New York - ICONS

6 December 2017

1954 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback Sports Saloon by Franay

  • Chassis no. BC51LC
  • Engine no. BCC50

Please note that Internet bidding is not available for this lot. Interested parties that are unable to attend the sale may register to bid by telephone or place a commission bid online at rmsothebys.com.

  • One of three Franay-bodied R-Type Continentals of this design
  • The only left-hand drive, center-gearshift manual example; lightweight seats from new
  • Rich enthusiast history; extensive recent sorting and performance enhancements
  • Original “matching numbers” engine
  • The grandest of British tourers, with irresistible Gallic flair


The R-Type Continental may have been born in Great Britain, but it was in France where it learned to stretch its legs. Specifically, one looks to the “French Indianapolis” banked oval of L’autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry.

It was here, in September 1951, a Continental prototype ventured. Evolved from the standard R-Type, it featured a modified carburetor and manifold setup for more power, tall gearing and close gearbox ratios, and most importantly, lightened bodywork with more than 225 kilograms shaved off the standard Bentley. Typical of Bentley in this era, the modifications were performed with a light touch, but they worked. Running with all its heart and soul at Montlhéry, the Continental achieved 192 km/h…that is two miles in a minute. It was, as its makers would boast, the fastest production four-seater in the world.

Some 30 kilometers from Montlhéry, in the City of Lights along the Seine, renowned coachbuilder Marius Franay took notice. On its own, the Continental would have, as another British manufacturer would have put it, grace, space, and pace. Franay gave it outright sex appeal. Only five Continental chassis would be bodied in France, and Marius Franay’s touch was found on every one of them.

CHASSIS NUMBER BC51LC

This R-Type Continental’s journey to Paris began with an order placed by French dealer Franco-Brittanic Autos Ltd., for Messrs. Vandendriessche et Fils, a successful family-run textile firm at 170 rue de Guise, St. Quentin.

Scion Edouard Vandendriessche celebrated his company’s return to post-war success by motoring appropriately. The new automatic transmission was available, but apparently he would have none of that nonsense, requesting a center-mounted manual gearshift, the sportiest option available, as well as a radio. The chassis, intended for use in France, was specified with left-hand drive. All but 15 Continental Rs were H.J. Muller “fastbacks”; this car’s coachwork would be styled and built in the owner’s home country, by the fine carrossier Franay. BC51LC is the first of five Continental Rs to be bodied by Franay, comprising three fastbacks and two fixed head coupes. According to notes in the Bentley Continental Sports Saloon Register, BC51LC was shipped to Boulogne, and driven to Franay in Paris by a Franco-Brittanic chauffeur sitting on a crate!

The design for this rarely seen variation was based upon H.J. Mulliner’s shape for the Continental, but with its own sleek touches, such as a front fender line that falls into a delicate crease through the doors, and a hint of the curves that had defined Franay’s pre-war styling. The rear fenders were more upright, sportier, and the rear windows were larger, for glancing at those you’ve overtaken. Franay bodied only three cars in this decidedly muscular design; chassis BC51LC is one of only two on the desirable left-hand drive chassis (with the other’s whereabouts unknown for nearly 50 years) and the singular LHD example produced with a manual gearbox.

M. Vandendriessche retained his special Bentley for nine years; a photo, likely taken in his ownership, appears in Martin Bennett’s Bentley Continental, Corniche & Azure 1951–2002. The car was turned back in to Franco Britannic Automobiles in 1963 and resold to Farnham Rehfisch, a Parisian high school teacher, who kept the car for only three months. The third French owner was a medical doctor in the Parisian suburb of St. Cloud, Pierre Mauranges. In January 1965, the Bentley was purchased by an early appreciator of this model in the United States, D.J. Smith, with whom it journeyed stateside for the first time. Mr. Smith would continue a tradition of long-term ownership of this car, which he held for a dozen years.

In 1977, the Bentley was sold to Gene Littler, the professional golf star. Mr. Littler was well known at the time as a discerning car collector, with a small, well-chosen stable kept at his home in California, and who regularly visited Reno to discuss cars with his friend Bill Harrah. He enjoyed his Continental for five years, after which it was owned by a succession of other West Coast enthusiasts, as well as the respected Illinois collector of performance cars, Bill Jacobs.

More recently the car underwent a complete mechanical restoration performed by well-known specialists Vantage Motorworks; the engine, transmission, and clutch were completely rebuilt, and the engine bay and chassis were fully detailed, after which the car was shown at the 2012 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Since then, the car has been regularly exercised. With reliability and power in mind, the engine has been upgraded with a larger cylinder head, correct for a late S1, as well as with a dual two-inch SU carburetor setup; the original components are available to the new owner, FOB Massachusetts.

Also accompanying are correct books, tools, the rare and valuable Continental Overseas Touring Spares Kit, and recent service records. Documenting the car are copies of its files from the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club (Hunt House) and Rolls-Royce Foundation, a report on the car’s history by noted Bentley historian Diane Brandon, and copies of the original French registrations as accumulated for RM Auctions by Franco Britannic record-keeper, Marc Rabineau. Few Bentley R-Type Continentals have been as exhaustively researched as this lovely Franay.

Well sorted, beautifully presented, and superbly tailored as only Bentley’s engineers and Marius Franay’s hands could craft it, this unique Continental is the essence of tasteful, stylish speed.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more