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1953 Bentley R Type – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

Looking for a project car brings with it the chance to obtain something that, in perfect condition, would be out of our reach. A project is a car we can acquire for minimal outlay, and that we can then improve and perfect over time by spending a bit here and a bit there, as and when we have it. There is no need to sell a kidney, or a child in order to afford it. That’s the joy of buying a project. 

Take this month’s project of choice for example. A solid, restored, road-ready Bentley R Type would set you back a cool £30,000 at least. This one, however, comes in at a mere £7,500. Yes, there is a lot to do, but if you can make yourself responsible for the labour, you should be able to finish this car for well under that £30,000 line. 

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This is why, if you have the ability and the means, a project car is always a great way to go. There is the potential to save money on labour costs, there is the immense satisfaction that comes from building (or rebuilding) a car yourself, and going forward, you end up with a car that you know in intimate detail. It will be your car, and by that we mean truly yours. You could buy one in mint condition, but there will always be the disconnect that comes from the assumption it has been looked after. Build one yourself though, and you know how good it is underneath. 

What is it? 

The car we’re looking at here is a 1953 Bentley R Type. This was the second post-war car from Bentley, and is regarded by many as being something of a stopgap between the Mark VI and the S series Bentley of 1955. But please don’t read the word ‘stopgap’ and think that this is a sub-par Bentley, because it really isn’t. This was an exceptionally popular model for Bentley, with over 2,500 built and sold. Rolls Royce’s Silver Dawn, which was in essence the same car bar some visual changes, only sold 760. The R Type was the big winner. 

The R Type built on the Mark VI by once again being offered with a factory built body. In the ‘30s and ‘40s, it was common for customers to buy just the chassis and engine. However, as time marched on manufacturers decided to start building their own bodies. Customers could still buy a chassis and engine, of course. But for those looking to simply buy and enjoy their Bentley R Type, they could with the car you see here, namely the ‘standard steel’ saloon. An elegant, flowing four-door saloon with perfectly balanced proportions. 

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Behind that imposing grille, the R Type was fitted with a 130bhp straight-six 4,566cc engine. Constructed from a cast iron block and aluminium head, fuel was fed to it via twin SU Type H6 carburettors. Transmission wise, the R Type is historically significant, as it was the last car Bentley would offer with a manual transmission (four-speed) as standard. Though, later models did have the option of a four-speed automatic, much like the car featured here.

Why is it a project?

Well, just look at the poor old thing. It has fallen into a state of considerable disrepair, and as such, it needs a lot of time and love to bring it back up to spec. The advert is frustratingly light on information, so all we really have to go off are the pictures. And while taken from flattering angles, they do still reveal some of the work that needs to be done. 

For starters, a great deal of the trim is missing, as is all the glass. We don’t know if this comes with the car – hopefully it does, as it does look like a project that someone has started but not finished. The same goes for the engine. The engine block is there, but that seems to be about it. Is the cylinder head with the car? You’d need to find out. The interior looks to be mostly there, though door glass is largely absent and the interior is not what we’d call in a good way, but it would be useful for templates and so on, which is better than having nothing at all. 

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Outside the old R Type looks quite promising. The body, while tired and wearing little in the way of presentable paint, looks to be largely straight. Furthermore, all the panels are there, as are the lights, the bumpers and a great deal of the brightwork, though of course, they all need attention. 

This looks like a car that someone once had high hopes for, but for whatever reason, it’s fallen by the wayside. Obviously there are a lot of unknowns like the chassis, brakes, suspension and so on, but it’s all hardy stuff. The car seems to be sitting well, so nothing seems to have failed spectacularly. 

Five things to look for:

1) Trim

As we said, most of the trim seems to be with the car. However, the front lights, front bumper and some other smaller embellishments aren’t pictured. These could be expensive to find, so check they’re with the car. 

2) Engine

There’s only half of it in the pictures, and while 50% is better than 100% of nothing, it’s not entirely useful in the context of an engine. Find out where the rest is, and find out why it was taken apart. Was it part of the failed resto, or was there a terminal flaw?

3) Chassis

The body looks to be in remarkably good shape, which gives us hope for the chassis and associated components. The bit that does peek through at the front seems to have some significant surface corrosion, but that’s to be expected. Check for rust, obviously, and subpar dated repairs. 

4) Interior

As we mentioned, it all seems to be there, but what condition is it in? Can it be saved, or has the leather dried and split due to exposure? Is the wood salvageable? If you can use it all as a foundation for replacement, brilliant. But if it’s all completely shot, it’s going to be expensive. 

5) Glass

Apart from a quarter-light or two, there is no glass present. But more worryingly, the chrome windscreen surround is still in situ. Has the car been vandalised in the past? Is the glass all missing – that’s going to cost a few quid. Or has the glass been carefully removed as part of the restoration that never was?

What should you do with it? 

Now don’t hate us, but we’d go custom with this. Smarten up the body, go for a nice, thick coat of satin gold paint and get all the chrome restored. After that, we’d renew and refresh the chassis and fit air suspension – after all, it’s commonplace in all modern luxury saloons. Add some large diameter smooth steels, complete with cream or off-white paint and whitewall tyres. Then, we’d get the interior re-trimmed in a contrasting dark leather to give it that ministerial feel. As for the engine, how about the straight six from a more modern BMW along with the automatic transmission? If you were really clever, you could see a way to import the ABS, traction control, on-board computer and more. You could give the old Bentley a modern twist. 

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Don’t get us wrong, a restoration back to standard would be nice, but this old machine is quite far gone, so maybe the custom route would be best. Be brave, be different. Build something like nobody else has.

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