Rare Rides: The 1990 Bentley Hooper Empress II - a Turbo R by Any Other Name

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Back in June, Rare Rides profiled a different blue British beauty in the form of the Aston Martin Lagonda. Down in the comments section, TTAC reader Heino requested coverage of a Hooper-bodied Bentley.

Frankly, I forgot about the request in short order. But it sprang back to mind as soon as I saw the awkward visage of what would become today’s Rare Ride: a Bentley Hooper Empress II. Ready for a history lesson?

Hooper was a luxury coachbuilder based in London, in business for over 150 years. Starting out with carriages in 1805, it made the move to automobiles with the rest of the coachbuilders as the motorcar became prevalent. Sought out by the very upper echelon of society, Hooper-bodied vehicles satisfied customers looking for luxurious, stately vehicles, which gave no consideration to silly fripperies like cost. Kings and shahs turned to Hooper for their regal Rare Rides (and weren’t disappointed).

The ever-consolidating nature of the auto industry found Hooper under Daimler ownership in 1940, part of the BSA industrial conglomerate. Its most important customer in the 1950s became Lady Docker, wife of BSA’s chairman. These “Docker Daimlers” were the company’s showpieces until 1955. After that year, production figures subsided, and by 1959 the company saw limited production of just over 100 Daimler SP250 coupes. Before the end of 1959, BSA rebranded Hooper as a sales and service entity. The company existed in this form until 1970, when it became a Rolls-Royce distributor. Radio silence ensued.

Then in 1988 came one last revival of the storied Hooper name, this time applied to special coachbuilt bodies made from existing Bentley and Rolls-Royce vehicles. Hooper offered four total models between 1988 and 1990: a limousine, a two-door Silver Spirit, a two-door Turbo R, and our subject today, the Empress II.

Based on a heavily modified Bentley Turbo R, the Empress II was incredibly expensive. The listing actually includes the original price sheet, and it packs a punch.

The Empress II cost £500,000, or roughly $825,000 in 1990. That’s over $1,500,000 in today’s money. Strong British currency rates in the early 1990s were painful for overseas buyers. The original owner was keen on a left-hand drive US-specification vehicle in Japan, obviously for reasons of individuality and prestige.

An extensive amount of bodywork turned the rather large Turbo R sedan into this rather large coupe.

The volume of the rear fenders was necessarily increased on the coupe, and the C-pillar sweeps down to a shrunken rear window.

Nobody would mistake the front end of the Empress II for an entirely plebeian Turbo R. Behind the grille lies the standard 6.75-liter turbo V8.

The interior here does disappoint a bit; it’s all standard Turbo R fare — with the exception of one special feature.

A pass-through cocktail cabinet, thus allowing front and rear passengers to drink expensive cognac at will. Most excellent.

The listing states only six Empress II examples were produced in total, with this one making its way to San Diego via the original owner in Japan. It’s for sale with 12,500 unspecified units on the odometer, most likely kilometers. The asking price? Just $175,000, or 11 percent of the inflation-adjusted purchase figure. Quite a win for depreciation.

[Images: Craigslist]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 32 comments
  • Olddavid Olddavid on Aug 14, 2017

    Considering they had the car for eight months, the coachwork is decidedly mundane. The Continental fresh from the factory is a much better looking car. I would still like to roll the dice and buy a used one. I've seen decent ones with sub-30k mileage and current servicing as low as $30,000. Then I wake up and realize I can buy three of my usuals and a dirt bike for that much money. Ah,the life of a barely middle class retiree.

  • Libraryguy22 Libraryguy22 on Oct 28, 2017

    Hooper were actually doing 'conversions' (mostly interior and trim mods) of Rolls Royce and Bentley cars from the early eighties on and were rolling out two door and limousine conversions by 85. Their last car was produced in 94, I believe. The Empress is not the best example of their work, but the 2 door conversions of the Turbo R are another matter altogether, especially if you like the original.

  • Teddyc73 As I asked earlier under another article, when did "segment" or "class" become "space"? Does using that term make one feel more sophisticated? If GM's products in other segments...I mean "space" is more profitable then sedans then why shouldn't they discontinue it.
  • Robert Absolutely!!! I hate SUV's , I like the better gas milage and better ride and better handling!! Can't take a SUV 55mph into a highway exit ramp! I can in my Malibu and there's more than enough room for 5 and trunk is plenty big enough for me!
  • Teddyc73 Since when did automakers or car companies become "OEM". Probably about the same time "segment" or "class" became "space". I wish there were more sedans. I would like an American sedan. However, as others have stated, if they don't sell in large enough quantities to be profitable the automakers...I mean, "OEMs" aren't going to build them. It's simple business.
  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.