The S-Type Continental was the successor to the R-Type Continental, Bentley's iconic 'silent sports car' of the post-war era, and remains a classic in Bentley history, cementing the 'Continental' name to this day.

text:Hiromi TAKEDA
Translation: Mako Ayabe and Michael Balderi
Cooperation: Wakui Museum

The Pillar
The current Continental GT, which debuted in 2003, was followed by the Flying Spur four-door saloon, the GTC drop-head coupé and the Speed, a souped-up version of each. In 2009, a lightweight version, the 'Supersport', was added to the line-up, creating an appealing range of models. The success story of the Continental family in the 21st century has quickly transformed Bentley. Despite its fame and power, Bentley had been, up till the turn of the century, a somewhat minor brand in the ultra-luxury car market, catering to a limited number of connoisseurs. The 'Continental' name has been a pillar of Bentley's excellence and stature.
The Bentley Continental was pioneered by the R-Type Continental, which was introduced in this section of the first issue of this magazine. The success of this model led to a revival of the 'silent sports car', which had been absent for a time after World War II. The S-Type Continental has inherited the mantle of the 'Continental' and has become synonymous with Bentley.

Heir to the Glory
The Bentley R-Type Continental Standard Steel Saloon was an undisputed masterpiece, despite the fact that only 200+ units were produced. After it evolved into the S-Type, this sporty model that embodied Bentley's excellence in craftsmanship and styling was naturally carried on, and was officially released in spring 1955, the same year as the standard S-Type saloon. This was the S-Type (S1) Continental.
The S1 Continental's engine is a 4887 cc in-line 6-cylinder F-head, shared with the standard S-Type. The chassis was the same as the Standard S-Type, although slight gains in power were made by increasing the compression ratio from 6.6:1 to 7.25:1. Furthermore, although the compression ratio was increased to 8.0:1, the following year (1956), the Standard S-type was also increased to 8.0:1 a year later, in 1957, so the mechanical differences between the two were practically eliminated. Nevertheless, with its lightweight and aerodynamic body, the Continental was a sufficiently high-performance GT for its time.
Almost all R-Type Continentals, with a few exceptions, were fitted with an attractive rear-fin coupé by H.J. Mulliner. The S-Type Continental, however, represented the slight modernisation of the R-Type era, with horizontal front and rear fender slopes, the H.J. Mulliner rear-fin coupé, as well as the notchback Park Ward sports coupé and drophead coupé. The body was available in these variations. H.J. Mulliner's Flying Spur, a stylish four-door coupé-style model, was also built for the first time. Incidentally, the pet name 'Flying Spur' was transferred to the modern Bentley Continental four-door saloon. Legend has it that this name was derived from the family emblem of Arthur Talbot Johnstone, then sales director at H.J. Mulliner.
Records show that a total of 431 S-type Continentals of the 6-cylinder were built: 218 with H.J. Mulliner bodies, including rear-fin coupés; 185 with Park Ward drophead coupés; 20 with James Young bodies; 6 with Hooper bodies; and one each by Carrosserie Hermann Graber of Switzerland and Franay of France.

