In late 1952, Ian Fleming ordered this 1953 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback for his longtime friend Ivar Bryce—the man who inspired the Bond character Felix Leiter. The Bentley eventually disappeared from the public eye for over three decades, but has since been rediscovered, and in dramatic fashion it will cross the Gooding & Company auction block at Pebble Beach this weekend. The expected price? Between $1.4 and $1.8 million.
As far as Bentley cars go, this one is greater than most. Only 207 versions of the high performance R-Type Continental were built, spanning the years 1952 to 1955. When Ian Fleming ordered this car—chassis number BC10LB—it marked the first R-Type grand tourer built on a revised chassis layout.
The Bentley was adorned with its fastback looks, courtesy of H.J. Mulliner, and originally came finished in Deep Grey paint. For added rarity, this car’s manual gearbox makes it one of only 34 models to receive the transmission, and its left-hand-drive setup makes it one of only 11.
Ivar Bryce and his wife Josephine Hartford took ownership of the specially ordered car in June 1953, and promptly toured the Bentley throughout Europe. It then spent time at the couple’s country home in the United Kingdom, then in the Bahamas in 1955, followed by stays in New York City and finally Vermont in the late ‘50s.
If that’s enough globe trotting to make your head spin, the Bentley was then sold, and over the years it passed through a number of other owners, including a naval officer, University of California medical professor, and an airline pilot, between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Then about 30 years ago, its trail went dark and the Bentley disappeared from radar completely. It resurfaced very recently, having spent the last three decades sitting in a Hollywood garage.
The auction house affirms the rarified Bentley will be auctioned off in as-found condition. It would be incredible to see the regal grand tourer restored to like-new condition, though in its present state it makes this story of globetrotting and celebrity provenance all the more tantalizing.
Photo Credit: Brian Henniker, Gooding & Company