The R-Type Continental: to distinguish Bentley from Rolls-Royce

Published on Thursday, December 5, 2019.
Updated on Thursday, January 16, 2020.

For the 100th anniversary of the Bentley brand, here is the 3rd article in a series of 10 presenting a model from each decade.

There were many ‘firsts’ for the Bentley Mark VI: the first post-war Bentley; the first Bentley made in Crewe; the first Bentley with a standard all-steel body supplied at the factory; the first Bentley truly derived from a Rolls-Royce (and from which a Rolls would later be derived, ironically); the first Bentley whose horsepower was announced as « considered sufficient » without ever being revealed.  The Mark VI is a landmark model in the history of the brand that Walter Owen Bentley founded in 1919, as well as being an absolute commercial success. Here is the story of the Mark VI.

The prototype of the Continental, called ‘Olga’, in 1951

Since 1931, Bentley has been under the control of Rolls-Royce.  Little by little, Rolls reduced the differences between the models of each of the two names.  The Mark VI thus took a shortened version of the chassis from Silver Wraith, while the Silver Dawn, dedicated to the American market, was derived from the Bentley.  The R-Type, launched in 1952, replaced the Mark VI but was only a transitional model, a fill gap for the S-Type (better known as S1) which was launched in 1955. This fact explains how it was only an evolution of the Mark VI, a little bigger and a little more roomy, but substantially identical.

A coupé named Continental

The real novelty with the R-Type therefore concerned its high performance coupé model, the Continental.  In 1951, under the leadership of Ivan Evernden, the Rolls-Royce and Bentley teams ran a prototype, nicknamed ‘Olga’ because of its registration number: OLG-490.  While Rolls-Royce had its in house coach-builder in Park Ward, it was Mulliner (only becoming part of the group in 1959) that they employed to develop and produce the body of this new sports version.  Like others at the same time (Touring in Italy with its Superleggera technique, for example), Mulliner developed an “all-steel” manufacturing process allowing it to dispense with the old fashioned ash wood structure.  This is what interested Rolls-Royce the most.

If the Continental wasn’t truly innovative, as a derivative of the Mark VI, it did introduce “all steel” and imposed Bentley as the car body supplier for the English group, even if Rolls also produced from time to time some bodies, either derived from Bentley, or specific to Rolls, like the Camargue.

The brand’s sportscar

Like the R-Type, the Continental took on the inline 6-cylindre from the Mark VI, but increased its displacement for the Continental from 4 ¼ to 4 ½ litres (4,566 cc to be precise) fitted with double SU carburettors developing “sufficient power” and not disclosed.  In reality, the compression ratio was also increased compared to the sedan which allowed it to develop 150 horsepower. The choice of transmission was essentially the manual 4-speed version while the automatic transmission was optional. It was also the last Bentley to receive a manual gearbox: starting with the S1, the automatic transmission would become standard equipment.

The only Continental with bodywork by Pininfarina

The chassis and mechanical components were first manufactured and assembled in Crewe before being sent to Mulliner to receive their specific bodywork.  Some other coachbuilders would offer their versions in rare examples (6 at Park Ward, a subsidiary of Rolls-Royce; 5 at Franay, a coachbuilder in Paris (to whom we will owe 15 / 6H by René Coty); 3 at Graber in Switzerland; and 1 at Pininfarina).  In total, 207 cars were produced, in addition to the ‘Olga’ prototype, between 1952 and 1955, mainly distributed in Great Britain. From 1954, they received an engine whose displacement was increased to 4.9 litres.

The R-Type Continental is not the most sought after Bentley, but it inaugurated the specificity of Bentley compared to Rolls-Royce, beginning in the 1950s, through sportiness and coupé bodywork.  It evolved eventually to have a long line of descendants, each Bentley model benefiting from its Continental derivative, even in the 1990s with the Continental Turbo R, S, T and SC. Finally with the takeover by Volkswagen, this legacy would be highlighted with the launch of the Continental GT.  The R-Type Continental is therefore an essential milestone of the Bentley brand, which makes it even more attractive.


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Translation credit : Daniel Patrick Brooks


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