Creating the Conti
Thank you to Peter Tomalin and photographer Aston Parrott for an entertaining and gratifying feature on the Bentley Continental R and T series (evo 299).
The car’s gestation and birth was not exactly a straightforward progression as is usual in the car business. Ken Greenley and I were asked to propose some merchandising articles for Rolls-royce; these would be the usual leatherwear and watches etc. We were allocated a slot to present to the board but decided to highjack the agenda to present two full-size renderings of Rolls-royce (but really Bentley) coupes and a full show of other proposals. These were airbrushed in the design studio I shared with my wife in West London – very big cars in a very limited space.
RR directors Peter Ward and Mike Dunne were excited by the possibility of reviving the Bentley nameplate, which we were told was in danger of being abandoned at that time. Their championing of our ideas led to the approval for the production of the Bentley Project 90 show car [pictured above] – the Black Rat as we referred to it – for the 1985 Geneva motor show. The reaction was good, but I admit there was a little too much of the Ford Thunderbird around the sail panel. Aside from that, the MD really wanted a Corniche cabriolet replacement.
We were given a building within Mulliner Park Ward at Scrubs Lane and, with a modelling team from IAD, began work on a Rolls-royce two-door coupe. Just as this was completed, Peter Ward became MD of the company. The next day he called a meeting to stop the RR car and work instead to make it the basis of a new Bentley coupe.
The MPW people were great to work with. RR production director John
Lake worked assiduously to preserve the detail of our model, while design director Graham Hull provided the suave interior of the new Continental, which debuted at Geneva in 1991.
The Sultan of Brunei bought the development car off the stand for £2million, which amazed all of us at the time. Another notable thing was that the new American rap music millionaires took to the car and used them in their videos. Not something the old regime at RR would have necessarily approved of, but in the ’90s, as always, money was money.