Bentley Continental R Le Mans Coupé

The Bentley Continental R was the beginning of an era, and the end of an era. It was the first Bentley since the 1965 Bentley S3 Continental that was not just a badge engineered Rolls-Royce. Prior to that stretching back to the Rolls-Royce takeover of Bentley in 1931, Bentleys became badge engineered Rolls-Royces. The Bentley Continental R was based on a Rolls-Royce platform, that of the SZ Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit. The car however, like the 1965 Bentley Continental S3 of the sixties, featured a completely different and unique bodywork.

Although based on the SZ Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit platform the Bentley Continental R was a new and unique design.

Although based on the SZ Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit platform the Bentley Continental R was a new and unique design.

The Bentley Continental R was the most expensive production car in the world at its launch in 1991. In fact the Sultan of Brunei was so impressed with the car when he saw it debut at the 1991 Geneva Motor Show making its entrance to Handel’s “Zadok the Priest” (which is used as the music for British coronations) he purchased the show car for a generous £2 million.

The Bentley Continental R looks nothing like the dignified but staid SZ Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit.

The Bentley Continental R looks nothing like the dignified but staid SZ Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit.

It comes as no surprise that the Sultan of Brunei would simply fall in love with the Bentley Continental R at first sight. These are a car that looks impressive in photographs, but when you actually see one on the road or in the showroom and get up close the car invades your senses with its grace and its size. The Bentley Continental R tips the scales at 5,340lb (2,420kg) which is about two and a half tons. Yet despite this size this is a car that is faster than a Jaguar XKE and one that would almost certainly be capable of a much quicker hot lap than the Jag, and one could do so in blissful comfort whilst listening to one’s preference of classical music.

The interior of the Bentley Continental R Le Mans is darkly understated. It is an interior that Commander James Bond would feel entirely at home in.

The interior of the Bentley Continental R Le Mans is darkly understated. It is an interior that Commander James Bond would feel entirely at home in.

As the Bentley Continental R Le Mans provides comfortable seating for four adults it would be possible to beat the Jaguar XKE with passengers and luggage on board, and to do it in the epitome of dignified comfort.

The rear seats of the Bentley Continental R Le Mans provide comfortable seating right up beyond 150mph and at the car's peak cornering speeds.

The rear seats of the Bentley Continental R Le Mans provide comfortable seating right up beyond 150mph and at the car’s peak cornering speeds.

The initial concept car design work for the Bentley Continental R was done by John Heffernan and Ken Greenley of International Automotive Design. Management at Rolls-Royce, particularly then Marketing Director Peter Ward, wanted to build the Bentley marque up as a sporting and luxury performance car that offered something distinctly different to the purely luxurious and prestigious image of Rolls-Royce. The intention was to create a car with genuinely impressive performance and handling with superb aesthetics and unmatched luxuriousness and quality. The Hefferman and Greenley design concept was shown at the 1984 Geneva Motor Show. The design was just a fiberglass mock up but the response showed management at Rolls-Royce they had a viable design idea that was worth putting some effort into.

The dashboard of the Bentley Continental R Le Mans is very much an "engineer's dashboard". Instrumentation is complete and clearly visible at all times.

The dashboard of the Bentley Continental R Le Mans is very much an “engineer’s dashboard”. Instrumentation is complete and clearly visible at all times.

The Heffernan and Greenley concept was shelved for a while but at that time Rolls-Royce were working on a new model of the Rolls-Royce Corniche and chief in-house stylist Graham Hull suggested that the designs for the new Corniche would actually be better used as the basis for a new Bentley Continental coupé. He was given the go-ahead and skillfully blending the design ideas for the car came up with the base design. John Heffernan and Ken Greenley of International Automotive Design were then brought in to create the final design in close collaboration with Graham Hull who did the entire interior design of the car.

The Continental R shows great attention to aesthetics and to aerodynamics from every angle. Drag coefficient is 0.37.

The Continental R shows great attention to aesthetics and to aerodynamics from every angle. Drag coefficient is 0.37.

The finished design of the Continental R is both beautiful and clever. This becomes apparent if you have seen pictures of the car and then get to see the car in reality. It is much bigger than it appears in photographs yet it looks purposeful and capable. When driven by motoring journalists the car was greeted with quite universal praise. The “R” is said to stand for “Roadholding” and the Continental R delivers responsive handling that belies its two and a half tons mass. The car took the notion of “luxury performance car” into a whole new dimension upstaging pretty much anything that could be compared to it.

The engine of the Bentley Continental R is the turbocharged 6.75 liter V8 which in the Le Mans version produces 420bhp.

The engine of the Bentley Continental R is the turbocharged 6.75 liter V8 which in the Le Mans version produces 420bhp.

Under the hood the engine in the Continental R is the turbocharged 6.75 liter Bentley V8 which in the Le Mans produces a “sufficient” 420bhp. This engine is mated to a 4 speed GM 4L80-E automatic transmission, the fourth gear being used as an overdrive. This means that this is a long legged touring car in the grand style, a car well suited to long distance road trips which are accomplished in comfort that few other cars can match.

The car in our photos has been used primarily for such long distance road trips and has 145,000km on the odometer, so it is just nicely run in. This car is coming up for sale by Bonhams at their Les Grandes Marques du Monde au Grand Palais, in Paris, France, on 9th February 2017.

You will find the sale page for this car if you click here.

This car is expected to sell in the €80,000 – €120,000 range and so may represent something of a bargain, especially suited to a buyer who is looking for a car they can drive and enjoy.

With its older style foot mounted brake and accelerator pedals, sill level floors, and mineral oil suspension and braking systems this car represents the end of an era for Rolls-Royce and Bentley; and it is a beautiful and classic ending.

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(All pictures courtesy Bonhams).

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