In the period immediately following the end of World War II, Rolls-Royce took the unprecedented step of commissioning hard tooling for what would become known as the Standard Steel Saloon. The Standard Steel Saloon fulfilled the company's commercial requirements but not necessarily those of all its customers, and it was for this select and demanding clientele that, in 1950, the decision was taken to develop a Bentley motor car capable of producing high maximum speeds ideal for Continental touring on the long straight roads of Europe. The higher speeds were to be coupled with correspondingly high rates of acceleration and excellent handling. Initially named "Corniche II", the new model was conceived as a fast, relatively lightweight grand touring automobile. However, once production commenced, the model name was revised to the "Continental Sports Saloon", a revival of the pre-war "Continental" designation. The Continental shared its basic chassis layout and many of its suspension, steering and braking components with the Mark VI, however, it is reported that the weights of each chassis varied somewhat, depending upon their individual specifications. As production continued, chassis weights were reduced, culminating in the all-welded chassis, which saved nearly 30 pounds thanks to the elimination of rivets.
In order to achieve the lofty ambitions a tremendous amount of research and testing were conducted using quarter scale models in the Hucknall wind tunnel. Extensive testing and alterations allowed Ivan Evernden and John Blatchley of the Motor Car Division to design a body not only of exceptional style, but also of an aerodynamic shape that reduced drag and achieved excellent levels of stability even at speeds in excess of 100mph. By late summer of 1951 the drawings and scale models became reality with the creation of the prototype R Type Continental which in time became known as OLGA. Every weight saving opportunity was taken in the production of OLGA, with the majority of the car being crafted from lightweight aluminium. This included the body, window frames, bumpers and even the seat frames. In September of 1951 testing began in France under the supervision of Walter Sleator who was the managing director of Garage Franco-Britannique, the Rolls-Royce agent in Paris. Sleator was well qualified for such a task being an ex-racing driver. Following extensive testing and refinements production began in early 1952.
The H.J. Mulliner Sports Saloon design was the product of an extensive joint effort between Mulliner and Bentley, with initial design consultation by Pinin Farina. The chassis were assembled in Crewe with the vast majority of the 208 built then transported to London by train where they were fitted with coachwork by H.J. Mulliner, with all but fifteen cars fitted with their fastback bodies. The sleek bodies were easily distinguished by a fastback deck, tapered rear fenders and a curved windscreen, all in the interest of rapid and quiet high-speed cruising. The bodies provided a substantial weight savings, thanks to Mulliner's expertise in all-aluminium body construction. On early cars, aluminum window frames and bumpers were employed and the hood ornament even left off. Nevertheless, the cars are not exactly small or lightweight, and they pushed tire technology to the limit, requiring special tires that could withstand the heat generated by the car?s weight, and more importantly, its speed.
The sleek, lightweight bodywork, B-60 engine, higher gearing and a modified suspension combined to provide not only high-speed, long-distance touring capabilities but also surprising fuel economy of approximately 20 miles per gallon. The Bentley R-Type Continental was capable of sustained speeds of 80 miles per hour in second gear, 100 miles per hour in third and over 120 miles per hour in top gear, perfectly meeting Bentley's goal to provide the fastest, most comfortable and best-appointed high-speed tourer on the market. Additionally, styling was understated compared to the Rolls-Royce and marked one of the early instances where the two companies began to differentiate themselves. In all, 208 of these cars found the favour of buyers during the model's four-year production run.
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