1956 Bentley S1 Continental Sports Saloon

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.

Paul Hardiman

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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