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Bentley Continental

Bentley Continental Published: 5th Oct 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Continental T
  • Worst model: Anything neglected
  • Budget buy: Continental R
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L5342 x W2045mm
  • Spares situation: Good new and used
  • DIY ease?: Not too bad at all
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Slowly
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A lot of majestic metal for the money
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Speedy, stylish sports offshoot based upon the Mulsanne Turbo in coupé and cabio guises. Rising in value yet still value for money and not overly expensive to run either. A great alternative to old school Aston Martins

Utter the word Continental in car circles and we’d wager that most would conjure up thoughts of the ‘Baby Bentley’ that quickly became such a wow with WAGS. However, the more enlightened will tend to steer towards its more cultured and classical forerunner.

The Continental of the early 1990s remains a unique blend of old-fashioned Bentley values twinned with modern craftsmanship and the first dedicated model since the original Conti’ of 1952. We have the muscular Bentley Mulsanne to thank for it. When this rebadged Silver Spirit saloon surfaced in 1980 it marked a definite split of the two brands. Rolls kept its classy status while Bentley went down the sportier route.

Today Conti’s have a fantastically broad appeal, which ranges from the most dyedin- the-wool of enthusiasts to those after a shapelier Mulsanne and they make a viable, alternative to any Aston Martin or Ferrari.

History

1980 Mulsanne launched same time as new Silver Spirit but with a more sporting air, especially when the Turbo and Turbo R offshoot surfaced.

1991 Continental R coupé introduced. Owing much to the 1985 Project 90 design, the Continental was the first Bentley since 1965 and the last one ever before Volkswagen took over! Not dissimilar to the Rolls Camargue of the mid 70s thankfully, the Continental was far more attractive. Underneath was the familiar running gear from the Turbo R, including the muscular 6.75-litre 360bhp (385bhp from 1994) turbocharged V8. All that power ran through a new GM-sourced four-speed gearbox with central floor mounted gear shift – another first for a Bentley.

1993 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 make this fine car even better.
1995 New more efficient ZYTEK engine management system, which, along with better turbo cooling, liberated a touch more power and economy. Traction control – which ran through a viscous limited slip differential – as well as larger 17inch wheels were deemed necessary.

1997 Continental T added to range yet almost a completely new car. A four inch shorter wheelbase, flared arches, uprated suspension and massive 285/45 series rubber made the Continental a genuine iron fist, velvet glove supercar.

1999 A sun-seeking spin-off called the SC (Sedanca Coupé), is offered with a novel twin-panel glass sunroof, special sports seats a 30watt ICE system and a GSM digital phone package. Later fully-fledged soft tops are known as Azures.

Driving and press comments

Does the Bentley go as good as it looks? Well, remember that under that stylish skin the chassis was based on a 40-odd year old design and one weighing in at a hefty 5340lb so it’s no hot hatch.

As Autocar found out in its road test: “The Bentley Continental R makes no apologies – it’s not a stuffy old, ponderous barge. It has the dynamics to go with the luxury,” it enthused.

Open the taps and that tarmacshredding 400bhp and 650lb ft of torque (a record figure for a production car at the time) V8 – more raucous on the Conti R – can keep up with the majority of so called super cars on the straights – impressive for a car that weighed two Mondeos!

Handling is tidy for such a biggie too. Hardly nimble, but the Bentley is as adept as an Aston Martin V8 or Virage – and it’s a whole lot more restful when simply cruising although Car criticised the T for its “vague, indecisive steering” but not the car’s “extraordinary” braking. Overall it rated the car for its “ambience and exclusivity” plus the “magnificent cockpit” but reckoned the driving experience “not distant enough from the sort routinely delivered by a Range Rover.”

For something coming from the Rolls stable, a comparative lack of refinement may surprise you. Expect a few creaks and groans – especially in the more raucous Continental T – and a ride that’s not the most soothing around. Motor Sport thought the SC, despite its shorter wheelbase the better riding thanks to softer bushes and reprogrammed electronic dampers.

