Creating the Conti

- John Heffernan

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.

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