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

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]


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