“Only the very fluent can coin the exact phrase to describe such a
car – others have to copy. Personally, I will borrow a ready-made phrase from
The Autocar’s Road Test article: a Modern Magic Carpet.” – Raymond Mays,
amateur racing driver of note and the man behind E.RA. and B.R.M., writing
about a journey from Bourne, Lincolnshire to Berne, Switzerland in an early
The R-Type Continental Fastback in its time was the most expensive,
finest, all-round touring car in the world: the ultimate in transcontinental
land travel for the super-rich owner-driver.
A total of 207 (plus the prototype) were built in five series: ‘A’ to
‘E’, from May 1952 to April 1955, and no two were the same. All but 15
were bodied in fastback style by the company’s in-house coachbuilder HJ
Mulliner as the era of bespoke commissioning was almost over. But for the
fortunate few it was still possible to order a rolling chassis for bespoke
bodywork to a client’s specific requirements.
On 21 December 1953, a '(chassis-only) Continental Sports Saloon' was
despatched from England on the SS Deal for delivery to one of the great French
coachbuilders, Carrosserie Franay of Paris.
Some five months later, the gleaming car was ready for its first owner,
textile magnate Edouard Vandendriessche.
This Motor Car
Vandendriessche was managing director of the family concern
Vandendriessche & Fils, textile producers with an address at 170 rue de
Guise, St. Quentin (Aisne) France. Post-War business had clearly been good to
the company, so through the offices of Bentley’s French distributor, Franco
Britannic Automobiles Ltd, an order was placed for a rolling R-Type Continental
chassis (to the same specification as the HJ Mulliner cars) for delivery to
Franay. Among the special features indicated on the factory sheets were a
central gear change and a radio. Naturally, for driving in continental Europe
the steering wheel was on the left.
Franay penned a similar fastback design to the Mulliner classic yet made
it more muscular: the rear wing line was more upright and exaggerated, the rear
windows slightly larger and the front wings blended into the doors with more
aggression. With a central manual gear change and lightweight bucket seats, it
was a car for a sportsman.
The Parisian carrossier bodied only three cars in this design. Chassis
BC51LC is one of only two on the desirable left-hand drive chassis (with the
other’s whereabouts unknown for nearly 50 years) and the only LHD example
produced with a manual gearbox.
Vandendriessche retained his special Bentley for nine years. The car was
returned to Franco Britannic in 1963 and resold to Farnham Rehfisch, a Parisian
high school teacher, who kept the car for only three months. The third French
owner was a medical doctor in the Parisian suburb of St. Cloud, Pierre
Mauranges. In January 1965, the Bentley was purchased by American marque and
model enthusiast DJ Smith, who enjoyed the car in the US for 12 years.
In 1977, the Bentley was sold to American professional golfer Gene ‘The
Machine’ Littler. Littler, based in California but a great friend of Bill
Harrah in Reno, Nevada, enjoyed his Continental for five years, after which it
was owned by a succession of other West Coast enthusiasts as well as the
Illinois car collector Bill Jacobs, who was so taken with the special Bentley that he owned it twice!
In recent years, the car underwent a comprehensive mechanical restoration
performed by well-known US specialists Vantage Motorworks; the engine,
transmission, and clutch were completely rebuilt, and the engine bay and
chassis were fully detailed, after which the car was shown at the 2012 Amelia
Island Concours d’Elegance. Since then, the car has been regularly exercised.
With reliability and power in mind, the 4,566cc engine was upgraded
with a larger cylinder head (correct for a late S1) with dual, two-inch SU
Our client purchased the car in 2017. It comes with a raft of
documentation, correct books, tools, the rare and valuable Continental Overseas
Touring Spares Kit and recent service records.
In Bentley’s Centennial year we can think of few cars that sum up the
ethos of the marque better than the R-Type Continental. Powerful, once the
fastest and most expensive four-seater in the world, a car for kings,
plutocrats, captains of industry and the aristocracy. This example, with
stylish and rare coachwork by Franay is a delicious twist on the enduring
rivalry between Britain and France: British engineering of the early jet age
married to sublime French styling. A dangerous liaison, perhaps, but
nonetheless a successful one.