The Ultimate Automotive Status Symbol

Britain at the beginning of the 1950s was a sober place. The Second World War may have ended five years earlier, but for many the austerity continued, commodities as germane to the British way of life as tea were still subjected to rationing.

It must have seemed that the Labour Government's Chancellor of the Exchequer; a hair-shirted devout Christian and confirmed vegetarian called Sir Stafford Cripps; felt the British people would benefit from a period of prolonged asceticism. Cripps piled on the taxes and froze wages in an almost fanatical battle against inflation.

However there was one piece of good news; on May 26th 1950 petrol rationing finally came to an end. After a decade, the British motorist was finally able to use his/her car as frequently as he liked? should he/she be fortunate enough to possess one. Four days later on May 30th, the Whitsun holiday, the British motoring public responded in droves. The AA described it as an all-time record, with traffic packed solid ten miles out of London. After ten years of rationing the Briton's love affair with the motorcar was, if anything, more passionate and ardent than before.

This news must have been of considerable satisfaction to a benign bow-tied, pipe-smoking figure in the British Midlands. Chief Project Engineer Ivan Everden was director of Bentley's Experimental Department. Rolls-Royce had owned Bentley since 1931 and those purists who had admired the raw power of the Bentleys that had dominated the 24 hour races of Le Mans during the 1920s were complaining that, under the new owners, the cars that wore the winged B on their radiators were losing their edge.

Ivan Everden was to silence those critics in a most remarkable manner.

In 1950 he started work on a top-secret project. Known as Corniche II its aim was to create a fast yet refined, two door yet full four seater grand tourer, which would, as the Bentley marque's eponymous founder put it in 1919, be 'a good car, a fast car, the best in its class'. This car would become famous as the R-Type Continental.

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1939, a revolutionary looking 4-litre Bentley, styled by the French Georges Paulin and built by boutique French coachbuilder Pourtout, had torn around the Brookland's motor circuit achieving the quite remarkable distance of 114 miles within an hour. Called the Embiricos Bentley, after its plutocratic owner Andre Embiricos, this was a true supercar, forty years before the term was coined.

continues... | Part Two

Published : 24/11/02 Author : Melanie Carter

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