R-Type Continental Fastback Sports Saloon by H.J. Mulliner
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Fascinating early ownership history, retained by second owner Rene Herzog for over forty years
• Specified new in RHD; fitted with a floor-mounted, four-speed manual gearbox and bucket seats
• Exceptionally well-preserved original interior
• A lovely driver’s R-Type Continental
For the sophisticated driver in the early 1950s, it was hard to imagine a better all-round luxury car than Bentley’s R-Type Continental. In tune with the company’s reputation for building silent sports cars, driving an R-Type Continental was akin to riding on a magic carpet. Near silent at speed, smooth, elegant, with space for four plus luggage, and the ability to hit 120 mph, this was a car for all purposes and all seasons. Why would one need anything else when the R-Type Continental could do it all?
H.J. Mulliner was responsible for crafting the bodywork on the vast majority of what Bentley originally called the "Continental Sports Saloon." It was clear from the outset that these cars were a hit with Bentley’s clientele as their orderbooks quickly filled up, even with this being one of the most expensive cars in the world at an asking price of £6,928. Only 207 R-Type Continentals would be built and despite its small production run, these cars are considered today to be among the finest driving and most desirable Bentleys of all.
As is the case for most automobiles that could claim being one of the most expensive cars for sale when new, first owners of these cars were never dull, and the first owner of chassis number BC17A is certainly no exception. This particular car was completed in December of 1952, and finished in Shell Grey with a Red leather interior, and specified in right-hand drive with a floor-mounted, four-speed manual gearbox and bucket seats. That first owner would be Rolf Habisreutinger of St. Gallen, Switzerland. He took delivery in February of 1953, having the car shipped on the Essex Ferry to Zeebrugge and then onwards to Switzerland.
The son of a textile entrepreneur, Rolf was world renowned for his passion for classical music and collecting string instruments until his passing in 1991. Today, his foundation, Stradivari-Stiftung Habisreutinger, exists as the largest private collection of Stradivarius instruments in Europe. Rolf’s other passions included fine wine and stamp collecting, and while it would be easy to assume that he appreciated his R-Type Continental for its smooth and luxurious driving experience, Rolf was surely eager to explore its performance credentials. A regular entrant in international rallies, including the Rallye Automobile de Monte Carlo and Rallye International des Alpes, Rolf primarily competed in Jaguar XK120s but had raced his Bentley Mk VI on a handful of occasions. Remaining in the ownership of the Habisreutinger family until 1969, the car was then sold to its second owner in Switzerland, Rene Herzog. According to the R-Type Continental Registry, it had been driven some 290,000 km with the Habisreutingers.
Like Habisreutinger, Herzog also had petrol flowing through his veins, and while he did not compete with the Bentley, he was a well-known driver in events not only in Switzerland but also across Europe. Competing in the European Touring Car Championships, where he raced a BMW-Alpina 1602—which he co-piloted with Niki Lauda and Hans Stuck on separate occasions—he also raced Herbert Müller’s Ferrari 512 M during 1971 and finished 4th at the 1990 24 Hours of Daytona in a Porsche 962 alongside Hans Stuck, Harald Grohs and Hurley Haywood. Continuing to compete in historic racing and later transitioning to showing cars at concours events, Herzog retained the Bentley for over forty years and drove it in the Gran Premio Nuvolari in 2003; it was also shown at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in 2009.
The Bentley remained with Herzog until being repatriated to the UK when acquired by Peter Rae of Stockbridge in 2013. Acquired by the consignor in 2016, at his request the car was repainted black, yet its charmingly patinated, original interior was retained. Furthermore, the car was fitted with new lightweight bumpers, crafted from aluminum and chrome plated, for a sleeker look. This work, as well as some further mechanical work, was carried out by the Bentley and Rolls-Royce specialists at Frank Dale & Stepsons. It was last serviced by Frank Dale & Stepsons in March of 2020.
Over seventy years since this car left the factory, it is easy to see why Bentley earned its reputation of building silent sports cars, a notion surely not lost on this car’s first or second owners. Rolf Habisreutinger was perhaps the ideal customer for the marque and model. Although both he and Rene Herzog had access to purpose-built machinery to utilize at speed, the R-Type Continental surely would have been a welcome change of scenery when stepping off the racetrack.
Perfectly capable in modern traffic, an R-Type Continental will happily waft along at modern motorway speeds, with unrivaled character and charisma compared to its modern successors. The embodiment of sporting elegance, it is both subtle and sophisticated yet very easy to drive. With its next owner, the car would surely revel in being driven as its manufacturers intended, crossing continents in leaps and bounds, showcasing Bentley at its very best.
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