1952 Bentley R-Type Continental - The Story | Part Two

Flat out on the new autobahns, it travelled at speeds in excess of 120mph. Even today 120 miles per hour is a fair lick, over sixty years ago, such speeds were barely credible. To a contemporary motorist such velocity must have seemed more appropriate in the realms of the science fiction of HG Wells and Fritz Lang than on the open road.

Imagine the pre-war motorist pottering along at a bone shaking 50mph in his Morris Eight, Renault or Volkswagen Beetle. Suddenly he notices an impossibly fast-moving object on the road behind him. Before he has time to react, this low-slung, road-devouring, torpedo-shaped blur has streaked past him and into the distance. It must have seemed like the future had arrived? in the 1930s.

The Embiricos Bentley with its mechanical enhancements, streamlined design and lightweight coachwork was a phenomenally advanced car; just how advanced was demonstrated in 1949, a decade after it had stormed round the Brooklands circuit, when it was entered privately at Le Mans and finished sixth.

This car established the pattern upon which Ivan Evernden would improve in the early 1950s when he was given a cautious go-ahead to develop the R-Type Continental. Remarkable as it may seem now, management opinion was divided as to the expense of developing a new model and also whether there would be a market for such a high-powered and expensive car.

Bentley's stupendous achievement; creating a luxurious car that could eclipse the performance of many sports cars, with grace, effortlessness, style and comfort, what is more bringing it to the market in such a short space of time; becomes even more extraordinary when set in the context of the world as it was in 1952 when the R-Type Continental made its debut.

Petrol was not the highly sophisticated propulsion fuel that we know today; it was impure low octane rubbish, hardly suited to powering precisely engineered, high powered, sporting luxury cars.

Nor were contemporary tyres the robust radials of today. The normal six-ply tyres of the day, when tested by Bentley for the new car, were only able to last for 20 miles, ten minutes motoring at the Continental's quoted top speed of 120 mph.

As well as the non-standard tyres, there was non-standard bodywork, everything that could be done to lessen the weight of this full four-seater luxury car was done: aluminium body panels were placed onto a revolutionary light alloy frame. Perhaps the most immediately noticeable change for the driver was apparent before he had even pressed the starter button; the bulky armchairs associated with Rolls-Royce motoring had been replaced with functional, yet elegant bucket seats. Every ounce mattered, so that although a radio was included in the price of the car, it was only fitted at the customer's request.

continues... | Part Three

Published : 24/11/02 Author : Melanie Carter

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