Bentley’s W12 is signing off in style; if only Porter had the wardrobe to match

- @sniffpetro­l Richard is an author, broadcaste­r and award-winning writer of short autobiogra­phies

‘There’s me, a middle-aged dad, stumbling from the driver’s seat in Converse All Stars and a T-shirt’

IN 1997, WHILE RIDING THE BULLET TRAIN from Tokyo to Nagoya, hawk-faced VAG engineerin­g maven Ferdinand Piëch had an idea: what if you combined two VR6 motors to create a W12? In fact, he foresaw a whole range of W-engines and, it’s safe to presume, no one dared to contradict him. The usefulness of these engines varied. The W8 was pointless since it cost a Scheisse tonne to develop and was used only in an unpopular Passat. The W16 made more sense because it gave Bugatti bragging rights and never mind a developmen­t bill so big that VW, according to a 2013 Bernstein Research report, lost £3.9m on every Veyron sold.

Then there was the W12, which was a very good idea indeed since it provided the backbone for the 21stcentur­y reinventio­n of Bentley. Pre-w12, cars from Crewe came with the old 6.75-litre L-series, aside from a few unloved Arnages with the BMW M62 V8, and the cars themselves were a little batty. They felt hefty and stout like a Norman church but there was always the sense that the seats had been stitched in someone’s kitchen and the doors made to fit with the help of a cricket bat. The W12 was a vital part of making Bentleys modern and increasing sales, thereby securing the future of a company that couldn’t survive forever on a few hundred agreeably eccentric road-going liners.

The W12 has served Bentley well, but now, after 20 years and over 100,000 engines, its time is coming to an end. In April next year the W12 will die, and to mark this the company has come up with Edition 12 versions of its four main models. To pay my respects, I borrowed a Flying Spur Edition 12 for a few days.

As you’d hope for a starting price of £231,200, it is a magnificen­t car, managing to feel weightily impressive and imperious without seeming sluggardly and fat. Also, as part of Edition 12 trim, the car I borrowed came in an unusual and strangely attractive paint finish called Opalite, which can look anything from beige to cream to pale green depending on the light. Better yet, the interior has various hand-stitched leathery bits but the centre panels of the seats are in a suede-alike material that’s grippier than leather, and warmer too. I wish more car makers would offer something similar. What they won’t offer, because no one will in future, is a W12 engine. And that’s a shame because the Bentley W12 has evolved into a lovely thing. From the 552bhp of the first Conti GT, it’s now oozing out a thick-wristed 650bhp in the Flying Spur (and an even richer 740bhp in the 18-off Batur coupe – see page 20) and it feels fabulous. ‘Effortless’ is an overused word in car writing but if anything deserves it, it’s a W12 Bentley that can pad about in silence on an invisible conveyor of torque then summon the distant thunder of AC/DC playing two towns over while yanking firmly on the invisible strings that connect you to the horizon.

I liked the Edition 12 enormously but it gave me one quite significan­t problem: in all the time I was driving it, I had simply no idea what to wear. The problem is that a large Bentley attracts a lot of attention. Adults double-take while small children tug at parents’ arms and keep walking while looking in the car’s direction until they collide with a wheelie bin. And there’s me, a middle-aged dad, stumbling from the driver’s seat in Converse All Stars and a faded T-shirt.

You might get away with such things emerging from an equally expensive Ferrari or Mclaren because it’s possible people will assume you are a musician or an ageing sports star, though on scant inspection it’s clear I am neither. The Bentley is a bit more elegant than that, a bit more grown-up. I wondered if my smartest pair of shoes might help, but then if you’re going to wear those you might as well put a shirt on and, well, if you’re doing that you should put on some smart trous… sod it, I’m getting out the wedding suit. But then you might be mistaken for a chauffeur, and that’s not it either.

In fact, I’m not sure what sort of clothes would match the Bentley so that you could step from it with confidence, knowing you weren’t letting the side down. I was going to ask the only person I know who owns a Flying Spur, but that’s TV’S Jeremy Clarkson and I’m pretty sure the answer isn’t to look like you’ve been dressed by two geography teachers fighting their way through a skip at the back of the Gant factory. So I gave in and accepted that for my time with the Flying Spur Edition 12 I was going to look chronicall­y out of step with its unique brand of slightly thuggish elegance. It’s a hell of a car, and a hell of way to see off the W12 engine. Just as long as you’ve got the clothes for it.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom