A hundred years Bentley is of course more than the five famous victories at Le Mans, with the well-known green Open Tourers. Because they took place in a period of less than 15 years. After that, other cars appeared that are cherished by enthusiasts and shown at events. The history of Bentley has more highlights.
After Rolls-Royce took over Bentley Motors in 1931, a new Bentley appeared in 1933. The Bentley 3.5-Litre was based on the previously introduced Rolls-Royce 20/25. The Bentley’s engine had been modified, giving it higher performance. A new period started. Instead of in Cricklewood, cars were made in Derby and after WOII in Crewe.
The Bentley 3.5-Litre was the first in a long line of models that would follow later. Examples of this were the pre-war 4.25-litre and the post-war MK VI, S1, S2, S3 and T. For decades there was a close relationship between the Rolls-Royce and the Bentley models. Sometimes the main difference was just another grille. These Bentley cars therefore had a different image than the W.O. Bentley cars. In addition, these models were often produced in relatively high numbers. Both factors ensured that the W.O. Bentley’s were much higher in the market for years than the later Bentley’s.
For Derby Bentley cars, the interest of enthusiasts, apart from one-offs, is mainly focused on certain models and on cars with certain bodyworks. Examples from the pre-war period are the 3.5-Litre and 4.25-Litre Open Tourers by Vanden Plas, the three-position Drophead Coupes by Gurney Nutting and the Disappearing Top Convertibles by H.J. Mulliner. The most expensive auctioned 4.25-Litre Tourer by Vanden Plas until now is a car that Bonhams auctioned for half a million pounds in August 2016.
1936 Bentley 4.25 Liter Tourer by Vanden Plas, auctioned by Bonhams in 2016 for £504.000.
The same applies to the post-war R-Type Continental and the S Continental. In particular the Fastback by H.J. Mulliner became a beloved one. We have previously paid attention to this in another article. The S Continental Convertible by Park Ward also rose in the interest of collectors. In the top fifteen most expensive Bentley cars sold at auctions listed below in the post W.O period, these cars are mentioned the most.
For Bentleys made after 1965 no high sums are usually spent. Nevertheless, some cars were also made in very small numbers during this period. This applies, for example, to the Bentley T Series 1 and Series 2 Corniche Convertible, of which 45 and 29 copies were made, respectively.
In the 1990s and especially later after the acquisition of Bentley by Volkswagen AG in 1998, Bentley launched several special models. Examples of these are the 1995 Continental S and the 2001 Continental R Le Mans, of which 77 and 46 were made, respectively. Another example is the 1998-2000 Continental SC of which 73 cars were made. It is to be expected that these cars will attract more attention in the future. But none of these cars can be found in the list below of the fifteen most expensive Bentley cars that have been auctioned. These cars are much too young for that. They are not often traded at auctions yet and the amounts spent on them are still relatively low. To illustrate: Bonhams auctioned a Continental R Le Mans in February 2017 for less than £80,000. Last but not least, this list is strongly influenced in the top five by a changes in the exchange rate of the dollar and the pound.
1999 Bentley Continental SC, auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in March 2019 for $212,800 (£163,500).
2002 Bentley Continental R Le Mans, auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in March 2019 for $126,500 (£97,200).
The same comments must be placed on this list as previously made on the list of most expensive W.O. Bentley cars. Many more R-Type Continentals were traded in recent decades than were sold at auctions. These do not appear in the list. In addition, the mutual differences in price between cars of the same type are not very large. And there are few examples of special cars that were auctioned in the past and are therefore missing from this list, but which would appear in the list had they been sold at a recent auction. One of the few is the Bentley 4.25-Litre Embiricos, which Coys auctioned in November 1984 for £120,000. Corrected for inflation, that is now less than £400,000. This car would have been auctioned for a higher amount if it had been auctioned in the recent past. As in March 2017 RM Sotheby’s auctioned a replica of the Bentley 4.25 Liter Embiricos for $671.000 (£551.600). This list does not include the 2001 Speed 8 Le Mans Prototype, a car that RM Sotheby’s auctioned for over 1.6 million pounds in August 2012. This is a racing car.
