Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club - for Rolls-Royce and Bentley Enthusiasts

"THE CONTINENTAL"

The Rolls-Royce Bulletin January 1954

 

From the earliest days of Rolls-Royce the Company has always shown a marked interest in continental motoring. Rolls-Royce cars are driven thousands of miles to test them on continental roads. Successes in the Alpine Trials before the Great War, gave the Silver Ghost an enviable reputation for use on the Continent, and the fact that Royce himself spent much of the later part of his life in the south of France perhaps made the interest deeper. New models, often still in the experimental stage, were frequently taken to Le Canadel for his inspection and much final testing was, and is still carried out on the Continent.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Rolls-Royce should design models particularly for use on the Continent. The first “Continental” version of a Rolls-Royce was the London-Edinburgh Silver Ghost specially built in 1912.

 

A forebear of the Continental. The Silver Ghost which completed the journey from London to Edinburgh and back in top gear without any involuntary stop, on a fuel consumption of 24-32 miles per gallon. Afterwards, without attention or adjustment, this car lapped Brooklands at 78.26 miles per hour.

 

Although this was not offered for general sale, it was the beginning of a series of future models to bear this name. The cars were higher geared and fitted with higher radiators and slightly tuned engines. The bodywork was lighter than that normally fitted to chassis for use in this country. These small but significant modifications have remained the outstanding differences between the standard and “Continental” models throughout the history of their manufacture up to the present time.

“Continental” motoring in 1920. A Silver Ghost with a Barker body in the Pyrenees.

 

The Barker torpedo. Six of these cars were built on Phantom I chassis in 1929. A Kestrel aero engine can be seen in the background outside the Experimental Department in Derby.

 

The “Continental” version of the Silver Ghost was followed by the Phantom I; but the most remembered “Continental” Rolls-Royce is the Phantom II. This car appeared in many guises. Continental coachbuilders took liberties that were not permitted in this country and some examples of their coachwork were unusually rakish. One of the most beautiful Phantom II’s is a Sports Saloon with flared wings. Even today this car possesses an outstanding elegance and it appealed particularly to those who preferred smaller, more sporting, coachwork.

 

The Rolls-Royce Continental Phantom II. The first of a series to bear this name

 

The Continental Phantom II was capable of fine performance. The Autocar of 1933 recorded a timed speed over a quarter-mile of 92.31 m.p.h., while the car tested reached 50 m.p.h. from rest in a fraction over 14 seconds. This was outstanding for a car weighing nearly 2 ½ tons.

 

The Continental Phantom II. This car was tested by “The Autocar” in 1933 and described as having “speed, silence, tractability, wonderful top-gear performance and unsurpassed control”

 

In 1934, the first Bentley of Rolls-Royce manufacture was announced and it soon became obvious that the new marque would to some extent compete with the Continental version of the Rolls-Royce. Continental versions of the Phantom II were however produced up to 1935, many of them being supplied for use in this country. After the Phantom III was announced, it too, was produced in limited numbers in “Continental” form, the short chassis, 12-cylinder car having a fantastic performance.

The “Continental Bentley” had its origin in a car developed from the 4½ litre Bentley, produced immediately prior to the last war. It was planned by Mr Embericos for his own use and built in Paris, under the guidance of the Company’s development engineers. The coachwork was designed by Georges Paulin and built by Van Vooren, after exhaustive wind-tunnel tests with a wooden model. In this particular case comfort was sacrificed to obtain a shape as near as possible to the aerodynamic ideal. For this reason the car, though a considerable success both from its owner’s and the engineer’s point of view, was far from suitable for general use.

The prototype of the first “Continental” behind a standard Bentley. Mr Embericos’ 4¼ litre Bentley was fitted with a high ratio back axle and a four speed gear box with overdrive. After having run 100,000 miles, this car competed in three Le Mans races and lapped Montlerey at 114.8 m.p.h

 

High speed history in the making. A pre-war Bentley Continental on a French highway showing 110 mph on the clock

Using the knowledge gained from Mr Emberico’s car, a second high speed Bentley was planned. This car became known as the “Corniche”. It, too, was designed by Paulin and built by Van Vooren, and aimed at providing a more practical 4-seater car suitable for the discriminative driver.

