Bentley doing the Continental with style
WE are sitting in Mark Ballance’s office where the most interesting items are family trees of the Bentley and Rolls-Royce lineage.
I have just been out in the latest Bentley, the Continental GT, which at a glance looks like the old one but has just about every panel changed, plus more power, more this, more that, a touch-screen infotainment system, wider wheel track, lots of fine tuning.
Bentley is in bed with the watchmaker, Breitling, and Mark, Business Manager at JCT600, wears one – which he bought himself many years ago. My minder on the test drive, Rob Gray, a racer, has one, too, but he says it is a fake.
My son has the real thing. I wear a drab 1950s’ mechanical Longines which I wouldn’t swap for any of them. Watches, cars, yachts, money – toys for men and women.
Bentley owners move in the world of expensive things. The entry price to the Flying B is £135,760, plus “on the road charges” for the all-wheeldrive Continental GT coupe, and most owners will have at least one other car, though a Bentley, with its Volkswagen Group-backed technology, is tough enough for every-day use.
The wall charts show the production dates and sales records of the Bentley and Rolls-Royce models, the latter now owned by BMW.
What proportion of Bentley sales have gone to the Continental series, introduced in 2003? It has transformed the owner profile, from old money to younger money. The Conti sales to date are more than 50,000. The “rest” number 46,539, of which the biggest seller was the Turbo R from 1985 to 1998 (6,417 sold).
Rolls-Royce’s biggest seller was the Silver Shadow (16,717 between 1965 and 1977) and total sales of the marque from 1904 to the end of the Silver Seraph, in 2002, at Crewe, were 88,4345 plus 10,000 built under BMW ownership at Goodwood since the start of the century.
Nearly 5,000 of these have been produced in the last three years.
Changes to this year’s GT include a 40/60 split favouring the rear wheels, which “keen” drivers will find gives it less understeer in corners – though you will have to be tramping at some force to unstick one of these cars.
The 12-cylinder engine now delivers what the Rolls-Royce Bentley chaps used to call “sufficient power”. How does 567 bhp and 516 lb ft sound? Enough to haul the large car to 197 miles an hour, with 0-60mph being dismissed in 4.6 seconds. (A modified SuperSports convertible version has just set a new record, on ice, of 205mph).
So, my brief test drive between Leeds and Otley was always going to be an anticlimax.
The remarkable thing about cars like this, of which there are very few, is the combination of superior luxury and extreme performance.
This latest model has an even faster shifting six-speed automatic gearbox, said to halve the gearchange times, but in cars that are already so accomplished, these “improvements” are welcome but not vital in every-day motoring.
There are similar tweaks to the suspension – which coped nicely over the patched suburban roads.
Externally subtly changed, the panel join across the lamps has now been replaced by a single pressing.
Inside, it is a joy of leather and real metal. The knurled selector wheel for trip meter readings was a bit fiddly for a beginner and needed to turn more easily.
There was also a minor intermittent buzz, unexplained, maybe just heard because the car is relatively quiet. Verdict: Hard to fault. More: 01270 255155.
ALL CHANGE: Bentley’s latest Continental resembles the old – but it’s all new.