Top 15 Crewe Bentley:
15: 1965 S3 Continental Flying Spur by H.J. Mulliner, ex Keith Richard (BC68XE)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £816,500
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £763,100
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,170,560
Auction: 09-2015 Bonhams
We start and end this list of 15 cars with examples that, due to the type and model, were auctioned for unrealistically high amounts. At the end of 2014, Bonhams auctioned a beautiful, original S3 Flying Spur for £125,000. Less than a year later, this restored Flying Spur was sold for six times as much. The reason for this was that the first owner had been Keith Richard. He bought this car in 1965 and sold it in 1978. The high auction result was therefore not based on the scarcity of an S3 Flying Spur, but on the affinity with the first owner. It is one of 68 right-hand drive Flying Spurs built on the S3 Continental chassis.
14: 1953 R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner, ex Aristotle Onassis (BC25A)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £827,600
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £773,470
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,210,000
Auction: 08-2015 RM Sotheby’s
This is the first of eight R-Type Continentals in this list. Bentley made 207 R-Type Continentals. Most of them, 193 chassis, received a body made by H.J. Mulliner. This Bentley Fastback is a right-hand drive and, like all early versions, it has a manual gearbox. The first owner of this car was Aristotle Onassis. It is one of the desirable “Seats and Spats” cars. That means that this car is equipped with the sporty lightweight bucket seats and both rear fender skirts. Onassis owned this Bentley for six years. He sold the car in 1959 and in 1963 the Fastback was exported to the United States. At the end of the eighties, the car was restored by Vantage Motorworks. After that, the car was rarely used until it was auctioned in August 2015.
13: 1955 R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner (BC56D)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £ GBP: £859,300
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £826,250
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,077,752
Auction: 09-2017 RM Sotheby’s
This is a late D-Series model from 1955. The car is delivered with the most powerful 4.9-liter engine. In addition, the Bentley has a manual gearbox and lightweight seats. It is a right-hand drive and was sold in England. Up until 1983, the Bentley had several owners. Afterwards it remained in the possession of one family. In 2017 the Bentley won its class at the Bentley Drivers Club Concours. Later that year, RM Sotheby’s auctioned the car for £826,250 in London. Accompanying the car were its valuable original Continental Touring Spares kit and correct tools.
12: 1957 S1 Continental Convertible by Park Ward (BC30LCH)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £956,750
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £910,000
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,143,500
Auction: 02-2017 Bonhams
Of the 431 Bentley S1 Continentals produced, 185 were bodied by Park Ward, of which 66 were left-hand drive (Coupe and Convertible). This car is one of only 31 left-hand drive Convertibles made by Park Ward. It is Park Ward’s own design. In addition to the Convertible, Park Ward has also made Coupes. This Bentley was delivered new to George A. Embiricos. He owned the car for about fifteen years. Until it was auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in 2017, the Bentley only three owners. The car has never been completely restored. The hood has been renewed earlier and the car was re-sprayed in blue. In addition, maintenance was done by P&A Wood. The total bill amounted to £ 55,000. Up to this moment, this is the most expensive S1 Continental Convertible by Park Ward auctioned in the United Kingdom.
11: 1937 4.25-litre Open Two Seater by Carlton (B55KU)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,041,400
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £955,400
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,595,000
Auction: 08-2014 RM Sotheby’s
This is the first pre-war Bentley in this list. Bentley made 1,234 chassis of the type 4.25-Litre. Carlton has fitted four of them with bodywork. This is the only two-seater Carlton made on to the 4.25-Litre chassis. It is a one-off and also one of the few 4.25-Litre Bentley two-seaters. The coachwork looks very sporty. It also has a fold-down twin aeroscreen, called the Brooklands windscreen. The car was delivered new to Gordon C. Wood, of Weybridge in Surrey. However, he did not own the car for long. A year later Wood sold the Bentley. In the 1960s, the Two Seater was sold to the United States and it was restored in the 1990s.
