While the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bentley this past weekend, one exceptional example of the legendary British marque was waiting in the wings.
The 1939 Bentley Corniche was damaged during its development and then was destroyed during World War II bombing. However, the car has been re-created by Bentley’s Mulliner coachbuilding group and will be showcased in early September at the Salon Privé concours d’elegance at Blenheim Palace in Windsor, England.
“Bentley has re-created a long-lost car from its illustrious past that provides a crucial link in the history of its most important models,” the automaker said in announcing the car’s upcoming debut.
“The ground-up rebuild of the only 1939 Corniche ever made highlights the marque’s pedigree of design and technological innovation, the breadth of skills within Mulliner’s bespoking division, and connects the fabled Embiricos 4¼ Litre and R Type Continental.
“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, and heavily influenced post-war models from the R Type Continental right through to the current Continental GT.
“The original Corniche was lost in France in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II. It was extensively damaged in a traffic accident whilst 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 (France) later in 1939 and was never seen again.
The re-creation of the Corniche was begun in 2001 by volunteers from the WO Bentley Memorial Foundation and the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation, who began collecting original parts that had been produced for the anticipated Corniche series production.
In 2008, Bentley Motors provided enough funding for work to begin on an ash frame and aluminum bodywork based on drawings donated by the family of the car’s original designer, George Paulin.
The project stalled until Hallmark became chairman and took the project in house, assigning it to the Mulliner division.
“As Mulliner’s first historic car project, the Corniche has demonstrated the full breadth of the division’s coachbuilding and restoration skills and capabilities,” the company noted.
The Mulliner team used both vintage and modern techniques to complete the project, creating a steam booth for bending wood for the interior window surrounds and using computer airflow analysis to design each individual slat of the grille.
The original Corniche had been commissioned by Greek racer Andre Embiricos. It was built on a Bentley 4¼-liter chassis with coachwork done in France by Pourtout. Bentley engineers and managers were so pleased that they decided the car should become the basis for sporting version of the new MkV sedan.
Bentley enlisted Paulin, a French car designer, and Carrosserie Vanvooren of Paris to work on a prototype, which was completed in May 1939. It was driven on the Brooklands circuit, where it exceeded 100 mph.
The car then went to France for additional testing but was damaged in a collision with a bus. Repairs were made and the car was being driven to another test site when another car pulled out in front of the Corniche, which swerved to avoid that collision and instead hit a tree and then rolled onto its side, causing extensive damage.
Repairs again were made and the car was awaiting shipment back to England when it was destroyed during the bombing of Dieppe.