With manufacturers having realized there’s a small but very interested market for historically relevant automobiles, we’ve seen some of the fancier names in motoring embrace “continuation models” with astronomical price tags.
Some of these cars are arguably better than the real thing, too. Jaguar and Aston Martin revived a handful of their finest products from the middle of the 2oth century, adding a smattering of modern technologies to make the cars more livable. And lacking the authenticity of being a true original results in substantially lower MSRPs — though calling them affordable would be a misnomer, as some continuation models still go for millions of dollars.
Case in point is the new/old Blower Bentley, which is the ultra-rare racing variant of the 1929 Bentley 4½-litre with the Roots-type supercharger sitting in front of radiator like a giant nose. Bentley announced in 2019 that it would build a dozen examples of the automotive icon — all of which were sold long before the manufacturer tightened a single bolt. Considering the staggering amount of work required to build a true continuation car (the manufacturer actually had to disassemble and scan every single part on an original 4½-litre just to create a digital blueprint), the coronavirus pandemic has been a sizable setback. Bentley now says that phase one of the plan has concluded and the automobile serving as the prototype/template for all subsequent models (Car Zero) has begun construction as parts start rolling in.
Bentley types are a discerning breed. Well versed in the world of leather and wood and highly respectful of heritage, these people interact with the brand like a museum curator. And the most discerning among them, those who claim to be most committed to preserving all that’s good and pure about the marque, aren’t happy with the automaker’s plan to hit “repeat.”
A present-day automaker churning out copies of a 90-year-old model? Blasphemy!
Even if antique autos aren’t your jam, you’ve probably heard of the Blower Bentley. It’s the exceptionally rare racing variant of the brand’s pre-war 4½ Litre model. While perhaps not as iconic as the 6½ Litre/Speed Six, the Blower has become prominent for its ultra-thirsty, persnickety powertrain and straight-line performance. By attaching a Roots-style supercharger to the engine, Bentley turned the standard 4½ Litre into an absolute freight train. Upon seeing it in action, Ettore Bugatti famously referred to the gigantic car as “the fastest lorry in the world.”
Seemingly inspired by other British manufacturers’ recent foray into continuation vehicles, Bentley has decided to rerelease the 1929 Team Blower for a limited production run. Like Jaguar’s XKSS and D-Type, as well as Aston Martin’s DB4 GT, the Bentley will be recreated as painstakingly close to the original as possible.
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably recall the Ford Shelby GR-1 Concept revealed at the 2005 North American International Auto Show after a brief stint as a clay model. Having already introduced the Shelby Cobra Concept as the hypothetical successor to the American roadster inspired by the original AC Cobra in 2004, Ford wanted a follow-up. The end result was the GR-1, which bore a striking resemblance to one of the best-looking cars ever assembled — at least from this author’s perspective: the Shelby Daytona.
Unfortunately, Ford never built the GR-1, as it was tied up finalizing the first-generation GT. We thought we’d never see one on the streets but, as it turns out, we were wrong. Superformance, an aftermarket company based in Irvine, California that specializes in vintage Ford race replicas or continuation cars, has picked up the torch.
Jaguar has announced the D-Type is re-entering production this week, part of a “once-in-a-lifetime project” designed to get 25 examples of the iconic racer back on the streets. While it’s always exciting to see a venerable model resurface after a six-decade absence, this is nothing new for Jaguar. The company did a limited continuation of the E-Type coupe in 2015, the XKSS in 2016, and a singular electric-powered E-Type prototype in 2017.
That means the “new” D-Type is just another entry in Jaguar Classic’s ultra-premium heritage collection. However, this does not mean the continuation cars aren’t any less cool than a penguin perched atop a glacier adjusting his brand-name sunglasses.
As things get older they gradually become “priceless.” However, before that happens, there is a long period of grotesquely inflated cost mathematically intertwined with the object’s historical relevance.
When Jaguar announced they would resume production on the 1957 XKSS in 2017, they added up the D-Type’s success at Le Mans, Steve McQueen’s seal of approval, the car’s extremely limited numbers, and the tragic production-ending fire at the Browns Lane factory. A continuation car dripping with so much historical mystique wasn’t going to go cheap. Jaguar sold the nine “new” cars at $1.5 million each.
Aston Martin’s DB4 GT has a similar allure. It’s a low-production high-performance version of an already coveted classic. Even if you are filthy rich enough to own one, it probably exists in a temperature controlled garage next to other massively expensive vintage automobiles you dare not drive. Well, sixty years after being first introduced, Aston Martin plans to build twenty-five new track-only continuations of the DB4 GT.