1939 Bentley Corniche

The classic Bentley you see here is in fact a recreation; a wholly rebuilt 1939 Corniche, which is the only example of the model ever made and once considered lost forever.

Bentley has re-created a long-lost car from its past.

The ground-up rebuild of the only 1939 Corniche ever made highlights the breadth of skills within coachbuilding division Mulliner. The Corniche was conceived to be a high-performance version of the new MkV saloon, itself a technological advance that was due to be launched in October 1939. 

The styling of the Corniche was a radical step forward from the traditional Bentleys of the 1920s and ‘30s, introducing ‘streamlining’ to help deliver greater speed and performance. It would heavily influence post-war models from the R Type Continental right through to the current Continental GT. 

The car was completed by May 1939 and tried out at Brooklands race circuit, where it achieved well over 100mph – a significant improvement on the standard MkV. Streamlining had only just started to be adopted on production cars of the period, so the smooth lines of the Corniche were ahead of their time. 

The pillarless body, with front and rear-hinged doors was also extremely innovative for the period, and the complicated curves of the front wings and the long sweeps of the rears were a long way from the typical designs of the period. In staid 1930s Britain, this was pure fantasy-made-real. 

But the original Corniche was lost at the outbreak of World War II. It was extensively damaged in a traffic accident while undergoing road tests in France in August 1939. Sent for repairs, the chassis made it home to the Bentley plant in Derby, but the bodywork was destroyed in a bombing raid on Dieppe later in 1939 and was never seen again. Until 80 years later. 

Using only the original technical drawings, the unique Corniche was rebuilt using original Corniche and MkV mechanical components and a completely re-made body, identical in every detail to the original. 

The project naturally fell to the Mulliner division, where since the 1970s one-off cars have been built for discerning collectors and Royalty. As Mulliner’s first historic car project, the Corniche demonstrated the full breadth of the division’s coachbuilding and restoration skills and capabilities. 

Many of the parts that had been produced to make further Corniche models were kept until the early 1970s before being sold off to specialists and enthusiasts. Then, in 2001, automotive historian and former Bentley director Ken Lea decided to try to use original parts as the basis for a recreation of the Corniche. 

The project saw volunteers gather information and parts to assemble the chassis. In 2008, with the project out of money, Bentley Motors provided an injection of funds, and work started on the ash frame and aluminium bodywork with coachbuilders Ashley & James in Lymington, Hampshire. The body was created from the outline drawings given to the project by the family of the car’s original designer, George Paulin. 

The project continued to make slow progress until it was brought in-house to Mulliner at the request of new Chairman and CEO, Adrian Hallmark. 

Every aspect of the project received Mulliner attention. From the special paint mixes – named Imperial Maroon and Heather Grey – to the unique interior trim, the accessories such as the tool tray and even the Mulliner tread plates on the door shuts were created from scratch. 

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