Bentley has recreated an important car design from its past that was lost during the bombing of France during the outbreak of WW2. The 1939 Bentley Corniche is the missing link in the history of Bentley's most important models, connecting the fabled Embiricos 4¼ Litre and post-war R Type Continental.
The Corniche was conceived to be a high performance version of the then new MkV saloon due to be launched in October 1939, inspired by a sporting Bentley commissioned by Greek racer André Embiricos based on the old 4¼ Litre chassis. The Embiricos Bentley was styled by talented designer Georges Paulin at French coachbuilder Carrosserie Pourtout.
The Corniche was given a lightweight chassis, built from thinner-than-standard gauge steel, fitted with a tuned version of the MkV engine matched to an overdrive gearbox created to suit. The Corniche was built as a collaboration between Bentley and third parties such as Georges Paulin, the French car designer who designed the bodywork, and Carrosserie Vanvooren in Paris who made the bodywork.
The Corniche was completed in May 1939 and tests at the banked high-speed Brooklands race circuit saw it achieve well over 100 mph (160 km/h), far faster than the standard MkV.
The Corniche was then sent to France for road testing, but in July 1939 it was damaged by a bus and returned to Vanvooren for repairs and body improvements. When completed, on August 8, it was collected by a Bentley test driver, who headed straight for the Bentley depot at Chateauroux where the testing was based. It was as he neared the HQ that a car pulled in front of the Corniche, causing the Bentley test driver to swerve and hit a tree. The car rolled onto its side, causing extensive damage.
The Corniche was due to be displayed at the Earls Court and Paris motor shows later that year, so there was no time to lose. The body was removed from the chassis, and the chassis returned to Crewe, while the body went to a local repair shop in France.
The Corniche body was eventually completed in France, and transported to Dieppe to be shipped home. However, an administration error at the docks caused a delay, and while the Corniche body was stored waiting to be shipped it was destroyed when Dieppe was heavily bombed.
The 1939 Bentley Corniche was re-created by coachbuilders Mulliner, and will be first shown at Salon Privé in September, joining Bentley's heritage fleet for display at events and exhibitions around the world to celebrate the company's centenary. In addition to the extraordinarily beautiful 1939 Corniche, Bentley's Heritage fleet includes WO Bentley's 8 Litre and the Birkin Team Blower Bentley.
Bentley's 100th anniversary was actually last month on July 10, 2019, and a year-long series of special activities have have already begun, with celebrations continuing at events around the world.
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