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Bentley recreate the lost 1939 Corniche from original plans

09/08/2019
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Bentley are out to prove that they do in fact make ‘em like they used to, by recreating a pivotal yet long-lost model from their renowned history - the 1939 Bentley Corniche.

Bentley have recreated the lost 1939 Corniche down to the last detail
(Image via Bentley)

Only one version of the original Corniche was ever built - bridging the gap between the classic Embiricos 4 1/4 Litre and R Type Continental. It was intended to be a high performance version of the technologically advanced MkV saloon that was due to be launched in October 1939.

The Corniche was completed in May 1939, but was damaged in a traffic accident while undergoing road tests in France that August. The chassis was returned home to Bentley’s plant in Derby for repairs, but the bodywork remained in a local repair shop. 

While waiting in Dieppe to be shipped home - after being held up by administration errors - the body was completely destroyed by a wartime bombing raid. The Corniche would not be seen again for 80 years.

The project to resurrect the Corniche 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 last year with the aim of completing it in time for Bentley’s centenary. It was handed to Bentley’s Mulliner division, which has been responsible for creating one-off collectors cars since 1970. 

This was their first historic car project.

“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.”

Only one model of the original Corniche was ever built, and it was destroyed by WWII bombing
(Image via Bentley)


The Corniche

Based on an original commission by Greek racer André Embiricos, the Corniche was built as a more sporting version of their new MkV saloon. Styled by Georges Paulin and built with French coachbuilder Pourtout, the Corniche was designed with a lightweight chassis made from thinner-than-standard gauge steel with a tuned version of the MkV engine matched to a bespoke overdrive gearbox.

The curved, streamlined styling of the Corniche was designed for performance and was ahead of its time
(Image via Bentley)

The styling was more modern than the traditional 1920-30s Bentleys, introducing streamlining for the first time to deliver greater speed and performance. A smoothed nose was introduced, counter to the traditional large upright radiator of a traditional Bentley, which was considered to reduce speed. This smoother and more streamlined design would go on to influence post-war models beginning with the R Type Continental and leading all the way through to the current Continental GT.

The Corniche also introduced innovative design features including a pillarless body with front and rear-hinged doors, as well as revolutionary styling in the complicated curves of the front wings and long sweeps of the rears.

In May 1939 the completed car achieved well over 100mph at Brooklands race circuit - a significant improvement on the standard MkV.

Styles developed for the 1939 Corniche can still be seen in Bentley's designs today
(Image via Bentley)

The resurrection

In 2001, former Bentley director and automotive historian Ken Lea decided to recreate the Corniche using original parts that had been produced at the time for further models. Many of these parts had been kept by Bentley until the 1970s, when they were sold off to specialists and enthusiasts.

Volunteers began finding out on where these parts were located and begun the long process of gathering them back together. But the project ran out of money.

In 2008 Bentley Motors provided funds to restart the project, with Lymington-based coachbuilders Ashley & James now able to start work on the ash frame and aluminium bodywork, using outline drawings that had been donated by the family of the car’s original designer, George Paulin.

Every detail was recreated by Mulliner using original technical designs and - where possible - original parts
(Image via Bentley)

The project made slow progress until it was taken over by the Mulliner team last year. Team members from Mulliner and the wider Bentley Motors business provided their personal time to help rebuild this iconic vehicle.

Using only the original technical drawings, the team rebuilt the Corniche with original Corniche and MkV mechanical components. Every aspect was faithfully recreated as a perfect recreation of the original Corniche, down to every detail - from each individual slat in the front grille to the CAD designs for the seats and door trims to the tool tray for the boot. Even the Imperial Maroon and Heather Grey paint mixes were developed from hours of work by the paint laboratory.

“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. 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,”
said Bentley Chairman and Chief Executive Adrian Hallmark. “Mulliner’s stunning recreation of the Corniche clearly demonstrates our skill in restoring the greats from Bentley’s back catalogue as well as making beautiful personalised modern Bentleys.”

Hundreds of hours of Bentley workers' personal time was put into recreating this iconic car
(Image via Bentley) 

The Bentley Corniche will be on display for the first time to the public at Salon Privé at Blenheim Palace in September and will join Bentley’s Heritage fleet, which already includes WO Bentley’s 8 Litre and the Birkin Team Blower, to be used and exhibited at events around the world.

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Bentley recreate the lost 1939 Corniche from original plans - Time to read 5 min
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