The first Continental was very special and it's something Bentley tries to recapture today.
Bentley isn't a brand that shies away from its history. From the brand's pre-war inception to its new green direction, the brand's history is an interesting one. As of this year, it's been 70 years since the original R-Type Bentley Continental started its production. That too has an interesting history, and to celebrate, Bentley took the old and the new out for a little photoshoot. Side by side, we can clearly see some of the retro callbacks in the new car. But first, some history.
The R-Type was the first to wear the Continental name, and only 208 models were produced in the 1950s. At the time, Bentley says it was the fastest four-seater in the world; and the most expensive. The brand says its $7,000 EUR price tag ($81K USD adjusted to today's money) was four times the average cost of a home in the UK at the time.
Bentley credits then Cheif Projects Engineer Ivan Evernden and Cheif Stylist John Blatchley with the first Continental's inception. It was something of a hodgepodge of older models, with the design a mix between a MK5 Corniche and a coachbuilt pre-war Embiricos model. It was powered by a 4.5-liter inline-six producing (after some fettling) around 153 horsepower, with a higher final drive ratio added to its transmission.
The result was a top speed of just under 120 mph. Tires at the time struggled with this speed, so Bentley needed special Dunlop rubber to get the job done, much like the Bugatti Veyron needing special tires to manage its top speed.
It was also designed to be a lightweight car, something you can't really say about the car's current iteration, the Continental GT Speed. The R-Type used aluminum body panels, window frames, windscreen surround, backlight, seat frames, and bumpers.
Just because the modern Continental GT Speed is a hefty boy (5,011 lbs), doesn't mean it's not a performer. How can it not be with 650 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque? The newest Continental certainly performs at a similarly high level as the OG R-Type did in its day, and Bentley isn't shy about other similarities. The styling, for example, has a few nods to the R-Type.
That includes the iconic four-headlamp layout, with the bodywork on the front quarter panels clearly referencing the shape of the original. The rear is slightly less retro, but the general idea of the R-Type remains, especially when you look at the roofline. Seventy years on, the Continental is still an incredibly impressive car, and seeing the two side-by-side is a great reminder.