Few cars ooze style and class like a classic Bentley, especially something as special as special as the the R type. Few would realise that the these impressive and imposing looking car are still relatively affordable, especially considering the fantastic and unique driving experience they offer.
As a gentle evolution of the first post-war Bentley, the MkVI of 1946, the 1952 R Type was considerably more elegant in its execution, boasting more attractive sweeping rear bodywork. While it looked even more appealing, it also extended the rear of the car considerably for extra luggage capacity.
This revised boot lid allowed for much larger loads to be carried in the boot, thanks to a top-hinged lid (opposed to the original bottom-hinged item). This subtle change, along with a different spare wheel location, meant that if the lid couldn’t be closed due to a full load, it could be secured using two heavy-duty leather straps provided by Bentley.
At a glance, most would think that the R type is fundamentally the same car as the MkIV, something that Bentley buyers of the time appreciated. Delve a little deeper though, and you will start to notice that over the three-year production run the R Type developed into something a whole lot more refined, usable and ultimately impressive.
Powered by an enlarged 4566cc Rolls-Royce six-cylinder engine (also fitted to the last of the ‘big bore’ MkIV models), progress was brisk and extremely refined. This powerplant was shared with the Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn, however the Bentley was fitted with twin SU H6 carburettors. The introduction of a General Motors-sourced Hydra-Matic automatic gearbox, which was the first time an auto ‘box had been fitted to a Bentley, was a very welcome option that improved the car’s appeal in the USA.
For the first time, there was a stunning HJ Mulliner-bodied Continental variant offered, which looks substantially different to the R Type saloon. Although there are substantial mechanical similarities, the streamlined lightweight body panels helped the coupe hit a top speed of 117mph.
The R type wasn’t quite the rallying legend that the MkVI became thanks to its impressive exploits on the Monte Carlo Rally – including the ‘hot soup car’ of Mike Couper that featured an on-board soup warmer. It was a solid performer though, taking a few strong results, thanks to its reliability and outright speed.
Which one to buy?
There are so many minor differences between these hand-built Bentley models, with spec changes occurring on a month-by-month basis, it would be difficult to explain them all in detail. Generally speaking the newer the car, the better developed it will be.
A total of 2320 R Types eventually left the factory, the majority of which were finished in steel saloon form. Like Bentleys of old however, the R Type could be specified from the factory as a rolling chassis, allowing the owner to fit a body of their choosing, offered by various different coachbuilders. A number of saloons, owing to rotten bodywork, have since been converted to more sporty variations, either for competition use or simply turned into something more desirable for road use.
Continental versions are highly desirable, and also substantially more valuable (see prices section). All but a few special coachbuilt versions were clothed in HJ Mulliner’s sleek, aerodynamic and very modern looking body. Just 207 of these were built, featuring various mechanical tweaks, including an enlarged 4887cc engine for the later cars.
Performance and specs
Engine 4566cc in-line six-cylinder
Power Not quoted
Torque Not quoted
Top speed 102mph
Fuel consumption 15.0mpg
Gearbox Four speed manual, three-speed automatic
Dimensions and weight
• Restoration costs can be extremely high, especially on cars requiring a ground-up rebuild. Neglected cars can be shocking to put right
• Rust is a major problem; the quality and availability of steel following the war was not great, which means that steel-bodied cars showed considerable rust issues just a few years after manufacture.
• Sunroof drainage channels can clog up, and if the car has spent much time in a damp environment, this can cause the interior to flood. If this isn’t caught quickly, it can destroy the seats and lead to further corrosion issues.
• The Rolls-Royce engine is a gem, capably of massive mileages, however it requires regular maintenance to stay in top shape. Specialists recommend oil changes every 2500 miles, or once a year.
• It is wise to remove the sump and clear out any deposits if the car hasn’t been inspected recently. If the oil has been changed regularly, then all should be well, but a poorly serviced engine could lead to big end, crank and potentially block damage. Preventing this should be a priority.
• As the engine features an iron block and alloy cylinder head, the cooling system must be maintained correctly. Failure to change the coolant regularly could result in overheating due to deposits building up.
• The R type featured an automatic choke arrangement, which is great when all set up correctly, however when out of adjustment it can make the car unpleasant to drive – and in some cases dangerous. When working, the cold start procedure should be as smooth and seamless as any modern fuel injected vehicle.
June 1952: Bentley introduces the R Type, to replace the MkVI
Late 1952: Impressive R Type Continental coupe model introduced
1953: Updated dashboard and interior
1954: Automatic gearbox becomes standard. Continental models receive larger 4.9-litre engine
May 1955: The final R Type leaves the factory
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.bdcl.org - Bentley Drivers’ club for all Bentley models
• www.bentleyownersclub.co.uk - UK owners’ club
• www.dyers-rolls-royce-bentley.co.uk - Classic Bentley spares and parts
Summary and prices
Currently, the Bentley R Type provides excellent value, thanks to a reasonably healthy number of surviving cars on the market. You can still pick up projects from around £10,000, with drivers starting at around £22,000-£35,000. A very well presented example could cost up to around £45,000, but there are of course top quality restored cars that might be on the market for a lot more. Values haven’t seen any significant rises in the last few years, but remain stable.
Then we come to the Continental models. This particularly special While you might find something for less than £400,000, the absolutely top concours cars have been known to exceed the £1m mark. This is a fact that has driven the some people to build recreations, which if done well can actually provide excellent value for money.