Restored Bentley Corniche provides vital ‘missing link’

Lots of car companies have sought to create ‘classic collections’, highlights Iain Robertson, as a means to showcase their historical relevance but, for Bentley, the process with just one car was not just time-consuming but demanded intense expertise.

Bentley has re-created a long-lost car from its illustrious past that provides a crucial link in the history of its most important models. The ground-up rebuild of the only 1939 Corniche ever made highlights the marque’s design pedigree and period technological innovation, allied to the breadth of skills within coachbuilder Mulliner’s ‘bespoking’ division, and connects the fabled Embiricos 4¼ Litre and R Type Continental models. 

The only car of its type now in existence, the Corniche was conceived as a high-performance version of the MkV saloon, itself a technological advance that was due to be launched in October 1939. Its styling was a radical step forward from the traditional Bentleys of the 1920s and 1930s, introducing ‘streamlining’ to help deliver greater speed and performance.

The original Corniche was lost in France in 1939, at the outbreak of World War II. It was damaged extensively in a traffic accident, while undergoing road tests in France in August of that year. Sent for repairs, the chassis made it home to the Bentley plant in Derby but the bodywork was destroyed in a bombing raid on Dieppe later in 1939 and was never seen again.

The ground-up restoration project was started originally several years ago by volunteers from the WO Bentley Memorial Foundation and the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation, although it was brought in-house in February 2018, under the watchful eye of Chairman and Chief Executive, Adrian Hallmark, who asked for it to be completed in 2019 to celebrate Bentley’s centenary.

As he stated: “The 1939 Corniche was a clear step in Bentley’s design language which is evident, when set alongside the later and now iconic R Type Continental. It is a pivotal car in the history of Bentley, demonstrating that even then, this great British marque was at the cutting edge of design and technology. Mulliner’s stunning recreation of the Corniche demonstrates clearly our skills in restoring the greats from Bentley’s back catalogue, as well as making beautiful personalised modern Bentleys.

The project fell naturally to the Mulliner division, where, since the 1970s, one-off cars have been built for discerning collectors and Royalty, including two State Limousines manufactured in 2002. Today, production models are adapted and built to particular customers’ exacting specifications. As Mulliner’s first historic project, the Corniche has demonstrated the full breadth of the division’s coachbuilding and restoration skills.

Using only the original technical drawings, Bentley’s in-house coachbuilding division rebuilt this unique Corniche at Crewe, using original Corniche and MkV mechanical components and a completely re-manufactured body, identical in every detail to the original.

The Corniche makes its first public appearance at Salon Privé at Blenheim Palace in September and will join Bentley’s Heritage fleet, which already includes WO Bentley’s 8 Litre and the Birkin Team Blower, to be used and exhibited at events around the world. 

MSG Summary

Bentley is very careful not to mention the actual cost of this project but you have to reckon that it is in the region of £1m, although its value to Bentley is considerably greater.

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