Bentley's magnificent Continental sports saloon has been synonymous with effortless high speed cruising at its grandest since its introduction on the R-type chassis in 1952. Unlike the ordinary, factory-bodied, "standard steel" R-type, the Continental was bodied in aluminum over a steel frame and first appeared with what many enthusiasts consider to be the model's definitive style of coachwork-the lightweight, wind tunnel-developed, fastback of HJ Mulliner. The Continental's performance figures would have been considered excellent for an out-and-out sports car, but for a full four/five-seater sedan they were exceptional: a top speed of 120 mph, 100 mph achievable in third gear, 50 mph reached in a little over nine seconds, and effortless cruising at the "ton." Built for export only at first, the Continental was, once delivery charges and local taxes had been paid, almost certainly the most expensive car in the world, as well as the fastest capable of carrying four adults and their luggage. "The Bentley is a modern magic carpet which annihilates great distances and delivers the occupants well-nigh as fresh as when they started," concluded Autocar. With the arrival of the final generation of 6-cylinder cars-the all-new Silver Cloud and Bentley S-type-the Continental lost some of its individuality but none of its exclusivity. Eulogizing about the new S-series cars, introduced in April 1955, Autocar wrote, "The latest Bentley model offers a degree of safety, comfort and performance that is beyond the experience and perhaps even the imagination of the majority of the world's motorists." Later, in October that same year, the Bentley Continental became available on the "S" chassis. "It brings Bentley back to the forefront of the world's fastest cars," Autocar remarked of the Mulliner-styled fastback. Longer by three inches than that of the preceding R-type, the S-type's new box-section chassis incorporated improved brakes and suspension and an enlarged (to 4,887 cc) and more powerful version of the existing inlet-over-exhaust 6-cylinder engine, which for the first time was identical in specification in its Rolls and Bentley forms. The Continental version came with a shorter radiator and higher gearing and, for a time at least, could be ordered with right-hand change, manual transmission. As had been the case with the original R-type, the new S-type Continental was only ever available as a coachbuilt car, the designs produced by independent coachbuilders for the S1 Continental chassis being among the era's most stylish, although-arguably-none ever improved on HJ Mulliner's sublime original. This car underwent a high-quality cosmetic restoration in 2004, at which time it was repainted, the interior woodwork removed and re-veneered to a very high standard, much of the brightwork replated, and the interior retrimmed. Finished in black with Champagne leather interior, this beautiful Continental is an excellent example of this much sought-after model. It comes complete with all its tools, secured in the usual location in the boot, and is offered with old-style logbook, sundry restoration invoices, current road fund license/MoT, and Swansea V5.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1956 Bentley S1 Continental Sports
Number Produced:431
Tune Up Cost:$800
Distributor Caps:$160
Chassis Number Location:Plate on left side of firewall
Engine Number Location:Left side of cylinder block
Club Info:Bentley Drivers Club Limited WO Bentley Memorial Building Ironstone Lane, Wroxton, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX15 6ED

This car sold for $251,415, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’s auction in Oxford, England, on March 6, 2010.

Is there anyone not in love with the posh Continental, the quickest four-seater of its day that, once wound up, “is an effortless high-speed cruiser in the grandest manner,” as SCM said in an earlier report?

Almost a decade ago, a dealer told me, “Keep an eye on S1 Continental prices,” as they were due to rise sharply anytime soon. Though he would say that, as he had three salted away at the time, when a nice car was £50k (about $80k). Predicted (at least by the man with the vested interest) to take off in a big way, they never did accelerate into the stratosphere, though there has been a steady upward trend over the past couple of years. This car, however, has taken a giant $60k leap over the average auction selling price of S1 Contis last year.

Though there were 431 S1 Continentals made, against 208 R-types, only 151 were fastbacks, making this as rare a beast as it is magnificent. Mulliner’s original, stylish and slippery shape is considered the best looking (though some of us would argue for one of the elegant James Young variants). The balance is made up of 67 Flying Spurs by HJ Mulliner, 99 coupes and 86 convertibles by Park Ward, 21 various James Young-bodied cars, five rather weird hooded-headlight saloons by Hooper, and one car each by Graber and Franay.

Hard to fault this restoration

Black is a nightmare color on cars with big, sweeping expanses of metal, because the deeper and shinier the paint, the more it will discover and then highlight any tiny flaw in the underlying metalwork. With this car, there were no such worries. Following the ministrations of top Rolls-Royce and Bentley fettlers Frank Dale & Stepsons Ltd., it is dead straight, even six years on. Bonhams had the confidence to park it right next to the very reflective frosted glass back wall of their year-old Oxford showroom, and you could have used its flanks as a mirror by which to wet shave.

The dashboard, including its rev counter like the R-type’s, was as plump and shiny as a ruby (or a boiled sweet). Along with similarly unmarked burr walnut door cappings, and desirable but discreet upgrades in the shape of air conditioning with cool air delivered from vents on the parcel shelf, this car is a gem.

Further, a modern sound system hidden in the glovebox, and, way down in the bilges, power steering (using genuine factory parts), plus dual-circuit braking, aid this “magic carpet’s” driving appeal. London dealer Bramley, which was selling the car, had fitted new carpets and detailed it at the end of 2009. The mileage, whatever it was, is irrelevant, as it’ll be good to go for at least another 20 years.

This admittedly heroic price doesn’t make it the most expensive S1 Continental ever; that was BC1BG, one of ivory-tinkler Elton John’s favorites for 25 years, sold off along with most the rest of his collection in 2001 for $276,713-three times its estimate. This one was possibly even nicer, one of the best and most desirable Continentals on the market, and the new owner didn’t mind paying to get it. Fairly bought and sold, then, particularly when there is another car for sale at a London dealer asking £197k ($300k). And both are still less expensive than an R-type.

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