Bentley's R-Type Continental Turns 70 This Year, Still Inspires New Designs

1953 Bentley Continental R-Type 9 photos
Photo: Bentley
1953 Bentley Continental R-Type1953 Bentley Continental R-Type1953 Bentley Continental R-Type1953 Bentley Continental R-Type1953 Bentley Continental R-Type1953 Bentley Continental R-Type1953 Bentley Continental R-Type1953 Bentley Continental R-Type
Bentley is celebrating seven decades since it started making the R-Type Continental. While just 208 were built, it raised the bar for expectations when the Continental name is concerned. In 1952, the Continental was the fastest four-seat vehicle, as well as the most expensive car in the world.
It was rare back then, and you probably will not see one on a public road near you. But that is not a problem, because it managed to start a lineage that rests on an iconic benchmark. The R-Type Continental set the mood for the brand's grand touring DNA, and it continues to be an inspiration to design teams.

The R-Type Continental was designed by John Blatchley, Chief Stylist of Bentley at the time, and it was a creation of Ivan Evernden, who was the brand's Chief Projects Engineer. The inspiration behind the R-Type was described to have come from two pre-war coach-built specials.

The car came with a 4,566 inline-six engine that initially made 140 bhp but was bumped to 150 hp. After installing a transmission with a higher final drive ratio, the prototype that was affectionately known as OLGA, because of its OLG490 registration, managed to average 118.75 mph (ca. 191 kph) over five laps at the banked Montlhèry track near the capital of France.

Since the speed was extreme at the time, special tires were specified, as the vehicle weighs about two tons, and could drive at speeds of over 115 mph (ca. 185 kph). Most of the R-Type Continental vehicles, 193 to be specific, were bodied by HJ Mulliner.

Four of the 208 R-Type Continentals had a drophead body by Park Ward, while two were coupes made by the same company. The folks at Franay built five custom bodies, Graber built three, and Farina built a single body for an R-Type.

Many years later, in 2003, Bentley launched the first Continental GT, which is a direct successor of the R-Type, and it was also the world's fastest four-seat car back when its production began. As a fun fact, the R-Type was priced at GBP 6,928 back in 1952, which Bentley described as being almost four times as much as the average UK house at the time.

Bentley owns just a single R-Type, and we are not referring to the prototype the company made. Instead, the British marque owns the BC16C chassis, which was initially sold in Switzerland. Its Ivory body is matched with a Red interior, and the original 4.6-liter motor is mated to a four-speed manual transmission.

Instead of letting the vehicle sit in a museum, Bentley's Heritage Collection maintains it in excellent mechanical condition while preserving its patina, and the vehicle is regularly driven. The celebration of its 70th anniversary was done with its descendent, the Continental GT Speed, which joined the classic model at Oulton Park in Cheshire.
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About the author: Sebastian Toma
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Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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