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Bentley Continental

In the tradition Published: 25th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Bentley Continental

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Zytek-powered examples
  • Worst model: Neglected examples
  • Budget buy: Early R
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L5342 x W2044 (R)
  • Spares situation: Fine
  • DIY ease?: Not really
  • Club support: Strong
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy
Cockpit is what you’d expect from a Bentley and feels sportier than any Rolls. Trim should have worn well, otherwise watch for some hefty resto bills Cockpit is what you’d expect from a Bentley and feels sportier than any Rolls. Trim should have worn well, otherwise watch for some hefty resto bills
Azure is essentially a drophead Continental and more popular than earlier slide-roofed SC which was a known leaker. Azure more a cruiser than stiffer-shelled coupe Azure is essentially a drophead Continental and more popular than earlier slide-roofed SC which was a known leaker. Azure more a cruiser than stiffer-shelled coupe
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Bentley’s Continental mixes old school values with modern virtues. And that’s why this modern is already a classic

Pros & Cons

Style, class, screen value genuine driver appeal, increasing classic status
Can be hugely dear to run, minimal rear space, tired cheap examples, repair and restoration costs
£13,000 - £76,000

The Continental of the early 1990s was a great blend of old-fashioned Bentley values and modern craftsmanship. It turned out to be a real leap forwardfor the prestige manufacturer, as it was the fi rst dedicated model since the original Conti’ of 1952. Famed for producing spor tsman’s cars during the great W.O. days, Bentley morphed into a re-badged, sportier alternative to Rolls- Royce when it was swallowed up by Roller, but the 1950s Continental clung to the purer spirit of Bentleys of old.Thankfully, that all changed when the Rolls- Royce Silver Spur and the equivalent Bentley Mulsanne arrived in 1980 because it marked a defi nite split of the two brands. Rolls kept its classy status while Bentley went down the sportier route – the mighty Mulsanne Turbo being a prime example. Suddenly, true, sporting Bentleys were back in vogue, with heritage aplenty but modern appeal for a more youthful clientele. Whether or not such a break from tradition was by accident or design is debatable, but the Mulsanne pioneered the brand and paved the way for the brilliant Continental. Conti’s have a fantastically broad appeal, which ranges from the most dyed-in-the-wool of enthusiasts to those just after an old motor with some pedigree. Owning one will always be a pipe dream for many, but for the privileged few, the Continental makes a viable, fun and individual alternative to an Aston Martin or Ferrari.


It’s the last of the traditional bentleys

The R-Type Continental set the scene for bespoke sporting Bentleys for the next 50 years and the name “Continental” has always conjured up swish and sleek coupes of the highest order. After the R Type came the S, which evolved through several incarnations, concluding with the S3 in 1965. Throughout this time, a Continental version was available for each, with 431 made in total – blitzing the R Type’s once impressive tally. When the Silver Shadow arrived on the scene in 1966, it seemed odd that the Continental was not replaced, as Bentley followers then had to make do with a badge-engineered, two-door Rolls- Royce Corniche. Bosses hinted at the possibility of a Bentley Camargue at the time but, strangely, it never materialised. Hardcore Bentley nuts had to wait for a quarter of a century – until late 1991 – when a new sporting Bentley coupe was launched in the seductive shape of the Continental R. Owing much to the 1985 Project 90 design, the Continental was the fi rst Bentley since 1965 not to share its body with a Rolls-Royce. It was also the fi rst unique Bentley since 1952 – and the last ever before Volkswagen took over! The styling was catered for by a plucky pair of British designers – Ken Greenley and John Heffernan – and the body was fabricated by Pressed Steel Ltd – the same supplier for theCamargue some sixteen years earlier. Thankfully, the Continental was far more attractive than the dumpy Roller of 1975. Underneath was the familiar running gear from the Turbo R, including the meaty 6.75-litre 360bhp (385bhp from 1994) turbocharged V8. This was gutsy enough to whisk the Continental R to 60mph in a mere 6.5 seconds and on to 145mph – no mean feat for such a bulky car. All that power ran through a new GM-sourced four-speed gearbox with central shift – a fi rst for a Bentley. Four individually styled seats trimmed in the finest Connolly hide and enough Wilton and walnut to deck out a mansion made this the most sumptuous and bespoke Bentley of its time. For 1993 the car received a slight power hike, a new four-speed auto ’box with shift management, adaptive ride control, twin airbags and redesigned seats plus some detailed appointment changes. The summer of 1995 saw the addition of a new ZYTEK engine management system, which, along with better turbo cooling, liberated a touch more power and economy. The extra grunt prompted Bentley into adding a traction control system – which ran through a viscous differential control to harness the added power – as well as larger 17inch wheels. However, the real slingshot was the mighty Continental T, launched early in 1997. A fourinch shorter wheelbase, fl ared arches, uprated suspension and massive 285/45 series rubber made for a monstrous 420bhp supercar-beater. A sun-seeking spin-off was the SC (Sedanca Coupe), introduced in 1999 with a novel twin- panel glass sunroof, special sports seats a mega 30watt ICE system and a GSM digital phone package. Fully-fl edged soft tops are the far more popular of the Azures.


