Bent­ley do­ing the Con­ti­nen­tal with style

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - FEATURES - Fred­eric Manby

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.

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