10: 1954 R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner (BC41D)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,103,000
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,012,000
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,651,400
Auction: 09-2014 Silverstone Auctions
The Bentley R-Type Continental was the first four-seater sports Coupe capable of reaching speeds up to 120 mph. This is a D-Series car, fitted with the enlarged engine having a displacement of 4,877 cc. It is one of the 165 right-hand drive cars. It has a manual gearbox and the lightweight bucket seats. This Fastback was restored by P&A Wood in the 1980s and then maintained by experts. The car was auctioned in the United Kingdom by Silverstone Auctions in 2014 for over a million pounds.
9: 1937 4.25-Litre Coupe by Vesters & Neirinck (B156KT)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,150,000
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £905,500
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,320,000
Auction: 01-2009 Gooding & Company
This is the most expensive pre-war Derby Bentley auctioned so far. When the car was auctioned in 2009, it was in original condition and had only driven 35,000 km. Vesters & Neirinck was a Belgian coachbuilder and did not provide many bodywork for Bentley cars. The car was auctioned for the first time in September 1989 in France and raised more than 3.2 million French francs. At the time, that was already a record for a Bentley 4.25-litre. In August 2006, RM Auctions auctioned the car for the second time and the record was improved. The car was then sold in the United States converted for £665,800. Adjusted for inflation, it was £945,400. In January 2009, Gooding & Company auctioned the Bentley for the third time and again for a higher amount.
8: 1952 R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner (BC14LA)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,152,000
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,107,700
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,347,500
Auction: 03-2017 RM Sotheby’s
This early R-Type Continetal Fastback was the second one made with a left-hand drive. It is one of of 43left-hand drive. Originally the engine had 4.5 litres. At the request of the second owner, it was increased by the factory up to 4.9 litres. The Bentley was purchased new by William A.M. Burden Jr., a descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Because he did not like the original seats , they were later replaced at his request by seats fitted in the Bentley S. In 1959, Burden sold the Fastback as he bought another, new Bentley. The R-Type Continental later came into the possession of enthusiasts and was restored by Paul Russel & Company.
7: 1953 R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner (BC16LA)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,198,900
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,033,500
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,622,500
Auction: 08-2012 RM Sotheby’s
In less than ten years, this R-Type Continental was sold twice at auction, in 2012 and 2015. In January 2015, RM Sotheby’s auctioned this Bentley $100,000 less than in 2012. In 2015 it was sold for 1.5 million dollars, at that time a million converted into pounds. Adjusted for inflation, it was £1.07 million. Because the car, adjusted for inflation, was auctioned in 2012 for a higher amount, the Bentley ends up with that sum in position seven in this list. This “Spats and Seats” Fastback is a left-hand drive and has a manual gearbox.
6: 1956 S1 Continental Convertible by Park Ward (BC54AF)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £ GBP: £ 1,288,400
Sale price at time of sale £ GBP: £ 1,288,450
Sale price at time of sale $ USD: $ 1,655,000
Auction: 08-2018 RM Sotheby’s
The Bentley S1 is the last Bentley to have the six-cylinder in-line engine. Afterwards came the V8. This Park Ward Convertible is one of 31 left-hand drives made. The Bentley was purchased new in May 1956 by Thomas D. Neerlands Jr. He kept this car until 1971. Then the Bentey came into the hands of enthusiasts and collectors. In the 1990s, the car was cosmetically restored by Vantage Motorworks in Miami. After 2015, the Bentey was additionally restored. At the time of the auction, RM Sotheby’s described the Bentley as being in superb condition as when it was new. The car was auctioned a year ago for almost 2 million dollars. Converted into pounds it was more than £1.2 million.
5: 1954 R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner (BC2LD)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,324,850
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,261,770
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,815,000
Auction: 03-2016 RM Sotheby’s
In 2016 this Bentley was auctioned in dollars for a higher amount (more than 1.8 million) than number 3 in this list. That S1 Continental was auctioned in 2017 for less than 1.7 million dollars. The reason this R-Type Continental ends up lower in this list is due to a difference in the exchange rate of the dollar and the pound. As a result of that, in 2016 this Fastback was auctioned in pounds for a lower amount than the S1 Convertible in 2017.
