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Lot 224: Bentley Corniche Convertible

Important Collectors' Motorcars & Motorcycles, Bonhams (16 June 2012)

Rolls-Royce's adoption of unitary construction for its new Silver Shadow and T-Series Bentley necessitated the reorganisation of in-house coachbuilder H J Mulliner, Park Ward to enable it to produce new designs on the Shadow floorpan. Recalling the firm's glamorous Grands Routiers of pre-war days such as the Phantom II Continental, these final coachbuilt models were limited to just two, a two-door coupé or similar convertible, the former arriving in March 1966 and the latter in September the following year. Some of the frontal panels were shared with the standard four-door saloon, but otherwise the new bodyshells were unique, featuring a distinctive dipping upper wing line with parallel crease, and revised, more rounded posterior. Construction involved shuttling the bodyshells between the Crewe factory and MPW's Willesden plant, a necessarily lengthy process that took all of 20 weeks for the saloon and slightly longer for the more complex convertible. These exclusive cars were hand built in the best traditions of British coachbuilding using only materials of the finest quality including Wilton carpeting, Connolly hide and burr walnut veneers, such painstaking attention to detail resulting in a price some 50% higher than that of the standard Silver Shadow or T-Series Bentley. Nevertheless, demand for these more glamorous alternatives to the much more numerous four-door model was strong right from the start, a state of affairs that resulted in them being given their own model name - 'Corniche' - in March 1971. In Corniche form Rolls-Royce's well-tried 6.7-litre V8 produced around 10% more power than standard and proved capable of propelling the car to a top speed in excess of 120mph with sports car-beating acceleration to match. The model proved a major success for Rolls-Royce; periodically revised and up-dated, it remained in production well into the 1990s, the last (Convertible) examples being delivered in 1995. For much of the time that the Corniche was in production, a Bentley was regarded as little more than a slightly cheaper alternative to a Rolls-Royce. This famous marque had yet to re-establish its reputation as maker of some of the world's fastest and most exciting sports saloons and Grand Tourers, a process that commenced in 1982 with launch of the Mulsanne Turbo. Consequently, the Bentley Corniche was produced in much smaller numbers than its Rolls-Royce equivalent, despite being – arguably – the more handsome of the two. Up to 1984, when the Bentley Corniche was renamed 'Continental', only 151 had been sold, compared to several thousand of the Rolls-Royce version! The car offered here is one of only 45 Bentley Corniche 'Series 1' convertibles built between 1971 and 1976. Chassis number '21464' was purchased new via Jack Barclay Ltd by Elton John in September 1975 and supplied finished in Silver Mink with beige interior and matching hood. In 1998, the year of his knighthood, Sir Elton sold the Bentley to his Personal Assistant, Robert Halley, from whom he repurchased it in 1999. During Mr Halley's ownership the car was repainted in its present livery and updated with later alloy wheels. The current vendor bought the Corniche when a selection of cars from Sir Elton's collection was auctioned in 2001, at which time the odometer reading stood at a little over 43,000 miles. Sir Elton was said to speak highly of the Bentley, which was one of a handful of his cars used extensively, and was quoted as remarking: 'I've had a lot of people in it, Princess Margaret's been in it, everyone's been in it.' Used sparingly since acquisition, the Corniche benefits from refurbishment of the interior, carried out by marque specialists P & A Wood four years ago at a cost of circa £10,000, but otherwise is un-restored and in generally good condition. The interior, needless to say, is excellent. Accompanying documentation consists of Sir Elton's letter of provenance, current MoT and Swansea V5 document. It should be noted that the cherished registration '777 KF' is being retained by the vendor.

Lot Details
Auction Important Collectors' Motorcars & Motorcycles
Bonhams, Oxford, UK
TypeCar
Lot Number224
Estimate£50000-£60000
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£41250
Hammer Price (inc premium)£47437
Year1975
Condition rating3
Registration number
Mileage-
Chassis numberDBH21464
Engine number21464
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors2