Bentley’s Continental GTC is a fitting tribute to a century of British-built brilliance.
A hundred years ago, on 10 July 1919, an engineering-obsessed ex-Naval officer named Walter Owen Bentley decided to start his own car company. With no more than £8,000 in his pocket – the money he’d been awarded for his efforts designing aircraft engines during the war – W.O, as he was fondly known, founded his company on the principle of creating ‘a fast car, a good car: the best in its class’.
Fast forward a whole century and his dream is still very much intact – to the tune of 2.86 tonnes, to be precise. What lies before me is Bentley’s latest topless Continental GTC. As the youngest Bentley in a long line of luxury, long-distance grand tourers bearing the Continental badge, the model has been a staple runabout of the rich and famous since the first ones took to the road in 1952.
Like Bentleys of yesteryear, it bears the marque’s signature circular headlamps, lashings of leather and more wood than a lumberjack’s log yard. On paper, the brand DNA doesn’t appear to have changed much since the early days of W.O’s dream but in reality, the cars are a world apart.
Since the Bentley brand was absorbed by the juggernaut that is the VW group in 1998, it’s benefited from a significant injection of cash. Despite this, the Crewe-based car maker is still a bastion of British-built brilliance and, on the surface, appears as independent as the day it was first created.
After 67 years, the Continental still has enormous road presence, going about its business with a quiet confidence
The Bentley story is essentially a 100-year quest for perfection – a tale best told over several brandies and a couple of cigars in Morton’s, frequent haunt of the Bentley Boys of the roaring 1920s. But this is no history lesson. There’s 120 miles of Andalusian tarmac ahead of me and I have a plane to catch in Seville.
Top down, ignition on, W12 burble and blast off. The near three-tonne behemoth makes short work of a 0-62mph dash, going from car park to the top of the road in just 3.8 seconds, sprouting a trail of dust but not a hint of drama. While your internal organs are gently being pushed back into the sumptuously soft leather seat, the GTC’s W12 is busy dispatching all 626 horses through its all-wheel-drive system and a healthy dose of what can only be described as witchcraft.
Designed by the marque’s chief designer Stefan Sielaff and his crack team of car creatives, the latest Continental is a conservative but painstakingly considered design. In a market awash with garish supercars, it’s a quietly understated and classy competitor.
Far sleeker than the previous generation, Sielaff and his team worked their magic with the lines of the new Continental, raising the waistline, shortening the overhangs and adding “more prestige mass” which, in layman’s terms, translates as the area between the front wheel and the windscreen. After 67 years, the Continental still has enormous road presence, going about its business with a quiet confidence that coolly hints at the savage performance hidden under its exquisite Savile Row suit.
The 'cricket ball' version
The journey from Marbella to Seville is made up of twisting roads that wind their way along the stunning valleys of Andalusia, passing by sleepy olive groves and picturesque towns and villages. The snaking mountain passes are all but deserted as I make my way through southern Spain towards my final destination. As far as test environments go, this one is pretty much perfectly suited to the open-top Continental – the sun pours in while there’s nothing but acres of clear sky above. Blue-sky motoring at its best.
The Bentley breezes over lumps and bumps without flinching – its ride is the most refined yet with a nifty air suspension set up ensuring its occupants are treated to magic carpet-like levels of stillness in the cabin. On the centre console, there are four settings to choose from – Comfort, Custom, Bentley and Sport.
Stating the obvious, Comfort is for those looking for that oh-so-special waft only a land yacht like the GTC can produce, Sport stiffens the suspension and sharpens the throttle response, Bentley mode is, err, Bentley’s recommended set-up and Custom lets you create your own. While Sport might be ideal for B-road blasts, wafting in Comfort while cool air chills your backside through perforated calf leather is something every Bentley owner is in the market for, right?
With the roof down and the mild Mediterranean breeze gently flowing in, there’s plenty of time to appreciate your surroundings. The GTC’s cabin is a sublime place to sit, and offers all you’d ever need, or nothing if you prefer, with something Sielaff labels ‘digital detox mode’. Sitting front and centre of the dashboard is a trick, three-faced rotating display (a £4,700 option), which switches between a full 12.3-inch touchscreen, the choice of three analogue dials or, for the ultimate escape, nothing but an expanse of flawless wood veneer.
There’s very little that comes close to matching the all-round capabilities of Bentley’s beautiful and brutish GTC
In a world dominated by screens, the latter option is a wonderful throwback to the uncompromising cockpit designs from W.O’s era. But for nine hours of solid work, 310,675 stitches and 2km of thread, it’s no surprise that the GTC is a pretty special place to watch the world go by. Heck, it’s a damn sight better appointed and possibly roomier than the majority of flats in central London. All that appears to be missing is a cigar and glass of cognac. But, then again, I’m sure there’s an option available for that.
Of course, I could sit here and pick apart the GTC piece by piece but to do that would overlook what this car is truly about. Taken as a whole package, there’s very little (if anything) that comes close to matching the all-round capabilities of Bentley’s beautiful and brutish GTC. It’s a comfortable and practical(ish) daily driver, a competent cross-continental cruiser and, in the right spec, a subtle and stylish sports car that’s just as happy crawling through traffic as it is performing three-car overtakes on a backroad blast. But above all, it’s a tribute to the charismatic W.O and a testament to his founding vision that still lives on a century later.
While this might be one of the last all-out W12 brutes to leave the stable in Crewe, it’s a mighty fine note to sign off on. Bravo, Bentley and many happy returns.
For more info, see Bentley Motors