When you hear the word Bentley mentioned, luxury, excellence and heritage are words that come to mind.
Add British to that mix and you can see why it’s become such an iconic brand in the automotive industry since 1919, when it was founded by W.O. Bentley.
Bentley has had its headquarters in Crewe, in the Cheshire countryside, for nearly 70 years.
Sophistication hits you as soon as you walk up to the main entrance of the art deco building and I couldn’t help but notice some youngsters having their picture taken with a Bentley parked outside. This is a brand which actually does appeal to all ages.
The facility started off making the Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engines, later moving onto cars. It was interesting to learn that the exterior of the buildings were painted like terraced-houses during the Second World War to put the Germans off bombing it. Good thinking, as without it many models such as the R Type, Corniche, Mulsanne and the popular Continental wouldn’t have come off the production line.
In these days of modern technology so many car designs are computer generated but Bentley still use the basics, and in their own words, all you need is ‘imagination and a pen’.
Director of Design is Luc Donckerwolke, a Belgium who has worked at Skoda, Audi, Lamborghini and most recently SEAT. He talks about cars, like a fashion designer about their creation, or a photographer about their muse. His passion for cars is evident in the way he describes the visual appearance of a Bentley, making it sound like the elegant masterpiece it is.
From hundreds of sketches when designing a car, these are whittled down and black tape is used to make a full-size drawing of a model (easy to take off and change). Who needs expensive design programmes when a wall and tape will suffice. A winning design is then made of clay and are so life like. The Continental GT example they had bore witness to finger marks from people touching the clay, whilst the door handle bore the brunt of it trying to be opened.
Bentley Production Line
Around 40 Continental GTs are made a week at the factory, which is a small number when you consider the amount of cars passing off the production line at other manufacturing plants in the UK. As an example, the Mulsanne line moves once every 45 minutes or so, the Nissan Qashqai line at Sunderland, every 60 seconds.
But that’s where the time, craftmanship and attention to detail are evident in every Bentley waiting to be picked up by their new owners.
Over 120 colours are available for potential buyers of the Continental GT and for a bit extra you can get it custom made. One buyer brought in his ice blue coloured food processor so his car would match. Imagine seeing a Continental GT parked outside the main entrance in magenta, which was made up for a lady wanting her car to match her nail varnish. If you want to turn heads, then you definitely will.
Opening the door of the magenta creation, the first thing I noticed was the stitching of the Bentley logo on the headrest. In the same magenta over 5,000 stitches make up the design and the stitching is throughout the car giving it such a unique and personal look.
4000 people work at Crewe and watching the workforce, all matching in their polo shirts with their names stitched on the front, is mesmerising.
The steering wheels are all handcrafted and takes an employee around four hours to cover, complete with stitching. Surprisingly for trainees on the job they use something as simple as a fork to make the holes for the stitches.
Bentley Continental GT
The interior is just luxury personified and you can see why it costs £123,850. Options brought it up to £160,420, with the customised paint adding on £3,230. Everything is all hand-crafted, the extra soft leather is imported and any imperfections are marked by hand before the high-tech cutting equipment gets to work. A trip into the woodshop, stacked with veneer sheets is an assault on the senses. As with everything else perfection is key and all veneer panels in a car mirror each other.
The interior of the Continental GT is refined, elegant and the Beluga hide in the magenta one I drove gave it added sophistication. 14-way adjustable front seats make you feel like you’re driving from an extremely comfortable armchair and you can’t help but sit there, with the engine off, just touching the piano black veneer and the leather.
It goes from 0-62mph in just 4.8 seconds and the four-wheel drive car is much more enjoyable to drive down dual carriageways, than stuck behind tractors on country lanes. As an 8-speed automatic producing 500bhp and a top speed of 188mph, you know it makes sense.
Seeing the rear wing appear in the rearview mirror was a sight to behold and you can’t help but be enamoured by the 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 burble, emanating around the cabin like the sound of a Chinook helicopter overhead.
It is very solid as a car, but feels heavy so lacks the fun of a sports car. It is still quite agile though and adjustable suspension deals well with the roads, even making the odd pothole feeling like you’ve just driven over a slight one. Road noise is virtually non-existent, so you are free to listen to the formidable engine note.
Fuel economy isn’t great at 26.7mpg and CO2 emissions are 246 g/km, but if you could afford one then efficiency is going to be the last thing on your mind.
Not surprisingly the colour had most people stopping and staring, but if you do want something well crafted and quintessentially British then you can’t go wrong with a Bentley.
I came away completely fascinated by the factory tour and was very excited to see they are available to the public, so would recommend it to everybody. You don’t have to be a petrol head to enjoy witnessing the amount of skill that goes into producing a Bentley. With that I’m off to investigate the price of a used Continental GT...preferably in magenta.