Driving, or even riding shotgun in a Continental is a real experience even on the shortest of jaunts. Just remember that under the cultured coupe body lurks a chassis based on a 40-odd yearold design, weighing a hefty 5340lb – so it’s no hot hatch! That said, you’re in for a surprise if you think that it’s simply a sugar daddy’s express. As Autocar put it: “The Bentley Continental R makes no apologies – it’s not a stuffy old, ponderous barge. It has the dynamics to go with the luxury.” Unusually for something from the Rolls stable, you have to expect a few creaks and groans over rough roads – especially in the more raucous Continental T – but it’s still a wonderful place to be even if the ride is a little lumpy for a Rolls chassis. This explains why the car bore the Bentley Continental badge, as it just wouldn’t sit easy with a fl ying lady mascot up front. Ditto for the performance. Open the taps and that tarmac-shredding 400bhp and 650lb ft of torque far from sedate and not quite in-keeping with the elegant Rolls-Royce way. Handling is surprisingly tidy for such a big coupe. It’s not nimble, but the Continental is up there with the best of the performance saloons such as the Aston Martin V8 or Virage – and it’s a whole lot more restful when cruising. It’s also fairly spacious for a sports 2+2 and rear passengers aren’t likely to complain about the cosseting if slightly cramped experience. Fuel economy is far from the Continental’s strong point – expect around 19mpg from careful driving and a lot less with an over-zealous right foot. There again the Bentley Continental is hardly a daily driver…


Continentals aren’t exactly bargains, but they’ve now well slipped below the £30,000 mark at specialists – that’s the price of a new Audi TT or VW Scirroco and the Bentley certainly won’t suffer from the same depreciation! Used car experts say that £13,000 is the trade value for the cheapest Continentals, with a retail price of £20,000 – so there’s fair room for haggling. And considering the car’s new price tag of £175,000 and it’s a real snip! Don’t expect a car fi t for concours at that price, though. Attractive though it may be, budget Continentals will most likely have mega miles on the clock and could cost their asking price in renovations. For this reason be very suspicious of cars selling around the £20,000 mark. According to leading specialists, £35-50,000 remains the correct amount to pay for well-maintained exam-ples that won’t need a lot of money spending on them to bring back into line. The most popular model is the Continental R of which 1548 were made. There were some special editions too, such as the very rare Jack Barclay Special – just 10 were made – and the lovely Le Mans, of which only 50 were produced. As expected these are all highly desirable and the Le Mans models in particular can command almost six fi gures. The more powerful S model typically commands £9000 over a normal R, model but even in these tough times you’ll do well to net a Continental T for less than £40,000. The cream-of-the-crop SC models can sell for six fi gures. That might sound costly, but it’s still worthwhile if you bear in mind the original list price and their classic potential.

