Fans of British coachwork will surely know the name Mulliner, the builder responsible for some of the most sensuous cars ever to turn a wheel. Now, thanks to some traditional coachbuilding skills and a bit of luck, a car that has been missing since 1939 rises once more.
In fact, it was the only 1939 Bentley Corniche ever made. It was a radical step forward in styling from the cars it was producing in the 1920s and ‘30s, introducing a concept called ‘streamlining’ in an age when most cars had the aerodynamics of a barn door. This particular car was severely damaged in a traffic accident during French road tests, at which time it was sent for repairs to the Bentley plant in Derby.
The outbreak of World War II scuppered any further plans and, in fact, the bodywork was destroyed in a bombing raid on Dieppe later that same year. With the metal lost, it took coachbuilders and historians a great deal of time and effort to construct the machine you see in these pictures.
“The 1939 Corniche was a clear step in Bentley’s design language which is evident when set aside the later and now iconic R Type Continental. It is a pivotal car in the history of Bentley, demonstrating that even then, this great British marque was at the cutting edge of design and technology,” comments the Chairman and Chief Executive of WO Bentley Memorial Foundation and the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation, Adrian Hallmark (that’s a heckuva long title, Mr. Hallmark).
This project was actually started several years ago by volunteers from the Foundations but was brought in-house in February 2018 under the watchful eye of Hallmark, who asked for it to be completed in 2019 to celebrate Bentley’s centenary. The project naturally fell to the Mulliner division, where since the 1970s one-off cars have been built for discerning collectors and Royalty, including two State Limousines manufactured in 2002.
As Mulliner’s first historic car project, the Corniche has demonstrated the full breadth of the division’s coachbuilding and restoration skills and capabilities. Using only the original technical drawings and the skills of the men and women of Mulliner – which is now Bentley’s in-house bespoke and coachbuilding division – this unique car has been rebuilt in Crewe using original Corniche mechanical components and a completely re-made body. It is said to be identical in every detail to the original.
“It’s been a fantastic team effort,” said Stefan Sielaff, Design Director at Bentley and Director of Mulliner. “We have highly skilled craftsmen within Mulliner and around the rest of Bentley Motors, and they all have massive pride in what they’ve achieved with this car.”
The Corniche will make its first public appearance at the snazzy Salon Privé at Blenheim Palace in September, a location at which we presume jeans and t-shirts are not allowed. It’ll join Bentley’s Heritage fleet, which already includes WO Bentley’s 8 Litre.