Left-hand drive, desirable second-series European specification car
2001 Bentley Continental T
“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
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 a new owner’s enjoyment in 2019.
The concept of ‘stealth’ and a wide-body Bentley Continental T make strange bedfellows. Yet this car, in its non-reflective grey paintwork, is the ultimate under-the-radar high performance classic, one capable of delivering – via 650lb ft of torque from as little as 2,000rpm – a sledgehammer punch via the merest brush of the big drilled accelerator pedal.
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.