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March 08, 2013

Glamour To Go: Bentley Continental GT Convertible

JL4_8104“It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat- boxes and supper boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory, we started to town.”

-    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The year was 1922 and it was nine o’clock in the morning when Gatsby drove up to Nick Carraway’s bungalow in his Rolls Royce. At this particular time in history, Bentley had not yet come across the pond. But, most certainly, if it had been available in the US, Gatsby would have owned one.

In fact, nearly a decade later, in 1931, Rolls Royce acquired Bentley. The companies eventually parted ways in 2002. (It is said that Bentley aficionados refer to these six decades as "the blackest of all.")

Several years ago when I visited the Body Assembly Hall in Crewe, England, the factory where Bentleys are handcrafted, my guide Slim proudly explained, “Bentley Motor Cars, in operation since 1919, started off with the 1920 2 Litre, a vehicle which went on to win the Le Mans in 1924. Bentleys have been making beautiful history ever since.”

Everyone from royalty to Ian Fleming, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Kobe Bryant have owned Bentleys. And even if these vehicles do not assume the same bloodlines as the Rolls-Royce, it is fair to say that driving in a Bentley evokes the same kind of sentiment as Fitzgerald’s poignant quote from The Great Gatsby.

I recently took the new Bentley Continental GT Convertible on a road trip out West. We started in Phoenix, Arizona weaving amongst the magnificent red rocks of Sedona, overnighted at the legendary El Tovar Hotel on the south lip of the Grand Canyon and skimmed across route 66 to end up in Las Vegas. A road trip worthy of Gatsby… or the infamous Bentley boys, a group of wealthy, adventurous 1920’s Londoners who took their name from their favorite car.

_JL70569The magnificent car, the fastest four-seater convertible in the world, was colored a brilliant sunburst gold. It twinkled with bright ware and possessed a cabin plush with exotic woods and soft hand-sewn leathers. Unlike Gatsby’s car, the GT was not “swollen to monstrous lengths” (nor is any car I can think of today except a Hummer limo). 

No, this creature was lean, curved and tweaked to the kind of refined athleticism that takes it from 0-60 in 4.1 seconds and can reach speeds of 202 mph.  That, of course, is not at all difficult to achieve when you are driving a turbocharged 6.0 liter W12 with 616 horsepower and an eight speed transmission.

A Bentley, yes indeed. But a car that, like many of my favorite brands (Ponds, Quaker Oats, Oreo, Chanel, Revlon), has retained an esteemed heritage.  And, like my favorite brands, Bentley has evolved with the times without tarnishing its roots. 

The new Bentley Continental GT Convertible has added essential new ingredients – like automatic neck warmers for top down driving, a smashing Naim sound system with custom built speakers (with audio balance settings that automatically alter when the roof is lowered), an engine that has been finessed for sound, permanent all wheel drive and a sport mode for more gutsy driving. 

And, in the cabin, the dark tinted aluminum ‘engine spin’ finish was inspired by the dashboards of the Le Mans winning Bentleys of the 1920’s.

Years later Bentley’s essence remains the same. I spoke to Paul Jones, Product Line Director of Continental/Head of Product Management. We were discussing vehicles that have kept their lineage intact such as the Porsche 911, Beetle, MINI, Mustang, and Range Rover. (We didn’t mention Rolls Royce.)

BentleyDrive_010“The 2-door Continental GT / GT Convertible have always taken their inspiration and emulated the 1952 R-Type Continental. It was probably the most significant 20th century post-war Bentley,” he explained. The R-Type, launched in 1952, was the fastest 4-seater car in the world, with a top speed of 120 mph. 

Fifty years later the 1st generation Continental GT made its world debut at the 2002 Paris Motor Show, where it also claimed the title of the world’s fastest 4-seater, with a top speed of 198 mph.  

Jones noted, “Again, in 2013 the GT Speed Convertible can claim to be the fastest 4-seater convertible in the world.   The muscular rear haunches of the R-Type are clearly echoed in the current Continental GT / GT Convertible body styling, giving the impression of huge reserves of inner strength…almost like a large wild cat / tiger waiting to pounce.

“The challenge is indeed how we retain this vehicle’s entire DNA but also in the future ensure that the car remains relevant and contemporary,” he concluded. “Maybe I should re-state that this is the privilege not challenge, as the Product Line Director.”

Holly Reich



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