Bentley has created a stunning copy of a one-off prototype built in 1939. Its Mulliner bespoke and coachbuilding division has rebuilt the only Corniche ever made, using a combination of original parts and copies made exactly to the original specifications.
The Corniche was the firm’s first modern, high-performance car of that era, using much more aerodynamic bodywork to improve its acceleration and top speed. It had an innovative pillarless body, panels made from thinner-gauge steel for lightness and could fly past 100mph - a significant improvement over the already advanced MkV saloon Bentley was working on.
Bentley is the latest manufacturer to reveal a recreation of one of its past models. Porsche has built a jaw-dropping 935, Jaguar offered the D-Type continuation, Aston Martin the Goldfinger DB5, David Brown has the Mini Remastered and even Alvis has re-emerged with a new, recreated 4.3-Litre.
Missing from Bentley’s history for 80 years, the Corniche has now been rebuilt to sit in the company’s collection alongside the two cars it bridged: the Embiricos 4.25-litre, a privately-commissioned sports car that inspired the idea of the Corniche, and the post-War R Type Continental.
Designed as a halo version of the MkV saloon, the Corniche would set the precedent for Bentley design for years to come, but it was badly damaged in a testing accident in France in 1939 before its bodywork – left for repair in Dieppe while the chassis was shipped home to the Derby factory – was destroyed in a bombing raid.
Now, as Mulliner’s first historic car recreation project, the Corniche has been used as a test bed to demonstrate the skills the division has. Y’know, just in case you have a pre-War Bentley lying around that’s in need of some serious TLC.
Every last detail in the original Corniche plans, as well as in contemporary descriptions from other sources, was scrutinised and painstakingly recreated. The Mulliner team devised special equipment to help achieve authentic results, like a steam booth for wood-bending. Other staff researched and sourced the correct original type of leathers, cloths and – incredibly – carpet taken from an original roll that had been stored away for decades.
It took specialist paint mixers many hours of work to create the exact shade for the Imperial Maroon bodywork, which itself was all hand-formed in the traditional way. It must be incredibly satisfying for the people behind the car, whose rejuvenation has been ticking along on drips of funding since 2001, to finally see it finished.
We understand that any future projects shouldn’t take 18 years, but Mulliner’s focus is doing things right rather than quickly. It’s mostly brand new, but the Corniche will be put into service on Bentley’s heritage fleet, to be used and exhibited around the world. We applaud that decision.