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Car of the Month - October 2017
Bentley R-Type, 1954, #B136TN
'Lightweight' All Metal Sedan by H.J.
In their company’s "Body Book" H.J. Mulliner erroneously entered this car
as a Bentley Mark VI – although indeed it was delivered as an R-Type Bentley.
The chassis is showing a rare obscurity: It had been ordered to be supplied
with featuring fixtures for both manual gearbox and automatic gearbox, too.
A fair guess might be that H.J. Mulliner when placing their order had not
yet decided whether this car they planned to exhibit at the 1954 Earls
Court Motor Show should be finished with either manual or automatic gearbox.
However such a conclusion is entirely incorrect!
Fact is the coachbuilder H.J. Mulliner was alert as regards a problem which
the car manufacturer had caused 'in-house', when Rolls-Royce had decided
no longer to become supplied with Hydramatics "ex-shelf from General Motors
in the USA" and use such – with a shaft operating the brake-servo added.
With the start of production at the Rolls-Royce factory of automatic gearboxes
under license from General Motors the well-proven tradition to insist on
exceptional quality ignited what was considered an improvement. Certain
components no longer were accepted "as pressed by a machine" (which was
General Motors production-standard). Instead additional labour was invested
and such plates became polished prior to installation. However thus the
plates no longer were rough enough to provide sufficient adhesion to remain
immersed in an oil-film entirely. A prompt result was that automatic gearboxes
made with such components didn’t guarantee accurate shifts up and down.
The problem was such a serious one it forced the company to order an additional
batch of Hydramatics from the USA (despite an enormous toll for transport
and import-duties!) to meet the demand for cars fitted with automatic gearboxes.
– H.J. Mulliner had heard alarm bells ringing, of course, and as per "belt
and tracers mentality" wanted the option for their Earls Court exhibit to
have that fitted with a manual gearbox eventually…
The term "all metal sedan" is correct. The coachwork was not entirely
made from aluminium but as a composite of elements from steel- (e.g. in
area of the bottom of the tail) and aluminium-panels. At this stage of
the post-war-period H.J. Mulliner had found to a technique which
substituted a standard rooting in the era of horse-drawn coaches, i.e.
no longer a wooden skeleton was clad with coachwork panels but such
were fixed to a combination of Reynolds-tubes and precision casting made
from aluminium. Hence "all metal saloon" means the entire body, i.e.
coachwork panels plus the structure underneath, was made from metal.
Thus the body became considerably lighter with the added bonus of
increased stability. A windfall profit of the alteration was that the
'skeleton' – opposite to one made from wood – was resistant to ageing.
Only in the case of permanent influence of humidity there remained the
chance for rust spots on steel parts or electrolytic corrosion in places
where aluminium and iron were in contact.
This lefthand-drive 2-door variant by H.J. Mulliner to this design
was a one-off.