First Meeting of the Continental and V8
In the autumn of 1959, the R-R Silver Cloud/Bentley S-Type evolved into the Silver Cloud II/S2 with a newly designed V8 engine, a technical dream long-held even prior to its debut. At the same time, the S-Type Continental also became the S2 Continental. The power unit was the L410 V8 OHV 6230 cc, shared with the S2 Saloon and the first all-aluminium alloy engine in an R-R/Bentley automobile. The unit was brought to the company by Harry Grylls, an engineer from Rolls-Royce's aviation division, who became head of development for the Cloud/S-type series, and is said to have drawn on the reciprocating engine technology found in aircraft.
Despite having two more cylinders and a significantly larger displacement due to the aluminium head and block, the new V8 engine was only marginally lighter than the conventional in-line 6-cylinder F-head 4.9-litre engine. Nevertheless, it remained a super-heavyweight, with a total weight of more than 400 kg. Twin SU HD6 1 3/4-inch carburettors were fitted, as in the S2 Saloon. The compression ratio was 8.0:1, the same as in the S2 Saloon. Its power specs were undisclosed, in keeping with R-R company tradition of the period. R-R Bentley merely commented that it was ‘sufficient for the needs’, but the British automobile magazines of the time estimated it to be slightly more than 200 ps.
The 6-cylinder Continentals of the R-Type and S-Type eras were based on the standard saloon units, with slightly increased power through larger carburettor diameters and higher compression ratios. The S2 Continental, however, was no different to the Standard S2, except for a faster final gear ratio, which took advantage of the weight savings made possible by the special all-aluminium body. As with the S2 Saloon, the four-speed manual transmission with the shift lever on the right-hand side of the floor was also discontinued in favour of a column-shifted Hydra-Matic four-speed A/T.
Nevertheless, the maximum power, estimated to be over 200 ps, combined with the displacement, was significantly greater than that of the F-head 6-cylinder. It was enough to drive the coachwork body made of aluminium light alloy at high speeds, which was not only lightweight, but also had significantly better aerodynamic performance. The vehicle's high-geared final ratio and low aerodynamic drag body mountings are said to have enabled the car to reach a maximum speed of close to 200 km/h. Despite its spectacular appearance, its performance was worthy of being called a true GT, a Grand Tourer. In other words, the tradition and aesthetic established by the R-Type Continental was fully carried over to the S2 Continental.

Attractive Coachwork
The S2/Continental saw a further increase in coachwork body variations, including a notchback two-door saloon by H.J. Mulliner, the Park Ward two-door coupé/drophead coupé, known as the 'straight-through' because of its straight shoulder line. (Later, in the S3 era, it was equipped with four headlamps, giving it the famous 'Chinese Eye’ moniker.) The H.J. Mulliner two-door saloon was called the 'The Hardtop' because of its narrow pillars, and some say it greatly influenced the design of the Bentley Continental R, which debuted in 1992, and became the representative body of the S2 Continental.
Additionally, from the introduction of the S2 Continental onwards, in response to market demand, particularly in North America, the number of four-door Continental bodies, which would normally have been purely sporty versions, increased. For this reason, the aforementioned H.J. Mulliner Flying Spur, which inherited its body from the S1 era, and the James Young 4-door Sports Saloon, which seems to have been inspired by the Flying Spur, were also produced.
The total number of S2 Continental models built was 388. The breakdown by each coachbuilder is 223 (some say 221) H.J. Mulliner two-door Hardtops & Flying Spurs. 125 Park Ward Drophead coupés. 41 James Young Sports Saloons. In addition, a Hooper four-door saloon is recorded as having been built as a one-off. Considering that the S2 Continental was priced at about 50% more than the standard S2 saloon, this model was a sufficient success.

Rise and Fall of Successor Models
In 1962, the R-R Silver Cloud/Bentley S series moved into the final stage of its evolution, the Cloud III/Bentley S3, featuring four headlights. The Continental was, of course, still available in the S3 line-up, but from the S3 Continental onwards, final assembly, which had previously been left to the individual coachbuilders, was carried out on the production line at R-R's Crewe Factory.
The majority of the bodies for the S3 Continental were built by Mulliner Park Ward, a company formed in 1963 as a result of the merger of Park Ward and H.J. Mulliner, which was already owned by Rolls-Royce. A total of 291 cars were built, including 193 'Chinese Eye’ models from the former Park Ward line and 98 Hardtop coupé and Flying Spur models from the former H.J. Mulliner line. In addition, 20 were built by the former James Young and one by Graber, making a total of 312 units of the S3 Continental.
The Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III/Bentley S3 left the line-up in 1965, to be replaced by the Silver Shadow/Bentley T-series with its full monocoque body. This also marked the finale of the post-war R-R/Bentley style tradition, and the sporty models with the name 'Continental' also disappeared at this time. The spirit of the Continental, however, did not die out; it was carried on in the Bentley 'T' Mulliner Park Ward two-door saloon/convertible, which made its debut in 1967, and its successor, the Bentley Corniche. Later, in 1981, the name ‘Corniche' which had been the same as for the R-R version, was reverted to the traditional ‘Continental'. This marked the return of Bentley's originality, which had nearly been eroded by R-R for a time.

This is a revised version of an article that appeared in Flying B No 003 (2010). The information provided here was accurate at the time of publication.