FEATURE CAR 2015 Bentley Mulsanne Speed
Iremember attending my very first Earl’s Court Motor Show in 1968, a time when the British motor industry had only recently embarked on a journey that would ultimately end in disaster — the major merging of British Motor Holdings and Leyland Motor Corporation having only happened six months prior to that show in October 1968.
Of course, I didn’t know what would happen over the following years as I wandered round the show picking up brochures for the Aston Martin DB6, Jensen Interceptor FF, and Jaguar XJ6. And while I stared at all the glittering cars, older visitors would be able to recall earlier motor shows at which Jowetts rubbed shoulders with Armstrong Siddeleys, an Alvis Grey Lady could be spotted alongside a SunbeamTalbot, or a Hillman Husky jostled up against a swoopy-looking Gilbern GT.
Alas, the days when you needed many more than two hands to tally up all the active British marques is long gone, with countless names having long since been consigned to the dusty archives of history. However, a few exalted marques from the past are still with us and, although most of these survivors are now owned by foreign corporations, many of them are still British-built. Perhaps more importantly, though, the spirit remains.
For many, it was the mid-’80s introduction of the Mulsanne Turbo that reignited old memories of the cars which Ettore Bugatti once described as “highspeed lorries”. Bentley was back.
Alas, Vickers was forced to relinquish control of the marque in 1997, with Volkswagen eventually emerging with the exclusive rights to produce Bentleys as from January 1, 2003.
Since then, Bentley has revived its sporting heritage by returning to the scene of its early triumphs, once again claiming the victor’s laurels at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race and producing a series of well-received models such as the Continental GT. As well, and harking back to the ’80s, Bentley revived the famous ‘Mulsanne’ name in 2010 — and now it’s gone one better with the new Mulsanne Speed, a more sporting version of its rangetopping luxury car.
Several new engines were introduced under Volkswagen ownership — including a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 and a 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12.
However, for the Mulsanne and Mulsanne Speed, Bentley stepped back in time by utilizing the pushrod V8 that first appeared in the S2 way back in 1959 — the engine being shared, of course, by the Rolls-royce Phantom V. In 1959, the V8 had a capacity of 6230cc, and power was an estimated 149kw (200bhp). By lengthening its original stroke of 91.4mm to 99mm, capacity was increased to 6750cc for post-1970 versions of the Bentley T1 and T2, while the 1971-released Rolls-royce / Bentley Corniche received the enlarged V8 right from the start of production.
Although the Mulsanne Speed’s engine retains the V8’s traditional bore and stroke, many changes have been made to this venerable and long-serving OHV engine in the years since it first appeared in 1959.
Smooth as silk
Out on the road, the Mulsanne Speed occupies an impressive expanse of tarmac — this is a big car. However, despite its massive size and weight, the luxuriously appointed Bentley is no slouch, the V8 packing a sizeable performance punch.
Provoke the Mulsanne Speed and all that prodigious torque comes into play, gifting the car with a turn of speed that wouldn’t be out of place in a rather-less-thanluxurious supercar, as it disdainfully elbows the planet’s atmosphere aside to power out to a top speed in excess of 305kph — that’s 190mph for more imperial-minded readers.
And while you couldn’t describe the Bentley as being ‘nimble’, those massive tyres provide bags of grip under hard cornering, while handling and steering are excellent. However, the car’s sheer size means that it does become something of a handful on narrow country roads. Still, despite the addition of a ‘sport’ mode for the steering wheel–mounted paddle shifts, this is not a sports car. Rather, the Mulsanne Speed comes over as quite possibly the definitive business tycoon’s express.
Indeed, Bentley describes it as “the fastest luxury car in the world”. When it comes to that superlative, some may argue for a range-topping Mercedes-benz S-class, but for me the Bentley — with its superb sense of style and gorgeously trimmed and detailed cabin — would always be preferable to Teutonic high-tech.
With that in mind, the Mulsanne Speed, being a Bentley, can be specified with bespoke options that include virtually any exterior colour you fancy, while interior appointments are limited only by imagination and pocket depth. For those with a taste for decadent luxury, options could include an onboard cigar humidor or a champagne cooler matched, of course, by a set of exclusive champagne flutes, an audiophile 2200W 20-speaker Naim sound system, and even motorized picnic tables that house ipads and Bluetooth keyboards — thus allowing the discerning executive to run their business empire from the comfort of the rear seats of their Bentley.
Of course, you could save a boot-full of money by choosing the ‘cheaper’ Mulsanne model — but if you’ve got the dollars, surely you’d want to own the best, and that means it would have to be the Mulsanne Speed.