a larger, heavier device costing around a third of the price.

An R-type Conti was specified to be no heavier than 1,700 kg (3,747 pounds), so as not to overload the tires of the time at its maximum speed of 120 mph (in 1955, remember…), and came out at about 1,650 kg (3,637 pounds). That’s about the same weight as a modern 2-liter family estate car — or a Porsche 996 turbo convertible — and only 50 kg (110 pounds) more than today’s all-aluminum Porsche 991 cabrio with PDK.

An R-type is almost 17 feet long. Just think about that for a while.

The rear fins are functional, keeping the car stable at speed and damping the effect of crosswinds on the sleek fastback shape. Many observers have noted the similarities between the 1949 Cadillac Sedanette and the Conti, and they do resemble each other in profile and from some angles.

One can’t help noticing, though, that “Olga,” the first prototype named for its registration, OLG 490, didn’t hit the road until 1951. The Continental has raised compression and gearing over the standard R-type, plus better manifolds. From July 1954, the motor was enlarged from 4.6 liters to 4.9 liters.

A rare coachbuilt car

Although 2,486 R-types were made — 295 of them with coachbuilt rather than standard steel bodies — there were only 207 Continentals — 43 of them left-hand drive.

Most Continentals were bodied in the classic fastback coupe style by HJ Mulliner — as seen on our subject car.

Park Ward built six, including a drophead coupe. Franay (Paris) built five; Graber (of Switzerland) three, one of them later altered by Köng of Basel; and Pinin Farina made one. In 1954, James Young built a Sports Saloon for the owner of the company, James Barclay.

By contrast, 3,969 Bentley S1s were made between 1955 and 1959, of which 431 were Continentals in both fixed and drophead forms. These cars use the same 4.9-liter engine but with no manual transmission offered, and curb weight was well over 1,800 kg (3,968 pounds).

The following S2 V8 (built from 1958 to 1962) also offered a Continental version, of which 388 were built, some of them 4-door Flying Spurs, and there were 312 S3 Continentals built from 1962 to 1966.

So an R-type Continental is a rare and special thing.

Long-term, loving ownership

Our subject car, like so many Continentals, came from long-term ownership, having been in the care of one family since 1983 — that is 34 years, or almost half its life.

It had previously belonged to Victor Gauntlett, the immensely successful petroleum dealer and avid automobile enthusiast who famously helped rejuvenate Aston Martin during this era.

Although he was Aston’s chairman and main financial backer, Gauntlett was a Bentley fan who owned several important examples, including the prototype R-type Continental, “Olga.”

During his ownership, Gauntlett re-registered this Continental X 111, but it’s now been reunited with its original number.

In splendid but usable order, the car came complete with a first-place concours rosette for Class F — Mark VIs and R-types — at the Bentley Drivers Club June 2017 concours at Sudeley Castle.

It’s the most desirable spec, with the big engine, manual floor shifter and lightweight seats from new. Our subject car was offered with copies of the factory build sheets, tools and a bespoke and rare Continental Touring Spares box.

The box contained bulbs in yellow (for France) and clear, plugs, a distributor cap, oil filter element and ignition coil. This car really ticked every box — apart perhaps from ultimate concours condition.

Who wants concours condition anyway if you plan to actually drive the car — and that is what Continentals are for. As it sat, it was just right — a slightly mellowed older restoration, discreetly hiding power steering and electronic ignition to make it even more livable.

I noted in my auction catalog “creased original red leather, nice timber, older paint with a few small cracks and bubbles” and graded it a 2- condition, which is club concours level. That squares exactly with its recent history.

The engine was rebuilt not many miles ago, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

The U.K. is the place to buy

Prices in the past two years appear stable around $1.2m — with a spike at $1.8m during the 2016 Monterey Car Week.

This car’s price at RM Sotheby’s London, while healthy in sterling at £826,250, looks a little low in dollars because Britain is still readjusting to the plummet in the value of the pound immediately after the U.K.’s decision in June 2016 to leave the European Union. The pound did rally a little through September 2017.

To put it in perspective, on June 22, 2016, that £826k would have been worth about $1.25m — bang-on Continental market value.

So, this car was correctly valued — but it also goes to show, for anyone who hasn’t worked it out yet, that for anyone purchasing in dollars, or to an extent in euros, the U.K. is a good place to buy cars right now.

And with some of the money you save, you could have a nice ’49 Caddy to go along with your Continental, just for comparison. Well bought.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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