What To Look For

  • We’ve already hinted that it pays to buy a decent Continental and avoid the supposed bargains, which is by far the best way to avoid a duffer. A full service history is essential as the car can deteriorate quickly when neglected.
  • Sills, wheel arches and the fl oor pan are all susceptible to corrosion. Lift the carpets in the front to check for damp as this will rot out the footwell in no time if it isn’t dealt with. The rear valance panel is also worth checking and, as always, look for signs of repairs. Don’t dismiss stonechips on the bonnet either, as a new one can cost up to £3000. Even the lightest of body damage will be hideously expensive to replace – a new wing will set you back around £3000, so beware!
  • The 6.75-litre hulk of an engine is hardly stressed with its lashings of lazy torque, but the Continental T is quite highly tuned and will, no doubt, have been driven enthusiastically. Smoky start ups could mean that the turbo is on the way out, at a cost of £2500 for the component alone, but a rebuild will cost a quarter of this.
  • Malfunctioning air conditioning units are not unknown either. These two-stage systems are fearsomely complex, so try it out on the test drive and ensure there’s plenty of ice-cold air instantly on tap.
  • All models use the hydraulic braking system fi rst seen on the Shadow in 1965. The pipes and hoses last well, but need regular servicing to perform properly. A full hydraulic service at 90,000 miles will cost at least £2000 so ensure this has been carried out or negotiate the price accordingly. Brakes have their work cut out for them on a car of this bulk, so worn discs and pads won’t be a surprise. A proper revamp with new discs and pads will cost up to £2000 so don’t dismiss faults lightly.
  • The Continental rides on a sophisticated active suspension set up and replacement dampers are mega expansive at almost £650 each. However, a more cost effective method is to overhaul the dampers, as this can be done for just half the price. If the handling feels out of kilter then get the system checked out by a known specialist.
  • An Alcon brake upgrade kit was available when the car was in production but punters had to shell out a humungous £20,000 for the privilege. Even now a set of pads works out ata mind-blowing £800. You have been warned!
  • The Bentley’s whopping 285 section tyres would do a lorry justice. As a result, only treasured cars will wear pricey, top quality rubber. Scuffedand rusty alloy wheels can typically be repaired for around £60-75.
  • Thankfully, routine servicing isn’t a problem as there is an abundance of specialists to choosefrom. At around £600 a go for run-of-the-mill maintenance a service is one of the cheaper aspects of Continental ownership. Another plus point is the availability of good used spares from specialist suppliers such as Montague & Co of Bramley and Flying Spares in Market Bosworth, near Leicester.
  • Continentals over 10 years old are eligible for classic car insurance and, on a limited mileage, cover can be extremely inexpensive.
  • Buying privately can reap fi nancial rewards too, but ensure the car in question is inspected by someone in the know. If this isn’t possible thenit’s worth paying the extra and sourcing the car from a specialist where you’ll get good advice and a warranty for peace of mind.
  • Mainstream vehicle experts such as the AA or RAC for example are quite frankly out of their depth when it comes to a car as unique as the Continental, so they’re best avoided.
  • Continentals are hardly cheap or easy to maintain but, in fact, spare parts aren’t as expensive as they can be for similar top-end classics. A full exhaust system, excluding the catalyst, is around £1200 and an exchange gearbox around £1500. Front and rear brake pads are around £113 and £74 per set respectively. A starter motor will set you back £480, a radiator around £268, an alternator around £675 and a front headlamp lens should be just shy of £70.
  • Paul Brightman of Surrey-based Royce Service and Engineering (01737 844999) says the Continental is no dearer to maintain than a Mulsanne; he charges £270 for an annual service, for example.
  • Brightman reckons that the Continental is a classic already and prices have virtually levelled out. He considers the car to be in a different league to the more modern Bentley GT and there’s a whole host of upgrades to make one even better. His company has a full range of personalising parts such as lenses LED lights, mechannical upgrades and so on.
  • Steve Brown, of leading independent Rolls- Royce retail experts Hanwell Car Centre (0208 5671777), reckons that the later 1994 cars with ZYTEK engine management systems and twin airbags are the best choice. “If ever a car can be talked up as a future classic it’s this one”. He’s another specialist who fi rmly believes that the Continental will leave the much fl ashier WAG’s GT in its wake!
  • Chelsea Workshop’s Peter Eatenton (0207 5848363) once sold six in one month alone, so it’s small wonder that he reckons this car represents the last of the real Bentleys. All are good bets he told us although advises that post ‘93 models are worth paying the extra for; £35-40,000 is a typical price.

Three Of A Kind

Aston Martin DBS V8
Aston Martin DBS V8
Another British Bulldog, the Aston V8 is remarkably similar to the Bentley in its style, performance and character. Last of line S4 and S5 cars are the best bets and offer shattering pace. DBS prices are now on the rise after years in the gutter so the time to buy is now before they slip out of reach like other DBs. High restoration costs.
Rolls-Royce Camargue
Rolls-Royce Camargue
Did the Rolls Camargue provide a taster of the Bentley to come? Certainly this 1970s coupe is similar in appearance and luxury, although standard Silver Shadow underpinnings numb the driving experience in comparison to the Bentley. After being forgotten for decades, interest is gaining in the Camargue and prices are now not far short of the Continental’s.
Mercedes CL
Mercedes CL
The closed-coupe cousin to the iconic SL, the CL is right up there with the Bentley in terms of engineering and quality, plus it gives buyers a far wider choice, even if it is a little more common. Magnifi cent to drive and awesome in V12 form, values look unbelievable and far cheaper than a Bentley, but running costs sit in the supercar league.


The Continental does away with the old-fashioned
Bentley Boy values in favour of big performance and refi nement. It’s a classy and cultured sports coupe with Ferrari-beating pace and Rolls-Royce levels of luxury. Hardly a budget, starter classic the Conti is cheaper than top-notch E-types or Astons – and it’s a whole lot more individual. Indeed, comparisons with an old-school Aston DB are entirely valid – and given the six fi gure sums they can go for the Bentley almost starts to look like a bargain!

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