Finally, it’s a reasonably spacious sports 2+2 and passengers, even those sitting in the back, aren’t likely to complain too much on a long journey, unless it’s a SC.

Values and marketplace

If you compare this Continental to the later GT and a Mulsanne Turbo, then they aren’t exactly bargains. Forget the trade book prices that are still being touted around, it’s unlikely that you’ll see anything half decent for under £25,000 and bank on ten grand more for a nice one from a specialist which can rise to £80,000 for a ravishing R (expect more for the rarer and more sedate) SC, but considering the starting prices of £175,000, it’s still a bit of a bargain.

The most popular model is the 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 rare Le Mans models in particular can command almost six figures. More powerful S typically commands ten grand over a normal R and cream-of-the-crop SCs sell for six figures.

Without question these Continentals have future classic potential that far exceeds the mass produced later GT although prices have levelled off of late and they are not appreciating as well as many anticipated.

Continental Rs are regarded as the best all rounders as the more compact T is not as good as a 2+2 (not that the regular Continental can be called spacious) unless for small children while the sun seeking SCs perpetually ship in water.

The post 1995 cars with their superior engine management system and other improvements are the best buys although condition is first and foremost as there are no bad buys unless the car in question has been neglected. The SC is super showy but the leaking roof along with less cabin space may not be ample compensation for that sun seeking Sedanca. The Continental T is the most hard core and prices are distancing themselves from other models.

Improvements

For many, the best ‘improvement’ for want of a better term is to have a good specialist get the car up to spec as many are now out of sorts with worn bushes and suspensions and inferior tyres. That V8 has been taken to 7-litres and we’re sure mapping by a tuning outfit is possible, although most owners think a standard car is lively enough and opt for a better suspension instead, such as the long established Harvey Bailey conversion kit. The T variant is firm enough already and, on all models refinement will suffer if the suspension is beefed up – it’s not a GTi you know – so you have to decide what you want. Paul Brightman of Surrey-based Royce Service and Engineering (01737 844999) has a range of personalising and mechanical upgrades.

What To Look For

Trim

 

  • What a place to be but not all will be as good as the Contis we have pictured! Lacklustre leather and woeful wood will cost thousands to bring back into line.
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  • There’s plenty of toys to play with – and you may find also a lot of bespoke accessories – but are they all working? Don’t be in a rush here and ensure that everything is operating properly and this includes the sophisticated air conditioning system. And don’t be fobbed off that it simply requires a re-gas…
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  • On SCs check the rollback hood’s condition along with its runners, etc. They were rarely water tight even when new, hence their Soggy Carpets nickname. Obviously, if this has been allowed to continue it could lead to damaged trim and even floor rust. Azures are generally fine in this respect but check all the same.

 

Engine

 

  • The 6.75-litre hunk of an engine is hardly stressed with its lashings of lazy torque even when turbocharged, but the Continental T is quite highly tuned and will, no doubt, have been driven much more enthusiastically.
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  • A maintained V8 can rack up 250,000 miles with ease. Problems occur if anti-freeze isn’t changed and loses its anti corrosion properties, causing block’s iron lines to contract and squeeze the pistons resulting in a knocking sound. Fitting new ones isn’t a DIY job as block has to be heated up.
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  • Smoky start ups could mean that the turbo unit is on the way out, at a cost of £2500 for the component alone.
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  • Being an engine dating back to the late 1950s, it can be straightforward to work on. A typical top end overhaul and decoke can be done at home easily. A kit costs around £300 but valves cost £100 a go on average, saving thousands.
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  • As these cars are normally playthings they can be subject to irregular use and servicing, which can gum up the engine and its hydraulic tappets leading to poor running.
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  • Cracking exhaust manifolds is quite common so listen for poor running and a chuffing. They cost over £500 per bank but you can obtain second-hand ones.

