1992 Bentley Continental Series IV ConvertibleCoachwork by Mulliner Park Ward
The Bentley Continental
While Rolls-Royce first produced two-door saloon and convertible versions of its thoroughly modern Silver Shadow (and equivalent Bentley T Series) in 1967, the name best associated with what were some of the world’s most expensive luxury cars was coined in March 1971 – ‘Corniche’. It was a title that conveyed the allure of the hedonistic lifestyle of the international set: summers spent on the sunny Côte d'Azur, winters skiing in Gstaad or shooting in Yorkshire, with wool-lined hood raised, feet cossetted in deep, lambswool rugs.
The Corniche Convertible was a masterpiece of design, penned with great elegance by the Crewe company’s own John Blatchley and handbuilt at HJ Mulliner Park Ward in West London. Waiting lists were usually long, and it took four months to complete each car – the powered convertible roof alone requiring two weeks.
Under the bonnet sat the familiar Rolls-Royce 6750cc V8, mated to a General Motors GM 400 automatic transmission. As the company’s flagship model, the Corniche benefited from the most powerful engines – good enough for 120mph – and, one by one, improvements that were later to be introduced across the rest of the range. A new fascia and bi-level air-conditioning from the Camargue made their way to the Corniche before appearing in the Silver Shadow or Bentley T Series saloons.
In 1977 the Corniche was updated to Shadow II/Bentley T2 specification, improvements that included a small air dam and rack-and-pinion steering. It was a much better car to drive. As the years passed, the cars grew increasingly more sophisticated, with computer-activated Automatic Ride Control (ARC), ABS braking, fuel-injection and K-Motronic engine management all appearing on the hand-finished car, now just produced in tiny numbers and affordable by equally few.
In mid-1984, in line with the resurgence of the marque due to the astonishing new Turbo saloon, all Bentley convertibles were called ‘Continentals’, distancing themselves from the less sporting Rolls-Royce name. Fittingly, the Continental was the first to be fitted with alloy wheels, another nod to its performance credentials.
The final models were those with every possible mechanical upgrade, most importantly ARC, and a glass rear window set in a redesigned hood. These Corniche IVs and equivalent Bentley Continentals were the ultimate – in all senses – versions of the two-door drophead saloon that had been in hand-built production for nearly three decades.
Throughout, Rolls-Royce was far and away the dominant marque. Up to the end of production in 1995, buyers overwhelmingly chose the Spirit of Ecstasy to the ‘Flying B’ on the cars’ beautifully hand-crafted and lavishly chromed radiator shells. From 1971 to 1995, some 500 Bentleys were sold vs. over 5000 Rolls-Royces.
By then only produced to special order for the company’s preferred client list (in 1992 the Sultan of Brunei ordered three cars with Turbo R engines), the model was the last to be built by hand by the craftsmen at HJ Mulliner Park Ward. For many years it was one of the world’s most expensive cars, comfortably the equivalent in status of a Ferrari or Aston Martin. With the passing of the Corniche and Continental, truly, an era had ended.
This motor car
Chassis ‘40055’ was commissioned on 29 July 1991 and finally invoiced to Parisian agent Franco Britannic Automobiles on 2 June 1992 for a total of 1,159,816 French Francs, a figure that included 8,296 French Francs for ‘cocktail requisites for each door’.
Documentation accompanying ‘40055’ shows the painstaking process undertaken by the sales departments both at the selling agent and at Crewe. Such was the almost infinite number of variations in trim and colour available to the customer, that the final choice of specification must have been quite a process.
Despite the many 100s of combinations on offer, though, the discerning first client decided on subtle, ‘triple black’, with the entire car (including Everflex roof and leather interior) finished in luxuriant, deep black. The build sheet even quaintly notes: ‘Tyres – colour: Black’. The coachlining was ‘double thin fine lines’ in ‘Turbo-badge’ red.
The full options list includes:
Non-opening rear seat armrest
Open compartment – LH door, open compartment – RH door
Fixed rear seat
Individual squab – rear seat, individual cushion – rear seat
Radiator shell – chrome, painted vanes
Left-hand-side boot badge – black ‘Bentley’, right-hand-side boot badge – ‘Continental’
Air bag system
Tinted windscreen – ‘Sundym’
Painted door mirrors
The car was equipped with a radio/tape player and power amplifier. The woodwork was burr walnut with boxwood inlay. All hide, carpet and roof headlining was black. Pre-delivery, the car was fitted with extended runners to the driver’s seat (for extra legroom), an additional set of lambswool rugs and a fine crystal cocktail set made to fit in the door compartments – at a cost of £2,416.00.
Purchased by the Belgian heir to the wildly successful Smurfs cartoon fortune, '40055' later passed to the chairman of a Swiss private bank. In his ownership the coachwork was repainted in Midnight Blue. Servicing work has been carried out by Bentley Geneva and British specialists P&A Wood. Additional work, at a cost of £30,000 plus tax, has been completed by award-winning restorers Clark and Carter in 2015-2016, who also rebuilt and re-trimmed the hood in finest black mohair.
In 2015 '40055' was purchase by a prominent German collector and is consequently German registered.
The car has wanted for nothing and comes complete with all books and tools.
As only eight turbocharged Bentley Continentals (including the three for Brunei) were to follow this final run of 73 naturally aspirated Series IV cars, ‘40055’ is a fine example of the one of the last-ever Bentleys hand-built by craftsmen at HJ Mulliner Park Ward. To the ultimate specification of a glass rear window and with electronic, three-position Automatic Ride Control, the supremely elegant example we offer today is a rare opportunity to buy one of the marque’s most iconic and charismatic models, a long term appreciating thoroughbred motorcar.