- the corniche was the first bentley to display a futuristic streamlined design, although its influence was stymied by wwii.
- damaged twice in testing and destroyed in a bombing raid, this star-crossed, one-off 1939 corniche lived a dangerous existence.
- it has now been fully re-created by bentley's mulliner division and will join the company's heritage fleet.
in terms of mining the past for modern inspiration, few nations are as adept at harvesting their heritage as old blighty. from the royals to goodwood and a million tea stops in between, they've turned the simple act of being british into an enviable asset, a fact not lost on automakers like bentley. as evidence, consider the time and expense required to resurrect this star-crossed 1939 bentley corniche.
initially conceived as a high-performance version of the technologically advanced mkv saloon scheduled to debut in 1939, the corniche was inspired by a sporting bentley privately commissioned by greek racer andré embiricos. created by bentley in association with a team of outsiders including french designer georges paulin, the corniche ditched the traditional bentley stand-up grille in the name of streamlining. featuring bodywork by paris coachbuilder vanvooren, the 1939 corniche portended the future of auto design as a whole in addition to informing postwar bentleys such the r type continental. performance-focused details included thinner steel for lightweighting and a tuned version of the mkv engine mated to an overdrive transmission, both of which helped the corniche top 100 mph during testing at the brooklands circuit.
this corniche's first bout with mortality came on july 9, 1939, when it was struck by a bus while testing in france. promptly returned to carrosserie vanvooren for repairs and improvements, the corniche was retrieved by a test driver on august 8 of the same year. as the driver neared the bentley depot at chateauroux to resume testing, another driver pulled in front of the corniche, causing the driver to run off the road and hit a tree, rolling the car and causing extensive damage.
slated to appear at the earls court and paris motor shows later that year, the body was taken to a local repair shop in france while the chassis was returned to crewe. when the body repairs were completed, it was sent to the port of dieppe to be shipped to crewe to be reunited with its chassis. unfortunately, an administrative error at the docks caused a delay, and the body was destroyed when dieppe was heavily bombed during the early stages of wwii. although the car never made it to production, bentley trademarked the name and used it in following decades for other bentley and rolls-royce models.
the re-creation project started several years ago in derby by volunteers from the w.o. bentley memorial foundation and the sir henry royce memorial foundation but ran out of funding in 2008. bentley graciously stepped in with financial assistance, and work started on the ash frame and aluminum bodywork with coachbuilders ashley & james in lymington, hampshire. the body was created from outline drawings given to the project by the family of the car's original designer, george paulin.
still, progress was slow until the decision was made in february 2018 to bring the project in-house to ensure the corniche would be ready for bentley's 2019 centenary. shepherded under the under the care of adrian hallmark, bentley's chairman and chief executive, the project fell to the company's mulliner division.
the corniche's re-creation was mulliner's first genuine ground-up historic-car project. guided by the original technical drawings and the skills of the men and women of mulliner, the corniche was re-created in crewe using original corniche and mkv mechanical components. the bodywork was completely re-created in identical detail, and the unique paint mixes—named imperial maroon—and heather grey interior trim, tool tray, and mulliner tread plates were created from scratch.
look for the corniche to make its first public appearance at salon privé at blenheim palace in september 2019, followed by appearances with bentley's heritage fleet at events around the world.