The original Bentley Corniche of 1939 went through an awful lot during its short life. Commissioned by Greek racer Andre Embiricos, it was based on the old 4.5 Litre chassis and styled by Georges Paulin.
Although it was built by French coachbuilder Pourtout, the Corniche was much-admired among Bentley engineers, who felt the factory should produce a sporting version of the forthcoming MkV saloon.
Featuring a lightweight chassis using thin steel, and a tuned version of the Bentley MkV engine, the Corniche was completed in May 1939. Naturally, its first destination was the Brooklands circuit.
Thanks to its streamlined body – including a smoothed nose – the Bentley Corniche achieved well over 100mph, a significant improvement over the standard MkV.
A potential star in the making, then? Unfortunately, fate had other ideas.
Bentley Corniche: lost in France
In July 1939, it was damaged by a bus while in France for road testing. A month later, with the repairs completed, a car pulled out 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.
With the car set to be displayed at the Earls Court and Paris motor shows, the body was removed from the chassis, with the body sent to a repair shop in France, and the chassis shipped to Crewe.
Once completed, the Bentley Corniche body was transported to Dieppe ready to be shipped home, but an admin error at the docks caused a delay, leaving the car stranded on the French coast.
While it was waiting to be shipped, the Corniche body was destroyed during a bombing raid on Dieppe. This left it lost in France – a short but sweet footnote in the 100-year story of Bentley.
Or maybe not.
Thanks to the skills within Mulliner’s bespoke division, Bentley has re-created the long-lost Corniche, and it will make its public debut at Salon Prive in September.
The project started several years ago when volunteers from the WO Bentley Memorial Foundation and the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation hatched a plan to re-create the Corniche.
Progress was slow, as the volunteers gathered information and sourced parts to assemble the chassis. In 2018, Bentley injected some much-needed cash, when it looked like the project would grind to a halt.
In February 2018, it was decided to bring the project in-house, with Bentley chairman and chief executive Adrian Hallmark requesting the completion to coincide with the company’s centenary celebrations.
‘A pivotal car’
“The 1939 Corniche was a clear step in Bentley’s design language which is evident when set aside the later and now iconic R Type Continental,” said Hallmark.
“It is a pivotal car in the history of Bentley, demonstrating that even then, this great British marque was at the cutting edge of design and technology. Mulliner’s stunning recreation of the Corniche clearly demonstrates our skill in restoring the greats from Bentley’s back catalogue.”
Using only the original technical drawings, the Bentley Corniche has been re-created using original Corniche and MkV mechanical components and a completely re-built body.
The project team worked tirelessly to perfect the Corniche right down to the last detail, including hours in the paint laboratory producing colour samples for the Imperial Maroon body and Heather Grey side flash.
CAD drawings were used for the seats and door trims, while Mulliner’s trim team used a similar approach to create a period-appropriate interior.
Master carpenter Gary Bedson even devised a steam booth to allow him to bend sections of the wood for the window surrounds, often spending over an hour wreathed in steam just to attain a few degrees more curvature.
The front grille – such a standout feature of the original Corniche – was re-created using CAD to analyse airflow and design each individual slat, which were hand-formed by skilled metalworkers over a period of three months.
‘Fantastic team effort’
“It’s been a fantastic team effort,” said Stefan Sielaff, design director at Bentley and director of Mulliner. “We have skilled craftsmen within Mulliner and around the rest of Bentley Motors and they all have massive pride in what they’ve achieved with this car.”
The Bentley Corniche re-creation isn’t for sale, although you’d need the pockets of a ‘Bentley Boy’ to be able to afford what must be a priceless vehicle.
Instead, the Corniche will take up residence as part of the Bentley heritage fleet for display at events and exhibitions around the world. It might want to avoid events in France…