A one-off 1952 Bentley R-Type Straight 8 Special inspired by the “Scalded Cats” prototypes headlines H&H Classics’ final auction of the year, the Chateau Impney sale scheduled for December 7 at Droitwich Spa in the UK.
The auction docket includes a “brace of Bristols,” a Bentley Continental R, and even an 1899 Phebus 2.25hp that’s eligible for the London to Brighton Run. But perhaps no car in the auction has a story as intriguing as the black and light blue-colored “Fire Engine” special.
As it was developing the Bentley Mark V after World War II, Rolls-Royce built a pair of prototypes powered by straight-8 engines, the B-series version of the typical Bentley straight 6. With two additional cylinders providing performance-boosting power, the prototypes were nicknamed as the “Scalded Cats.”
One of the cars was loaned to Britain’s Prince Philip, who apparently liked the car’s performance so much the automaker finally had to politely remind him that the car was merely on loan.
In the mid-1960s, Robin Moore, who would become a Rolls-Royce director, was an engineer working in the company’s experimental department and, according to H&H Classics, Moore decided to build a car inspired by the original Scalded Cats prototypes.
Moore inquired through an internal memo in August 1965 whether a Bentley test cars might be available for his project. Apparently, none was and the project was put on hold.
It wasn’t until the mid-‘80s that Moore acquired a Harry Rose-bodied MkVI Special and his interest in the Scalded Cat project was rekindled. Moore bought a Thorneycroft Nubian fire engine to get its B80 engine and found an early-’50s Bentley R-Type with “rotten coachwork” but a sound chassis.
The chassis was revised to fit the longer eight-cylinder engine and an open, four-seat Tourer body was designed and crafted using traditional ash framing and aluminum sheet metal.
While the work was in progress, Moore obtained an even larger 6.52-liter B81 straight 8, which was installed in the car and was linked to an R-Type automatic transmission and an R-Type Continental rear axle.
Moore planned to do the car in red but opted for the black-and-blue scheme instead. The car was completed in 1992, was used to numerous drives around the UK, and in 2003 did a 4,000-mile tour of South Africa with the Bentley Drivers’ Club.
Moore’s B81 engine had come from a vehicle used in military training and apparently had sustained a lot of abuse as a result. In 2008, it was replaced by a brand-new and even more-powerful B81G, a B81 variant designed to run with a higher compression ratio on propane or natural gas. Since then, the engine has since been converted to run on standard unleaded gasoline.
H&H Classics has set a pre-auction estimated value of £60,000 to £80,000 ($75,000 to $100,000) on the car.