Emerging classic: Bentley Continental GT
Depreciation can be a cruel tyrant when it comes to expensive luxury cars like the all-wheel drive Bentley Continental GT, which makes investing in a pampered early example very tempting
Early examples of this V12 coupè are starting to become more affordable.
WORDS IAIN WAKEFIELD A lthough Bentley received a favourable response to its Project Java prototype showing a hint of what was to come at the 1994 Geneva Motor Show, at that time the famous marque was still very much a part of Rolls- Royce Motors and oceans of stormy water lay ahead. A lot of behind the scenes negotiations between Rolls-Royce owners Vickers, BM W and Volkswagen concerning Bentley’s long-term future would take place before this most British of marques could develop a brand new technically advanced model like the V12 powered Continental GT.
We haven’t enough space here to cover all the intricate windings of how the VW Group eventually took control of Bentley over BM W’s claims to the marque, but the upshot was that car production remained at Crewe and the upmarket VW Phaeton ended up providing a lot of the mechanical underpinnings for the all- new Bentley.
Although the 1994 Java project didn’t make it into production, this exciting concept did pave the way for a more affordable Bentley. At the time, a Continental R cost over £180,000 and although the new Bentley Continental GT would be largely hand built, the revitalised company started geared up to mass produce the new coupé in never before imaged numbers.
There was no denying that Bentley’s future hinged on the success of 2003 launched Continental GT. Unfortunately early press reviews for the new Grand Tourer weren’t that favourable and claimed the car didn’t fully exploit the potential of its 6.0 litre, twin turbopowered V12. The good news for Bentley, however, was that these criticisms failed to perturb future owners and order books for the new £110,000 Bentley GT started to quickly fill up.
The specification of the Raul Pires and Dirk van Braeckel designed Continental GT was impressive to say the least. A standard fit Torsen-based permanent four-wheel drive set-up planted the 2485kg GT firmly on the Tarmac and with an unlimited top speed just shy of 200mph, the new 552bhp Bentley GT had entered supercar territory.
Like a fine wine, the Bentley Continental GT slowly matured and by the time the GTC Convertible arrived on the scene in 2006, most of the early criticisms concerning power and driver feel had been laid to rest. Bentley raised the stakes in 2006 with the launch of the slightly lighter and more powerful 610bhp Speed and Bentley now had a massive success on its hands.
The final generation one GT was the 630bhp Supersports, which in the right conditions could accelerate from zero to 62mph in a staggering 3.7 seconds. Series one production came to an end in 2011 and model variations included the Continental Flying Spur (2005), the ultra rare Diamond Series (2007) and Mulliner Driving Specification (2009).
WHAT CAN GO WRONG? BODYWORK
The Continental’s steel coupé styled monocoque isn’t known for any corrosion related issues but it’s a wide car and the bodywork can be susceptible to car park dings and dents. Most owners will have maintained the bodywork in tip-top condition but stone chips can often pit the GT’s sloping nose and putting this right can be an expensive business.
If buying a Bentley Continental, check carefully for any poorly repaired accident damage, especially around the sides and front of engine bay and boot area (although trim may have to be remove here) and that all the panel gaps are all nice and equal.
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION
The cylinders in the GT’s twin turbo W12 engine are configured in a ‘ W’ formation, which means the Continental’s 48-valve 6.0 litre engine is basically formed of two VR6
units placed almost side by side on a common crankshaft. This arrangement has the advantage of shortening the length of the engine when compared to a traditional V12 and keeps the weight of the power unit further back in the chassis.
All the configurations of the GT’s engine have proved to be long lived. Specialists advice is to buy a high mileage car with a full service history over one that’s sat around for most of its life, as these car’s don’t like being stored for any length of time. The Continental has a main battery and a back up and both these should be in good condition to keep the car’s extensive electrical system in good order.
Problems are few and far between, with a few reported cases of failed head gaskets – a £15,000 dealer job, as the engine has to come out. The VW curse of dodgy coil packs also haunts the Bentley Continental but at £360 a set, this repair shouldn’t break the back. Spark plugs can be difficult to change due to the compact engine bay and a new set of long life plugs for one of these cars will cost around £150.
Turbos are bullet proof so long as the oil changes have been done on time (use 0W40 fully synthetic oil) and any blue smoke from the tailpipe will indicate a worn turbo. If doing a pre-purchase inspection, take a look at the condition of the radiator, as it’s a massive job to fit a new or reconditioned one.
The Continental’s ZF six speed automatic gearbox and fourwheel drive system has so far proved ultra reliable and any gearbox issues are likely to stem from faulty electronic sensors and controllers.
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
The Bentley Continental GT is a heavy car, so tyres and brake pads can wear out quickly if the car is driven enthusiastically. At the front, the GT’s suspension set up comprises of double wishbones and the rear consists of multiple links. All round air springs dampen the ride and the Bentley’s Continuous Damping Control (CDC ) provides a range of four different driver selected settings. Although this sounds complex, the CDC system has proved to be very reliable but any clunks or bangs from the suspension will indicate worn bushes or joints.
Four extra large ventilated discs provide the stopping power but on the Superports these are made of carbon ceramic and fitting a new set can cost over £10,000 against around £800 for a set of dealer supplied cast iron discs.
One weak point on the GT’s impressive braking system is the electronic handbrake, as the control module can act up. However, fitting a replacement module usually clears this issue up. As this Bentley is a very fast car, a good set of quality tyres is essential. Tyre pressure sensors can be a problem, as the batteries can run out after a few years and this requires new set of sensors to be fitted.
The basis of the Continental GT’s interior was about the only part of the 1994 Project Java concept to make it into
As we said in the introduction, depreciation can be cruel with regards to the price of expensive cars like the Bentley Continental GT and £21,500 should be able to secure an early 03/ 54 reg first generation example with around 60k on the clock.
As with all expensive quality cars, a full service history is essential and with these cars now close to the bottom of the depreciation curve, good examples will eventually start rise in price. The Convertible is obviously more expensive and prices for these desirable models start at around £30,000.
In our view, the Bentley Continental GT is definitely a classic in waiting and with plenty of extremely well presented coupés and convertibles to choose from, now is the time to invest in one of these cars that took the heritage of the company’s founder W.O. Bentley into the 21st century. production. It takes a small herd of high quality hides to cover the GT’s spacious and extremely comfortable seats and any repairs to scuffed seat facings and worn bolsters will be expensive to repair.
Most Continentals will be what the trade call ‘ fully loaded’ and from 2005 a lot of GT’s were fitted with a very expensive trim option that grouped most of the popular options together. These include diamond quilted, two-tone upholstery, Bentley logo embossed seats and a choice of walnut or piano black veneer.
As a lot of the GT’s electronics are located in the left hand-side front footwell, it’s essential to check this area for any signs of damp entering the cabin from an improperly fitted windscreen or leaking soft top seals.
The Convertible’s electro/ hydraulically operated soft top is, as would be expected on a Bentley, fully insulated and a Rolls Royce/ Bentley specialist should be able to proved a replacement cover for around £3000 plus fitting.
As expected, acres of high quality hand selected leather and veneer grace the interior of these big Grand Tourers.
Silky smooth V12 power makes the Continental GT a superb cruiser.