 

Running gear

 

  • Continental rides on active suspension and replacement dampers are extremely expensive at some £650 a corner. However, overhauling them, can be done for half the price.
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  • If the handling feels out of kilter on a test drive, then get the system checked out by a known specialist.
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  • If self actuation rods or spheres play up or there’s a fault in the ECU dash warning light should tell all (has bulb been removed?). New valves can cost around £700 if faulty.
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  • There’s a bucket load of compliance bushes that deteriorate and wear, ruining that best in the world feel. At the front, ball joints, bearings and so on all wear and there’s a lot of of them so speak to an expert. Subframe mounting bushes (also known as Brillo pads) perish.
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  • The work-of-art braking system was first seen on the Shadow half a century ago. The pipes and hoses last pretty well, but need regular servicing to perform properly.
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  • However, they need expert care. A full hydraulic service at 90,000 miles is essential and will cost at least £2000 so ensure this has been carried out or negotiate the price accordingly on a high miler.
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  • Brakes have their work cut out for them on a car of this bulk and brawn, so worn discs and pads won’t be a surprise. A proper overhaul will cost up to £2000 so don’t dismiss servicing faults lightly.
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  • An Alcon brake upgrade kit was available when the car was in production but owners had to shell out a whopping £20,000 for the privilege. Even now a set of pads cost the thick end of £1000.

 

General

 

  • See how many owners it has had; a long list suggests problems. Ensure the car in question is inspected by someone in the know. 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.
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  • If this isn’t possible then it’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.
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  • Continentals are eligible for classic car insurance and, on a limited mileage, cover can be inexpensive.
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  • Hardly cheap or easy to maintain but, in fact, spare parts aren’t as expensive as they can be for similar top-end classics. An exhaust, excluding the catalyst, is around £1300 with an exchange gearbox for not much more. A starter motor will set you back under £500, a rad less than £300, an alternator around £675 and a front headlamp lens should be well under £100 depending where you go.

 

Body and chassis

 

  • Just because it’s a coveted classic doesn’t mean all have been well looked after. Rust is a worry so inspect well. Sills, wheel arches and the floor pan are all susceptible to corrosion. Check the sills first as it costs some £3500 per side to properly replace.
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  • Lift the carpets in the front to check for damp (especially on the SC) as this will rot out the footwell in no time at all if it isn’t dealt with. The rear valance panel is also worth checking and, as always, look for signs of repairs.
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  • Don’t dismiss stonechips or light accident damage 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 another £3000 or so.

 

Three Of A Kind

Aston Martin Virage
Aston Martin Virage
Launched slightly earlier than the Bentley, Virage is not the most universally appreciated Aston but like the Continental, is the last of its kind. Early cars weren’t that hot to drive ditto build quality and it took the revised Vantage to put most things right. Available as a coupé or drophead Volante, this Aston used to sell at Auction for as little as £10K but those days are over and good ones can sell for up to 70 grand, although bargains are still around. Its time is coming!
Rolls-Royce Camargue
Rolls-Royce Camargue
Launched 41 years ago to cater for a younger buying clientele, the Camargue is like a cure’s egg. A bit roomier than the sleeker Bentley but the slab styling isn’t to everyone’s taste. Based upon the Shadow, albeit slightly higher tuned, it drives pretty much like one and is no match for the Conti; it depends what you’re after and these elder Rollers are now starting to gain a fanbase. Prices broadly similar to the Bentley and running costs similar to a normal Shadow (see our feature elsewhere).
Bentley GT
Bentley GT
You either like or loathe the modern Continental because it’s based upon a Volkswagen saloon. There’s much more to it than that, of course, and few can argue about the performance provided by this awesome all-wheel drive V12 super car that can be bought for around 20 grand! Cheap to buy alright but the Bentley is complex and pricey to repair and many are being bought by chancers with empty pockets. Don’t get lumbered with their cast-offs…

Verdict

With prices stagnating, the time to go Continental is now before they rise again. Yes you can pick one up for £25,000 but you get what you pay for. It’s a completely different animal to the ‘baby Bentley’ and as such appeals to a different buying base. That said, we know of specialists who have experienced GT buyers trading-in for this older, more traditional – and dare we suggest classier – namesake and the last ‘real’ Bentley. And who can blame them?



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