The R-Type Continental Fastback is one of Bentley’s best-regarded post-war cars. In 1955 the model was succeeded by the Bentley S Continental Fastback which is equally coveted by enthusiasts of the British brand. Both Fastbacks have increased strongly in value in the last 15 years, but what makes these cars so interesting?
The foundation of the strong image of Bentley was laid in the 1920s. “Win today, sell tomorrow” was a tried and tested way to boost car sales. From the very beginning, W.O. Bentley followed this market strategy. By participating in races at home and abroad and by achieving success in these competitions, W.O. Bentley created a sporty image for his cars. The 4.5-Litre, for instance, was advertised as “The British Thoroughbred Sports Car”. After the takeover by Rolls-Royce the production was temporarily suspended. The cars that were made in the factory in Derby starting from 1933, were technically based on those of Rolls-Royce. They were advertised as “The Silent Sportscars”, but were comfortable touring cars rather than real sports cars. As a result, there is a difference in appreciation and therefore in price between a W.O. Bentley and a Derby Bentley. The Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback was at the time of introduction in 1952 the fastest and most expensive sports saloon in the world. From this perspective, it’s no surprise that it’s attracted a great level of interest from enthusiasts. The appeal of the car’s excellent performance is self-evident, but this also applies to the coachwork.
The shape of the coachwork can be traced back to the early 1930s. To improve the streamlining of the motorcar, designers based their design on the shape of a water drop. An example was the Cadillac V16 Aero-Dynamic Concept Car, shown at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. In the late 1930s and early ‘40s some manufacturers produced a streamlined Saloon series, which were hugely successful in the US market. Examples include the 1941 Buick Sedanet and the 1941 Cadillac Series 61 Coupe. Shortly after the war, new models appeared with similar coachwork, such as the Chevrolet Fleetline and Pontiac Silver Streak. These American cars affected the designs of post-war European cars – among them the Peugeot 203, Saab 92 and Volvo PV544.
Coming back to Bentley, chief project engineer Ivan Evernden and designer John Blatchley were tasked to create a lightweight, aerodynamic Bentley capable of carrying four adults in supreme comfort. The car was intended to provide a speedy drive on the new high-speed motorways of Europe. Blatchley came from Gurney Nutting, where he had been chief stylist since the mid-1930s but in the styling of the Bentley Fastback he was also inspired by the recent American designs. The prototype of the Fastback was made by H.J. Mulliner in 1951. A year later the car went into production. Just like the pre-war green 4.5-Litre Tourer by Vanden Plas, the R-Type Fastback by Mulliner swiftly became an iconic model.
Fast-forward to the present day and we’ve seen the prices of the Fastback increase tenfold in the last 15 years. Most popular are the later versions with the 4.9 litre engine and manual gearbox. In 2001, RM Sotheby’s auctioned a 1954 R-Type Continental, which sold for $170,000 (£120,000). From 2001 to 2010, only a small number of cars were sold at auction – an average of one car per year during this period. As a result of this limited supply and increasing demand, prices gradually increased.
Starting from 2010, the offer and prices rose further. In 2013 three cars were auctioned. One of them was sold by Gooding & Company. In August 2013 Gooding auctioned a restored 1954 Bentley 4.9 liter left hand drive for $ 1,980,000 (£ 1,267,000). This was a new auction record. In the following years more cars were offered at auction, in 2015 at least six. But the bids did not surpassed the record amount and the realized prices at auctions dropped. A recovery was made in 2016. Two cars were auctioned for more than 1.8 million U.S. dollars. Auctioned in U.S. dollars, however, the prices still remained under the auction record from 2013. But because of a difference in the value of the currency, converted into English pounds a new price record was realized. For the R- Type Fastback that RM Sotheby’s auctioned in August 2016 for 1.87 million dollars, converted more than 1.4 million pounds was paid.
The prices of the Bentley S Continental Fastback are lower than that of the R-Type Continental Fastback. In the 1980s and 1990s, the auction results of the S Fastback were about one third lower to that of the R-Type Continental Fastback. From 2000 to 2010, the difference in price became a bit larger. The difference in price went up to half of that of a R-Type Fastback. But from 2010 the difference in price rose further. Usually the auction results of the S Continental Fastback became not higher than one third of that of the R-Type Continental Fastback. On the other hand, in March 2017 RM Sotheby’s auctioned a Bentley S Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner for $ 710,000. Converted into English pounds it was over £ 583,000. This was a new auction record.
Compared to the R-Type Continental, the financial appreciation for the S Fastback has gradually become less. Some price difference is understandable. The R-Type Continental is the original model. It was build for speed. For these reasons the car gets the most attention in magazines. The S Continental Fastback was based on the predecessor and gets less attention. In addition, introduced in 1952 the shape of the coachwork of the R-Type Fastback was not very new. In the case of the S Continental Fastback we should say that for these years this design was a little bit out of date.
In contrast to this however, the S Fastback was build in lesser numbers and is therefore more rare. In total H.J. Mulliner made a 193 copies of the R-Type Continental Fastback. 153 were RHD and 40 LHD. The S Continental Fastback was made in 151 numbers. 123 were RHD and LHD 28. And for the collector who appreciates a luxury car, the S Continental offers more comfort. The S Continental Fastback was built for long distance touring in comfort. The car could for instance be delivered with electric controled side windows and air conditioning. Automatic gears were standard from the beginning, power steering was standard from 1956.
In the past ten years, both Fastbacks increased in value very fast. But given the large price difference with the R-Type Continental Fastback, it seems that the S Continental Fastback is somewhat undervalued. The current gap in price between both models seems too large.
1957 Bentley S Continental Fastback van H.J. Mulliner. Geveild door RM Auctions in maart 2017 voor $ 781.000 (£ 642.000). Foto Darin Schnabel, RM Sotheby’s.