In the spring of 1955, Rolls-Royce and Bentley announced the arrival of a new range of two virtually identical models called Silver Cloud and the S-Series (also referred to as S-Type or later, S1) respectively. The new lineup represented the culmination of efforts to standardize the line that began with the Silver Dawn and R-Type. The “Standard Steel Saloon” was now firmly entrenched in regular Rolls-Royce parlance, and with the new Cloud/S-Type, the shift to the production of complete cars was complete. However, that is not to suggest that Rolls-Royce abandoned those clients who wished for something a bit more special. The Cloud/S-Type was designed from the ground up to accommodate the work of independent coachbuilders, with a host of limited production and one-off designs coming from the likes of James Young, H.J. Mulliner & Co., Hooper, and Graber Carrossier among others.
Stylistically and mechanically, the standard Bentley and Rolls-Royce saloons were virtually the same, with only some subtle detail differences between the two. Powering the new car was a 4.9-liter inline-six derived from the high-performance R-Type Continental. Given the success of that car, management decided that a hotter version of the Cloud/S-Type should join the range, and development began in earnest. Given the sporting history of the Bentley marque, execs reserved the new high-performance variant for the Bentley chassis, and the Continental name returned. The plan called for the Continental to be ordered as a chassis, with three official catalog body styles available: A two-door saloon by H.J. Mulliner, and a two-door saloon and corresponding drophead coupe by Park Ward, although other firms would eventually have the opportunity to make their mark on the brilliant Continental chassis.
H.J. Mulliner chose an evolution of a theme that first appeared on the hottest version of the old R-Type Continental. Officially, Mulliner's Design no. 7400 is designated a Two Door Sports Saloon, although is best known by the more evocative sobriquet, Fastback. While fundamentally similar to its predecessor, the S1 Continental Fastback is an entirely new shape, stretched over a longer wheelbase with softer details and more linear body sides, yet retaining the same iconic sloping roofline and subtly finned haunches. Later in production, Mulliner reworked the design for 1957, designating it Design No. 7466. With its unique blend of elegance and aggression, the Mulliner Continental Fastback is a sophisticated, high-performance grand tourer and one of the most recognizable and beautiful designs of the post-war era. Perhaps more than any other post-war Bentley, it is the car that best captures the spirit of W.O. Bentley’s original creations.
Chassis number BC82AF is one of 97 right-drive S1 Continentals to wear Mulliner’s 7400 Fastback two-door sports saloon coachwork. This example is a remarkable survivor-quality car that has never been restored; rather, enjoying a life of regular use and care over the past sixty-plus years. According to factory records, the order for this Continental Sports Saloon came in late 1955, with H.J. Mulliner designated as the coachbuilder. Delivery to the dealer H.A. Fox & Co. followed soon after, on behalf of the first owner, Nigel Turner, Esq. In June 1956, the Bentley was registered as SXA435; a number plate which it still wears today. Little else is known of the car’s earliest history; however, it appears to have stayed in England through the early 1980s, with the last known tax date in 1983. More recently, BC82AF came to the United States, where it was used on a very regular basis for many years in the hands of an award-winning artist and film director from New York. In the 80s or early 90s, it was equipped with a mobile phone, contemporary AM/FM radio, and retrofitted with boot-mounted air conditioning – necessary equipment for a high roller cruising the streets of New York City in one of the most stylish cars ever created. The owner had exquisite taste, as this Continental shared garage space with a Mercedes-Benz 600 sedan.
Considering the value, rarity, and collectability of the S1 Continental Fastback, most examples have already been restored at least once. BC82AF is one of a select few original Mulliner Fastbacks to survive in unrestored condition, presented with a refreshingly honest character. While never restored, it wears any imperfections it has on its sleeve like a badge of honor. The black lacquer paintwork has a warm luster to the finish, complementing the crisp and remarkably straight coachwork. Brightwork is in similarly good condition, with straight bumpers and sound plating on the body fittings and radiator shell. Steel wheels wear correct original wheel covers and recent radial tires.
The original interior features light blue-gray Connolly hides which appear weathered and broken-in, like a cherished old baseball glove. Despite its initial appearance, the leather is surprisingly supple, and while there is visible wear in places, it is serviceable as-is. Carpets are also original, and generally sound while showing considerable age. Interior woodwork is consistent with the rest of the cabin, displaying some fading and minor cracking in the lacquer on the door caps and instrument panel. Original instruments, seatbelts, and switchgear are intact and in good condition. A few non-original items have been added through the years, including an aftermarket radio and controls for the rear-mounted air conditioning unit. In the boot, the original green lining has a heavy patina, and the factory jack, handle, and a mostly complete tool kit reside in their respective compartments.
This car retains its original Continental-spec engine, number BC81A, corresponding with the factory build order. The presentation is appropriate and honest for an unrestored car. The only non-factory component is the rotary A/C compressor, added when the car was in regular service on the road. We have had the engine running and it sounds quite good, although additional service needs are likely. Although this car served as a daily driver for many years, a lengthy period of storage means it will require service before being road worthy again. Looking beneath the car, we see the undercarriage is quite sound, with original spring gaiters and aluminum shields intact, and no evidence of significant corrosion on the chassis, floors, outriggers, or inner panels.
This marvelous and highly collectible Bentley Continental could be returned to the road and preserved in original condition with minimal effort. Conversely, the solid and complete nature make it the ideal basis for a full restoration to its original glory. However the next owner chooses to enjoy it, there is no doubt the sophisticated elegance of its H.J. Mulliner coachwork will continue to turn heads.