This Bentley was delivered new in New York and had four owners up until the auction in 2016. Vantage Motorworks was responsible for restoring the Bentley to modern Pebble Beach standards. As a result of that, this Fastback became Best in Class at Amelia Island Concours in 2010. This Bentley was made in a most desirable configuration: left-hand drive, 4.9-Litre engine, manual transmission and “Seats and Spats”.
4: 1954 R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner (BC5LD)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £ 1,419,250
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,267,200
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,980,000
Auction: 08-2013 Gooding & Company
In 2013 this Fastback was auctioned in dollars for a higher amount (almost 2 million) than number 2 in this list, also a Fastback which was auctioned in 2016 (almost 1.9 million). The reason this car ends up lower in this list is again due to a difference in the exchange rate of the dollar and the pound. As a result, this Bentley was auctioned converted into pounds for a lower amount. The rarity and condition of the car are similar to those of number 2 in this list: Left-hand drive and automatic transmission. Moreover, this Bentley has the engine with 4.9 litres cc. In 2000, Rolls-Royce and Bentley specialist Richard Gorman (Vantage Motorworks) bought the car. The Fastback was then restored. After the restoration the car took part in concours. The Bentley received Best in Class awards at Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, Meadow Brook and Fairfield.
3: 1956 S1 Continental Convertible by Park Ward (BC22LBG)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,438,800
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,383,500
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,683,000
Auction: 03-2017 RM Sotheby’s
This Bentley was delivered new to Edwin Jay Gould in 1956. He owned the car all his life. After his death, the car was sold in 1993. The Bentley had then driven 40,000 miles. The car became the property of Richard Gorman (Vantage Motorworks) and was restored. Later the Continental Convertible came into the car collection of the industrial Orin Smith. After his death, RM Sotheby’s auctioned 58 rare cars from his collection, including this Bentley S1. Until then the car had only been registered twice in the name of a private person. At the time of the auction, the car had driven 50,511 miles. It is the most expensive S1 Convertible by Park Ward auctioned so far.
2: 1954 R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner (BC66LC)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £1,501,500
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,430,000
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $1,870,000
Auction: 08-2016 RM Sotheby’s
Out of the 193 Fastback Saloons, 43 were left-hand drive. And of those, only 9 had automatic transmission. This is important to mention, because the car was exported to the United States and was auctioned here in 2016 as well. In the USA there is a preference for left-hand drive cars with automatic transmission. At the time of the auction, the body-off, frame-up restoration of this Bentley had just been completed. Photos and invoices could be viewed. A Pebble Beach Bentley team judge had supervised the restoration of the car, making sure the Bentley was authenticly and accurately restored in detail. The car was complete with the original owner’s handbook, complete sets of road and hand tools and the rare Continental Touring Spares kit. All these factors made the car highly appreciated.
1: 1947 MK VI Convertible by Franay (B20BH)
Sale price adjusted for inflation £GBP: £2,064,550
Sale price at time of sale £GBP: £1,779,800
Sale price at time of sale $USD: $2,750,000
Auction: 01-2012 Barrett Jackson
Just as we started this list with a car that, given its type and model, was auctioned for an unrealistically high amount, we also end with it. It is an example of an American way of “restoring”, in which a car is adjusted to the wishes of the owner. As this Bentley does not look as it was originally made by Franay. For example, the car did not have a V-shaped windscreen. It is also difficult to discover even one piece of chrome decorative part, which is in accordance with the original version. Chrome parts have been added in several places. During the restoration, the car was made to impress visually. And it did. In the nineties, it won dozens of prizes at concours. These days, juries look at such cars in a completely different way. Nevertheless, this is number 1 in this list. In March 2006 the Barrett Jackson auctioned this car for the first time. It was sold for 1.7 million dollars (now 1.4 million pounds). In that time it was the most expensive post-war Bentley sold at auction, just as it is now.