Bentley has re-created a car from its past that it says is a crucial link in the history of its most important models. The rebuild of the only 1939 Corniche ever made underscores the marque’s design and technological innovation, the breadth of skills within Mulliner’s customizing division.
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 later in 1939 and was never seen again.
The historo-marketing project was started several years ago by volunteers from the WO Bentley Memorial Foundation and the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation but was brought in-house in February 2018 by Chairman and Chief Executive Adrian Hallmark, who asked for it to be completed in 2019 to celebrate Bentley’s centenary.
The Mulliner division became home. It’s where since the 1970s one-off cars have been built for collectors and royalty, and today makes models adapted and built to particular customers’ exacting personal specifications.
Using only the original technical drawings and the skills of the men and women of Mulliner, Bentley’s in-house bespoke and coach-building division, this unique Corniche has been rebuilt in Crewe using original Corniche and MkV mechanical components and a completely re-made body, identical in every detail to the original.
“It’s been a fantastic team effort,” said Stefan Sielaff, Design Director at Bentley and Director of Mulliner. “We have highly 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.”
Resurrecting the Dead
Many of the parts produced to make further Corniche models were kept until the early 1970s before being sold off to specialists and enthusiasts as Bentley slowly worked its way to insolvency. 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 was based in Derby, with volunteers gathering 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 aluminum bodywork with coach-builders 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 Bentley Motors at the request of new Chairman and CEO Adrian Hallmark.
The Mulsanne body-in-white team, where panels are still hand-formed, helped with final detailed finessing of panels; the paint laboratory spent many hours producing color samples of the main body color of Imperial Maroon and the side flash of Heather Grey from the limited descriptions available; Head of Interior Design Darren Day and his team produced CAD designs for the seats and door trims derived from detailed historical research; and the Mulliner trim team worked from the designs to create a period-appropriate interior in typical Vanvooren style, using the correct Connolly Vaumol hide, West of England cloth and the carpet from a roll discovered stored away on site.
The Corniche will make its first public appearance at Salon Privé at Blenheim Palace in September and will join Bentley’s Heritage fleet, which already includes WO Bentley’s 8 Liter and the Birkin Team Blower, to be used and exhibited at events around the world.