1952 Bentley R-Type Continental - The Story - Performance Figures | Part Three

Performance was staggering: a raised compression ratio, specially modified exhaust (responsible for the dinstinctive note of the R-Type Continental as well as delivering another 25bhp) and other performance modifications, coaxed what was, for the time, remarkable power from the six cylinder 4566 engine. Compared with the Mark VI Standard Steel Saloon it was able to achieve a top speed that was 20% higher. The R-Type Continental was able to cover a quarter of a mile from a standing start in 19.5 seconds. This figure must have been astonishing in the fifties.

After protracted testing on the high speed roads of Continental Europe, the R-Type Continental was lent to the Autocar magazine and Crewe held its breath as the automotive press subjected the car to rigorous and spirited motoring. On September 12th 1952, the Autocar magazine published its verdict. 'It brings Bentley back to the forefront of the world's fastest cars, and its tremendous performance makes this one of the outstanding in a long series of Road Tests.' This was not just the best car in its class; it redefined its class. 'The acceleration from rest to 100 mph (36.0) has not been approached by any other saloon car in The Autocar's experience and has been equalled by very few open sports cars'. There was, quite simply nothing else like it on the roads anywhere in the world.

Performance aside, it was the car's striking appearance that must have made such an impact on the road users of the early 1950s.

The R-Type Continental was, and still is, a staggeringly beautiful car; its raised front wings sweeping across the doors before tucking neatly into the rear 'haunch' of the car. Its raked, curved windscreen, its elegant fastback and its fin-like rear wings are pure automotive sculpture. However this was beauty with a purpose: the R-Type Continental was the first Bentley to benefit from experiments conducted in the wind-tunnel at Rolls-Royce's aeronautical test facility. The car's comparatively small front area improved aerodynamic performance while the rear fins, as well as striking a defiantly modern note, dramatically improved the car's stability at high speed.

'Much more could have been done than was done,' said Evernden of the revolutionary and pioneering work that had gone into the R-Type Continental, 'but the purpose of the exercise was to reduce the aero drag of an orthodox car and not to make a space capsule for an astronaut.' As man was not destined to travel into space until the following decade, it is fair to say that this was space age technology in a car truly ahead of its time.

continues... | Part Four
Published 24 November 2002 Melanie Carter

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