f74LMQrs 1952 Bentley Continental R 5
1952 Bentley Continental R 5

First Bentley Continental fastest car in the world

Championed by Rolls-Royce’s chief engineer, Ivan Everton, and chief designer, John Blatchley, the Bentley Continental was the world’s fastest four-seat car when it appeared in 1952. 

Uniquely to Bentley, it had no Rolls-Royce twin.

This was no small car, occupying 206.5 inches/5245mm of roadway. 

Exterior panels were mostly aluminium to save weight.

Power came from Roll-Royce’s 279 cubic inch/4.6-litre six-cylinder engine with the addition of a high compression head.

A four-speed manual was standard at first. Then in 1953 GM’s HydraMatic was quietly added to the options list.

It was a true 100mph/160km/h grand tourer at a time when 60mph/97km/h was a struggle for most cars. 

Zero to 60 was achieved in around 10 seconds, a stunning time at the time — and quick even in the 21st century.

Legend has it that when the Rolls Royce Board members saw the prototype, named Olga, they thought it too sporty. 

Lobbied from within and by dealers they were eventually persuaded that a market existed for a large, fast, sports-luxury coupe. 

The majority of the 208 that were built had their bespoke panels shaped by coachbuilder H. J. Mulliner. 

Of course, buyers could choose their favourite panel beater, such as Park Ward, Pinin Farina or Franay.

Many sales went through Jack Barclay Ltd, the go-to dealer located in London on Berkeley Square in Mayfair.

If you had bought a Continental, your business manager would have authorised payment of an invoice of around £6300. 

That amount of money represented three times the average price of a UK house and 12 times the average annual wage.

The elegant shape, with its long bonnet and short boot, informed the design of the 1955 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and Bentley S1, which Blatchley styled.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au


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