Bentley S1 Continental Drophead Coupe

In the immediate post-WWII years, the term “Continental” defined Bentley cars ordered from new, specifically to explore those still-unspoiled parts of Europe in the wake of WWII. Then, as now, the term has come to signify a high performance specification intended to transport the passenger at great speed over long distances in absolute comfort.

In keeping with the update of the Bentley R models in 1955 and the debut of the bigger, lighter and faster S1 saloon, a new series of S1 Continentals was built. In all, 431 would be sold between 1955 and 1959. In the eyes of many collectors, the S1 is more desirable than either the V-8-powered S2 or S3, as it is simpler, lighter and slightly quicker.

Separate from the Bentley S1 standard steel cars, the S1 Continentals were designed to slip effortlessly through the air in their elegant, low and sleek lightweight bodies with a grille an inch-and-a-half lower than the standard cars. Like the R-Type Continentals, the bodies were built in aluminum with aluminum outriggers for the panels, which were lighter, stronger and more durable than the previously favored wood supports.

The frame appeared similar to the outgoing R Type, but in reality it was entirely new, with a welded box section that improved structural rigidity by 50 percent and was only 14 pounds heavier. Other changes included new front suspension with a semi-trailing wishbone and repositioned rear springs (now nine leaves instead of seven) inside the chassis rails. The brake surface was increased by 22 percent and now had a three-way safety setup, with two hydraulic systems and a backup mechanical one. The suspension was also softer, with wheel travel increased to a three-inch bump and four-inch rebound and a ride-control system with two positions, which could be selected by the driver.

In all, seven body styles were built on the S1 Continental chassis by Park Ward, H.J. Mulliner, James Young, Hooper and the Swiss coachbuilder Graber. A four-door “Flying Spur” was added to the range in 1957, and power steering was available from 1956.

The six-cylinder, 4,887-cc engine was capable of sustaining high speed and long-distance cruising with ease. Road-test figures published in The Autocar magazine recorded a top speed of 120.5 mph for the Bentley Continental S1. The design still allowed for plenty of low-end torque as The Autocar reported in road tests in the quarter mile. Simply put, the S1 Continental’s remarkable performance and stunning good looks made it the Bentley of choice for those who could afford it.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August of 2011 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.

178 hp, 4,887 cc, inlet-over-exhaust, two SU carburetors, six-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, semi-trailing wishbone, rear semi-elliptic leaf springs with live rear live axle, vacuum-assisted, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 123"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Dan Savinelli

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