“A supercar for the Nineties and beyond” – marque expert Martin Bennet introduces readers of his definitive work ‘Bentley Continental, Corniche and Azure’ to the R, S and T Bentley Continentals
“They don’t make them like that any more.” Well, for a seven-year period from 1996 onwards ‘they’ – Bentley Motors at its spiritual post-War home of Crewe – did. Just one final hand-built turbocharged V8 coupé was offered by Bentley after production of the Continental series of two-door four-seaters finished in 2003.
Disregard those other ultra-expensive cars bearing the Spirit of Ecstasy. For Hollywood stars, wealthy Titans of the sporting arena such as the Schumacher brothers – whose cars carried upgraded brakes and 440bhp engines – the new Bentley Continental was ‘the best car in the world’.
The Sultan of Brunei spent many millions on special-bodied Continentals, helping to keep Crewe (and Newport Pagnell, Maranello and Affalterbach) afloat in times of economic woe.
Sitting at the top of the tree was the Continental T of 1996, a short-wheelbase version of the well-drawn Continental R packing an enhanced turbocharged V8 capable of pulling the car to 170mph.
The Bentley Continental T
Flush with funds from booming business in the 1980s – the years of Big Bang in the City of London and a worldwide bonanza – Bentley commissioned avant-garde designers John Heffernan and Ken Greenley to pen a replacement for the two-door Corniche saloon that had been discontinued in 1980.
Using the latest Mulsanne Turbo R running gear including the company’s creamy smooth and massively powerful turbocharged V8, the new Continental R was a handsome car, a full four-seater appointed luxuriously enough to justify a 1991 launch price of £168,294.
The new two-door saw the debut of a four-speed automatic gearbox, heated and electrically adjustable seats and a centrally-mounted gear-lever, the latter a first for Bentley. A 400bhp limited-edition Continental S appeared in 1994, but the big news in 1996 was the launch of the Continental T.
Under the bonnet of the £220,313 Continental T sat a tuned V8, at first the 400bhp motor from the ‘R’, later upgraded to 420bhp. By removing four inches from its wheelbase – just behind the doors, thereby making it a 2+2 – and stiffening the suspension, the engineers at Crewe created a proper driver’s car. Additionally, the new ‘T’ ran on wide 285/45 tyres mounted on 18in alloy wheels, the body subtly modified with flared wheelarches; hence the model’s ‘wide body’ sobriquet. Clients could choose from a traditional burr wood veneer or engine-turned dash.
Launched 12 months after the closely related Azure convertible, the Continental T was expected to be a super-expensive niche model, selling just 40 or so a year. Such was the demand for this modern day ‘Blower Bentley’, though, that production was soon running at two or three a week.
The entire Continental range was upgraded in 1997 with the adoption of the stylish ‘matrix grille’, a nod to the Cricklewood cars of the 20s and 30s. These ‘second series’ Continentals were better looking, more sorted and packed even greater performance: the Continental T now boasted 420bhp and a colossal 650lb ft of torque. Zero to 60mph came up in 5.7 seconds, top speed was 170mph.
As the all-new Volkswagen-designed Continental GT was introduced in 2003, Bentley quietly withdrew the old school V8-powered Continentals from its range. It was the end of an era.
This Motor Car
According to a copy of the build sheet that accompanies the car, ‘CX67509’ was commissioned by Bentley Munich as a French market car and was delivered in July 2001. As ordered, the exterior colour was Black, the interior Autumn, a ‘soft tan’. The options listed were Burr Oak veneer and a cellular telephone.
The service record book of ‘CX67509’ is stamped accordingly:
18 December 2001. Auto König Anzing, Munich, Germany. 1,572km
1 September 2006. Global Garage, Cap-d’Ail, France. 19,713km
24 February 2014. Bentley Genève, Switzerland. 29,743km
25 September 2018. Phantom Motors, Crondall, UK. 34,613km
29 September 2020. Phantom Motors, Crondall, UK. 35,792km
The most recent owner – believed the second from new – a Swiss-based entrepreneur known for his flamboyant style, had the car’s exterior colour changed by a Geneva coachbuilder to a beautiful satin grey and the cabin cappings from traditional wood to the alternative engine-turned aluminium.
In summer 2018 the Continental was sent to Phantom Motors, the marque specialist of long-standing in the UK that tends our own Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III Mulliner Park Ward Saloon. The brief was to carry out a comprehensive service and bring it up to ‘perfect driving condition’.
Dated 25 September 2018, invoice 005199 ran to eight pages and totalled £16,827.79. Jobs completed included:
• Carry out Bentley Motors No. 2 Main Service including: oil change, coolant change, transmission fluid change, power steering fluid change, air filter change
• Replace engine thermostat
• Refurbish alloy wheels with five new Pirelli P Zero tyres, refurbish wheel centre caps
• Fit new battery and CTEK battery conditioner
• Thoroughly clean interior and treat leather as required
• Wash engine bay area
• Test and re-gas air conditioning
• Test and remap engine ECU
• Dismantle centre console and refit gear lever
• Replace front and rear brake pads, rear parking brake pads. Front discs replaced with uprated (thicker) versions
• Rebuild front suspension with new upper lever and top damper bushes
• Install new front sub-frame mounts. Adjust ride height
• Carry out four-wheel alignment and check suspension geometry
• Remove and refit driver’s window glass and seals to attend to wind noise
• Install new seat Easy Access control module to driver’s seat
After completion in November 2018 the car was returned to Switzerland, put through its roadworthiness test and made ready for leisure trips between Italy and Switzerland. At that time, the car was presented in a non-reflective grey paintwork and it was later decided to have it repainted in its original black by expert Carrosserie Binggeli. In May 2020, the job was completed with invoices totaling nearly CHF 20,000.
Now sporting in its original livery, the car continued to be used sparingly for comfortable and stylish trips, until it was sent to Phantom Motors for an engine overhaul in the summer of 2020. The works totalled £19,888 and included attending to a faulty door lock and electric window, recalibrating the transmission electronics, replacing the Engine Control Module (a cost of £3,516) and fitting a new fuel pump. The car has now returned to Switzerland and is ready for immediate enjoyment.
Still more affordable than a 1980s Aston Martin Vantage, more practical than a Ferrari 550 Maranello, we can think of few cars more suited to touring, participating in chic road-rallies or just cruising the hot spots of the Riviera. The stealth bomber has arrived.