1952 Bentley R-Type Continental - The Story - The Silver Shadow | Part Six

The Silver Shadow was to become the most successful model to come out of Crewe, while coachbuilders Mulliner Park Ward (HJ Mulliner had been acquired by Bentley and Rolls-Royce in 1959 and merged with Park Ward) created the two-door car that was to become famous as the Corniche.

However if Crewe was happy to see Rolls-Royce succeed at the expense of Bentley, Bentley customers and indeed other parts of the automotive industry were not. In 1968 Italian coachbuilder Pininfarina, creator of the startling Cresta of exactly 40 years earlier, presented a Bentley T1 bodied as a two-door fastback. With its distinctive, aggressive styling and sweeping lower roof edge line that became the line of the upper rear wing, this car was clearly intended to evoke the spirit, speed and style of the R-Type Continental. Although this car was a one off, it is significant in that it represents an interstitial stage in the story of the two-door Bentley.

Crewe management also saw potential in Pininfarina's design, although not as a Bentley. After a prolonged delay a derivative of the design went into production as the controversial Rolls-Royce Camargue. Although hardly ever specified as a Bentley, it is interesting to note that for road testing, Camargues always appeared with the Bentley grille.

However by the early 1980s there were signs that the Bentley marque was beginning to reassert itself, offering a more driver-oriented, high performance form of luxury motoring, with its turbo charged four door cars. Moreover the Bentley version of the Corniche, now available only as a convertible, was renamed the Continental, a clear indicator to those familiar with Bentley's history that a two door Bentley was acknowledged as having a core sgnificance to the marque.

Of course this was just a prelude to arrival of the Bentley Continental R, which was already being planned in the mid-Eighties. However there were some customers who could not wait until the launch of the Continental R.

A small number of Bentley Continentals was commissioned with a turbo charged engine and specially modified body to cope with such a vast increase in power. While other customers approached coachbuilder Hooper to create a two door version of the hugely powerful and critically acclaimed Bentley Turbo R.

When launched in 1991 the Continental R received a rapturous welcome, it received a standing ovation at the Geneva motor show of that year. It must not be forgotten that at the beginning of the 1990s, economic downturn and a conflict in the Middle East might not have made the best climate in which to launch a mighty two door car with a retail price approaching £200,000.

But there were so many customers for this splendid car that its numbers had to be rationed and the company allowed it to spawned an entire model series: the Continetal T, the Continental SC and the higher performance highly individual Continental Mulliners.

To drive a two door Bentley is to appreciate at once the true continent-crossing characteristics of this unique British marque. A two door Bentley is an uncompromising driver's car, yet perfectly capable of transporting four people, and their luggage, from one end of Europe to the other at speeds that make a Bentley seem a viable and far more pleasurable alternative to rail and even commercial air travel.

Published 24 November 2002 Melanie Carter

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