The Bentley R Type is pure Pomp and Circumstance
Bring me my bow of burning gold. Bring me my arrows of desire. Bring me my spear o clouds unfold. Bring me my chariot of fire. Those immortal words from the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ resonate a plenty when at the wheel of a car such this 1953 Bentley R Type, a car so intrinsically British.
The R Type was the second series of post war production for Bentley, replacing the MK IV. At the time, Bentley was owned by Rolls Royce, so its sister car, the Rolls Royce Dawn, was almost identical, apart from carburetor and radiator grill, where the Rolls Flying Lady was replaced with Bentley’s winged B.
The production date of this particular R Type gives a clue to its special significance. It was purchased new by film star Ronald Colman, specifically to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The car even comes with a special emblem to signify its presence at the crowning of Her Majesty. Colman then kept the car at his home in Santa Barbara California, right up until his death in 1958.
The Bentley was then owned by two more American owners before it made its way to New Zealand in 1992 after having it’s engine reconditioned. Another film star, Dinah Sheridan, who starred in the movie "Genevieve" rode in the car for part of the Auckland to Christchurch Rally in 1997.
Up close with this star-studded Bentley is an experience in itself. Glistening chrome, body work and white wall tyres show Colman as a man of taste. The most domination feature of the design has to be that gargantuan chrome radiator. Lets be honest, nothing says “I have arrived” quite like a big vertical radiator! Aside from standard built cars, as well as the gorgeous Continental Coupe, many R-Types were given to exquisite coach builders like H J Muliner, Abbott and Park Ward to create some stunning examples.
Once inside, you are greeted with the sort of wooden and leather clad surroundings you would expect from a Bentley of this age. Sitting upright in the bench seat and you sink in slightly, the feeling can be likened to sitting on your favourite old couch and sinking in to the point where you almost have your knees near your elbows!
The interior itself is simplistic and stylish, a reminder of a time when luxury meant quality and comfort, not with blinding technology like R-Types modern descendants. Head and legroom, as you might imagine, is impressive.
On the passenger side interior pillar, a thin glass vase is found attached to the woodwork. This was because Ronald Colman liked to wear carnation flowers in his jacket breast pocket. He had the vase installed to hold spares when out and about.
A gargantuan 4.5 litre straight six cylinder engine with twin SU carburettors is housed under the bonnet with a 92 mm bore and 114.3 mm stroke. This was mated to a four speed H pattern manual gearbox. As of 2018, this made it the last production Bentley offered with a manual transmission.
Turn key, press the starter and said engine purrs into life. The accelerator itself requires a firm boot, as does the clutch. You don’t really drive an R Type, instead like a great Spanish Galleon, you helm it. Your mitts clasp the big steering as turning from left to right becomes more like port to starboard. Firmly pressing down on the accelerator precedes a gradual surge as you ride a wave of torque from gear to gear. The long bonnet, seemingly stretching to the horizon, rises after each change.
The four speed H pattern box, found low next to the driver’s door of all places, is easy to get your head round, but the breaks require a firm foot in bringing this British leviathan to a stop. While capable on whooshing across highways and byways at a great rate, the Bentley, as you might imagine, is more at home wafting well within the local limit.
Everywhere you go in the Bentley R Type, heads will turn and those with a penchant for proper luxury and timeless design will be smitten. Best of all though, this piece of automotive pomp and circumstance makes you feel special, whether pulling up to your favourite local or devouring mile after mile of country lane, the R-Type is can still cut it on the smile-o-meter.
After a day at the wheel, the Bentley R-Type left a lasting impression on yours truly. This British bruisers’ level of luxury, refinement, power and sheer presence will not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, for those like Ronald Colman, who want not just a car, but a statement, not much else will do.