Today, the heart of the Bentley range is the Continental GT and its lineage, as you’d expect, is suitably historic. Inspired both in name and design by the R-Type Continental, the legendary car celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.
The very first deliveries of the Continental Type R were made in 1952 and, at the time, it had the distinction of being the fastest four-seater in the world. It was also the most expensive vehicle in production, at £6,928. This equates to £140,156 (USD 176,249 at current exchange rates) in today’s money. That doesn’t quite do it justice, however, as in 1952 it cost four times as much as an average house in England.
The car you got for that money, however, was quite impressive. Inspired by at Bentley pre-war experiments with aerodynamics, the company decided to make a stylish coupe based on the Bentley R-Type sedan. The resulting model was the first in its history to carry the “Continental” name.
Like the Type R, continental was powered by a 4,566 cc straight-six. For the new model, it was tuned to produce 153 PS (114 kW/155 PS) instead of the standard car’s 140 PS (104 kW/142 PS) and the transmission featured a higher final drive ratio. These changes combined to create a car capable of averaging 191.1 km/h (118.75 mph) over five laps on the inclined Montlhéry track near Paris.
In all, the automaker only built 208 examples of the R-Type Continental, making it as rare a sight then as it is today. Of these, 193 of the bodies were made by HJ Mullinerfive were made by Franay, three by Graber and one by Farina, while Park Ward made four dropheads and two coupes.
Bentley writes that when working to begin its new era in 2003, it chose continental intentionally name. The design of the new vehicle was not only inspired by the R-Type Continental, but its claim to be the fastest four-seater in the world was also a direct homage to the 1952 car.