 

The Corniche I with coachwork designed by Paulin and built by Van Vooren

It was thought necessary to improve the ease of entry and general visibility. The modifications to the overdrive chassis which was used as a basis for this model, consisted of very moderate alterations to the shape of the cams and a slightly raised compression ratio, while the frame was lightened as far as possible. Fifteen of these cars were built, only one of which was completed. This was used for extensive testing on the Continent, but finally, became a casualty in Dieppe during the last war. Some of the remaining cars were in store at Chateauroux during hostilities, but were afterwards found to be unserviceable.

 

In 1939-40, the Mark V Bentley was produced in a very limited numbers. They have a chassis basically similar to the present car, with independent front suspension on coiled springs, but the engine was fitted with overhead valves.

With the return to peace, the now well-known Mark VI Bentley appeared, and with it the new engine which features overhead inlet and side exhaust valves. It was not long before a Continental version of the Mark VI reached the experimental stage. At the instigation of Mr. Sleater in Paris, Pinnin Farina, the Italian coachbuilder, produced the first “Cresta” model, which was shown at the Paris Salon in 1947 with typical Italian styling.

The Cresta III. Another Farina body, modified by Daninos and built by Facel Metalon on a Bentley Mark VI chassis was shown at the Paris salon of 1947

Subsequent models, the Cresta II and III, varied in detail, and Facel Metalon put the last version into extremely limited production under licence. They later produced a coupé of their own design. Several of the chassis modifications, which were sanctioned by or designed by Rolls-Royce for this car, were subsequently incorporated in the existing “Continental” Bentley. The lowered radiator for which a special block or honeycomb had to be made, the lowering of the steering column, and the re-positioning of the gear lever were all incorporated.

At the time these cars were shown in Paris, the London coachbuilders, Messrs HJ Mulliner & Co Ltd, were asked to co-operate with Rolls-Royce in the construction of lightweight bodies for a new “Continental” model. Not content with the light body and the modifications already produced for the Cresta, the Company went ahead with a number of engine and chassis changes for the new car. The lowered radiator was fitted with a new top tank, the compression ratio was raised, and the exhaust system was modified. A higher rear axle ratio was employed and modifications were carried out to the suspension, which permitted advantage to be taken of the increased performance, while allowing for a reduction in weight of more than 4 cwt. over the standard steel saloon.

The Bentley Continental with Mulliner coachwork outside Richmond Park

Once again exhaustive wind-tunnel tests were carried out by the Rolls-Royce Flight establishment at Hucknall, not only to ascertain methods of reducing drag to the minimum, but also to discover how to achieve the greatest possible lateral stability at high speed.

 

Aerodynamics in car design. Testing a model of the Bentley Continental in the wind tunnel of the Rolls-Royce Flight Establishment at Hucknall

The present design of the rear wings on the Continental model is such that they give the maximum degree of stability to the car.

 

The contour of the rear wings, which contributes to lateral stability at high speed, was decided upon as the result of wind tunnel testing

Another problem in aerodynamics was provided by the wind-screen. It is desirable to have a slip angle, at the edges of the screen where it joins the side windows, as near 45 degrees as possible. This was not easy to obtain in safety glass, but with the co-operation of the manufacturers it was, nevertheless, eventually achieved, though the first models to reach the public had the screen divided down the centre.

 

Forty-five degree sweep-back. The curved windscreen ensures a smooth flow of air round the front pillars

 

Aerodynamics again. The Bentley Continental with the de Havilland Comet powered by Avon engines

The present Bentley Continental went into production at a time when British coachbuilding was in a stage of transition: ash framing was giving way to composite timber and metal framing, and this in turn to more advanced coachwork and metal construction.

 

Bentley Continentals outside the Cunningham pit at Le Mans 1953

 

Pilote de la voiture oficiel.” The car driven by Mr Sleator at Le Mans, 1953

 

“Good accommodation required”. Spacious luggage room built into a body of aerodynamic simplicity

 

Tradition behind performance. By the walls of Luxembourg