Reprised by Brian Palmer
They used to say that yesterday’s newspaper front page was tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping yet by the same token a motoring writer’s view of a new car becomes a useful historic reference point for lovers of classic motor cars. With this in mind, I thought that my review back in 2010 of a Bentley GTC Speed model might merit an second airing for any of you looking at one of these select motors gracing the online pages of various specialist car outlets.
It had all started with a phone call from Jack Barclay’s Berkley Square showroom. Would I like to borrow a brand new Bentley GTC Speed model convertible for a day? What do you think? I would have cancelled all my engagements for several months just to join the ranks of celebrity footballers, film stars and general glitterati more usually accustomed to receiving such an offer.
Berkeley Square in the heart of London’s Mayfair is perhaps the epicentre of such luxurious conveyances today but it is also heavily laden with Bentley folklore. Nearby Grosvenor Square was the London home of four of the wealthiest and most glamorous of the Bentley Boys of the Roaring Twenties. When they were not driving hard-charging Bentleys at Brooklands and at Le Mans, the latest products from the Cricklewood factory were to be seen parked up outside their impressive mansions.
Chief among these was Woolf ‘Babe’ Barnato, heir to the Kimberley diamond mine, and later Chairman and owner of the entire Bentley car company. Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin was every schoolboy fantasy of the dapper heroic racer whose exploits were funded on family wealth derived from the Nottingham lace industry. Bernard Rubin was a pearl-fishery magnate, while South African born Commander Glen Kidston (Aviator) enjoyed family interests in the Clyde shipping yards and the Clydesdale Bank.
My brand new Bentley arrived from the bowels of the Berkeley Square showroom in a glass lift – which I thought was a pretty impressive party trick – and after a quick run-down of the Bentley’s multitudinous features I was warned not to scrape the expensive alloy wheels on the notoriously high kerbstones aligning the narrow pavement crossover allowed by the City of Westminster’s Highway Authority. Emerging from the showroom while carefully avoiding any diamond-encrusted dowagers, the prominent kerbstones, hard-charging bicycles, taxis and errant playboy Ferraris hereabouts was an inaugural test of nerve and concentration.
Once this task was discharged without incident, the merest wrinkling of a toe seemed to summon-up enormous reserves of some latent and powerful force. I was soon gratefully swallowed up by the anonymity of London traffic – though being incognito in such a car, even in Mayfair, is pretty difficult as everyone cranes forward to see who is behind the wheel.
Like many a Bentley before it, the GTC Speed achieves its mastery of the road with consummate ease. Perhaps there are faster cars that proclaim their raw power with a teenage yowl or bolides that cling onto the tarmac with a spleen-shattering ride, or yet present themselves with a driving position more akin to a dentist’s chair and with all the practicality of a chocolate hammer.
Fortunately the Bentley ventures nowhere near such passing attributes – rather it gently impresses with its extreme capability and suavity. Like TV’s David Dimbleby at a Royal Wedding, the Bentley GTC impresses with its deep layers of ability delivered with honeyed tones.
Here is a luxury express for all seasons and all reasons. Hood erect the GTC has all the cocooned ambience of the very best saloon car. Even at motorway speeds the interior is as hushed as the reading room at the British library inhabited by a coach-load of Trappist Monks. Need to catch the last dying rays of a fleeting British summer? A button lightly pressed will whisk down the top without any clumsy recourse to levers and catches.
A more than willing adult volunteer attested that the rear seat provided civilised quarters without recourse to a chiropractor afterwards with or without the roof raised. Which confirmed my initial hunch that the GTC appears more commodious hereabouts than its fastback sister.
There’s little doubt, either, about the Bentley’s dreadnaught build quality. The same lustrous sheen applied on the faultless Midnight Black coachwork as on the saloons and came with Beluga black leather upholstery as superbly tailored as any Savile Row suit and matching Piano Black cabinet work.
This all-black finish certainly gave the GTC a mean and moody look and cleverly disguised its bulk but I might easily have been seduced by some of the mind boggling array of bespoke colour and trim combinations available for a new owner to choose. There would be little difficulty in making your own Bentley a unique Bentley.
The ride is never anything but composed, aided by air springs and electronic dampers, so that this big car absorbs road corrugations as easily as it eats the miles. It hugs the road, too, as if held down by giant magnets to the earth’s very core. So the driver is never less than 100% certain of the car’s capabilities.
Cutting the top off a car, even those made by other prestige car makers, can render the result about as rigid as a jelly with a fit of the giggles. Not so the Bentley which feels as solid and flawless as the nation’s gold reserves.
Of course being the Speed model you will want to know what lurks under the bonnet. Many Bentleys of old have enjoyed masterpieces of engineering motive power whether the 8-litre’s locomotive-like power of 1930, the fleet postwar 4.9-litre six of the fabulous Continental, or the later workhorse V8 motor garlanded with Turbo assistance. The aim was always the same – smooth, abundant and effortless power available to the driver at will.
This latest incarnation is about as different as can be by virtue of its unique W12 engine layout. Four banks of three cylinders in a W formation are used to create a very short form of motive power for this class of car that pays handsome dividends in cabin room apart from anything else.
There’s still a healthy 6-litre capacity, twin turbochargers, a monumental 552bhp and prodigious torque. A set of attributes guaranteed to silence even the most garrulous bar room bore. Top speed is but a discreet cough short of 200mph while 0-60mph takes just 4.8 seconds – less time than it takes to open the bonnet to reveal this marvel to an admiring audience.
All of those Bentley forebears were able to take its owner and lucky passengers at speed to a Riviera Resort with ease and promenade effortlessly once you arrived. However, this Bentley Continental is of a different order again.
My drive was not without it frustrations however. I headed out of London to try a combination of country roads and motorways in Kent and Essex. However a motorway accident involving a coach and HGV turned a large section of motorway into a car park and once released heavy commuter traffic via London’s East End, while keeping an eye out in fading light for Speed Cameras, tested my patience rather more than the car.
When replenishing the tanks, prior to returning the Bentley whence it came, a brand new Bentley saloon on trade plates arrived alongside. The delivery driver clocking that this was a new GTC Speed Model and assuming I was its proud new owner nodded approvingly. “ You’ll like that,” he said with some authority.
I did. Although next time I’d like it for at least a week, away from gridlocked traffic and ideally somewhere on the Continent where I could gobble up the miles. Now that really would be a blast.