6 Bentley S1 Continental
Much like the stately home it draws comparisons with, a renovation may be a better bet than a ground-up rebuild
The fastback aluminium coachwork on the R-type Continental brought back a sporting edge for Bentley that had been missing in post-war years. These landmark classics now fetch £1million in top condition, while the very similar S1 Continental of 1955-59 makes barely half that, even for the most sought-after variant. More importantly, twice as many S1 Continentals were built – 431 versus 207 R-types – and there are still tired cars to be found, worthy of improvement.
Different coachbuilders bodied the S1 Continental in a variety of styles, both fixed-head and convertible. Some are more desirable than others. One of the 120 HJ Mulliner fastbacks (closest in shape to an R-type) might fetch £350k in concours condition. Add another £200k to that for a Park Ward drophead but subtract £50k-£100k for one of the notchback coupés.
History is important too, as John Hodson of specialist Alpine Eagle explains. ‘Embarking on something like this is a dodgy game if you don’t get the right advice. Think of it like buying a house… when all the history is there, it’s a pretty safe bet, even if you can see that aspects of it need work. But getting into something unknown is a big risk.’
Hodson cautions that buying an out-and-out barn-find can still land you with restoration costs that exceed the car’s considerable finished value, so consider a partial refurbishment of a well-storied car as a better (and quicker) route to an enjoyable, dependable classic of the highest quality.
‘These Continentals are made mostly in aluminum on a separate chassis, but the inner sills are steel and can be a hidden problem. Mind you, the aluminium has often corroded by now too, though it lasts extremely well once done.’
No aspect is cheap to fix – breaking down a restoration into sections such as interior trim, paint or an engine rebuild produces repeated £20k chunks. The cost of a full body restoration is open-ended, depending on what’s revealed beneath the paint but also on the coachbuilder’s original efforts and the difficulty of replicating them.
Do your sums on the cost of purchase compared to the work required for several different examples, if possible, but remember that the end product is a sporting Bentley that’s even more comfortable, quiet and powerful than an R-type Continental – and at a fraction of the cost.