REBUILDING A CAR LOST TO HISTORY
Despite the best efforts of Bentley and the enthusiast community, there remain some models from the company’s past that have been lost to history. Occasionally, however, the opportunity arises to fill one of these gaps in the record – as was the case with the project to rebuild the long-lost coachbuilt Bentley Corniche.
A PIVOTAL MOMENT FOR BENTLEY
The Bentley Corniche was no ordinary car. It was one of a kind – a prototype built for testing in 1939, prior to a production run that never took place. Yet it matters because its design represented a pivotal point for Bentley. As the first car from the company to implement ‘streamlining’ in the pursuit of higher performance, it was a radical step forward in appearance from the Bentleys of the Twenties and Thirties, its design going on to influence post-war models from the iconic R Type Continental, right up to today’s Continental GT.
The car itself was conceived as a high performance version of the then-new Bentley Mark V saloon, which was scheduled for launch in October 1939. A prototype was built and sent to France for road testing, however it was extensively damaged in an accident. Sent home for repairs, the chassis made it all the way back to the Bentley factory, but the streamlined bodywork remained in the port of Dieppe, only to be destroyed in a bombing raid.
THE ROAD TO THE REBUILD
The plan to rebuild the car was hatched several years before Mulliner’s involvement, by volunteers from the W.O. Bentley Memorial Foundation and the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation. But lacking in resources, progress on this mammoth project was slow. In 2018, however, Bentley Chairman and Chief Executive Adrian Hallmark asked for it to be brought in house, in order that it could be completed by 2019, when Bentley was due to celebrate its centenary.
Using only the technical drawings made in the production of the original prototype, the Mulliner Classic team set about recreating the car. They used original mechanical components from both the Corniche and the Bentley Mark V, while completely remaking its sleek, streamlined body.
THE HISTORICAL RECORD RESTORED
As Mulliner’s first historic car project, the Corniche rebuild demonstrated the full breadth of the division’s coachbuilding and restoration capabilities.
Every aspect of the project received Mulliner’s attention. From the special paint mixes for the exterior – named Imperial Maroon and Heather Grey – to the unique interior trim, it had to be identical in every detail to the car lost in 1939. Even the tool tray and the Mulliner treadplates on the door shuts were created from scratch.
Once complete, this incredible restoration filled in one of the most glaring blanks in Bentley’s illustrious history. Now permanently resident in Bentley’s Heritage Collection, it is the only car of its type in existence, thanks to the skills of Mulliner Classic.