Practical classics
Practical classics
Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Bentley Continental

Bentley Continental Published: 15th Jan 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Bentley Continental

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Continental T
  • Worst model: Anything neglected
  • Budget buy: Early Continental R
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes – it’s mandatory
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 5342 x 2045mm
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: For basic servicing
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes; value gains can offset running costs
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A coupé with grace (as well as space and pace)
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

Speedy, stylish sports offshoot in coupé and cabrio guises is much more than a rebodied Mulsanne Turbo and the last of its kind. Can still be a bargain and cost pretty much the same as a Silver Spirit to own and run – if you buy wisely that is…

In the post-war era virtually every Bentley was little more than a badge-engineered Rolls-Royce, so when the Bentley Continental R was unveiled at the 1991 Geneva salon it was a big deal. Here was a generously proportioned grand tourer that summed up everything that Bentley stood for: power, elegance, luxury and a price tag high enough to ensure that only the wealthiest could afford to buy and run one.

Styled by John Heffernan and Ken Greenley, who had also brought us the Aston Martin Virage, the Continental R is motoring at its most gloriously extravagant. Based on the Turbo R’s platform and using that car’s running gear, the Continental R cost £40,000 more than Bentley’s boxy saloon. Later on – with the help of Pininfarina – there would be an open-topped version too, the Azure, which was even more expensive and exclusive.

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.

1984 Aside from the pre-war Blower, Bentley’s all-time greatest model is arguably the R-Type Continental. The Continental brand was revived in 1984 when the Corniche was quietly renamed, and understandably that was a move that was missed by most.

1991 Continental R coupé introduced. Owing much to the 1985 Project 90 design, the Continental was the fi rst 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 fl oor mounted gear shift – another fi rst 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 fi ne car even better.

1995 While the Continental R was an impressive machine, it was trumped by the open-topped Azure. With its distinctive Pininfarina styling it was unveiled in 1995 as the most powerful four-seater convertible in the world – and also the most costly.

It had taken Pininfarina no less than two years to come up with an opentopped Continental R, that time largely being taken up by producing a folding roof that offered weather proofi ng with refi nement. However, creating such an enormous open-topped car that was also torsionally rigid would also prove to be a massive challenge; nobody wanted to spend £215,000 on a luxury car and fi nd there was scuttle shake as they toured the estate. But despite Pininfarina’s efforts, the Azure does suffer from a lack of rigidity and this puts off some buyers. Also a 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.

1996 Continental T added to range yet almost a completely new Bentley. 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. This was a Bentley that put driver enjoyment ahead of cabin space and even (to a degree) comfort too. The assumption was that just 40 or so of these cars would be built, but in the event more than four times this were produced; the £220,000 price tag failed to deter buyers.

1998 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 fullyfledged soft tops are known as Azures. Priced at £245,000, this targa-roofed Continental was the last of the traditional Bentleys and by the time the final one was built in 2000, just 79 had rolled through the factory gates.

Along the way there were also a few special editions. Just 10 examples of the Jack Barclay Special were made in 1996; five years later 50 copies of the Le Mans Continental R were sold to mark Bentley’s return to La Sarthe. These limitedrun models are very collectible but rarely crop up.

Driving and press comments

When Top Gear pitched the Continental R against the Aston Martin Vantage in 1994 it noted that these were two of the finest cars available in the world; only the Ferrari 456GT could come close to matching the grand touring abilities of either of these British beauties. But of the two Brits only one was a proper four-seater GT – and it wasn’t the Aston. The monthly wrote: “You sink your feet ankle-deep into something that seems more like an entire sheep than a mere carpet and everything that’s not clad in grey leather is faced in burr walnut so shiny you could use it as a shaving mirror. The craftsmanship on the door cappings would send the Antiques Roadshow team into ecstasy. And what can’t be veneered is chromed: chrome switches, doorhandles, ashtrays, air vents – which even have natty little push-pull chrome levers to open and close them. True, there’s a bit of a muddle here and there as RR has tried to make modern functions work with traditional materials, but the only truly horrible things are the nasty plastic column stalks which could have been lifted right off a 1970’s Nissan Cherry (possibly were for all we know).

“Sit in the driving seat of the Bentley and you feel at peace with the world and a very superior person indeed. At least you do until you’ve travelled a hundred miles or so, when your thighs will start to complain that they’re riding third class instead of first because the seat cushion is much too short. But it’s still a very fine place to be, and though the Bentley is two feet longer and eight inches wider than the Aston, it’s a whole lot easier to manage in country lanes and city streets, simply because you can see so much of what’s around you.”

However, the Bentley isn’t just about luxury – it also oozes effortless performance, as writer Kevin Blick recounted: “The Bentley is about the only thing that can run the Vantage even close for torque – it’s just 10lb ft short – but the big turbocharged V8 couldn’t possibly be more different from the Aston’s engine. Believe it or not, it’s actually red-lined at just 4500rpm. Even the average diesel revs higher than that these days!

“Where the Bentley stops revving the Aston is just getting into its stride. Understandably, with ‘only’360bhp and a lot more weight to carry it doesn’t have the sheer brutality of the Aston but it is still fast enough to make that famous Rolls-Royce description of performance as ‘adequate’ even more of a quaint old piece of British understatement than ever. It is in fact more than adequate – a lot more. More than enough to shove the Continental past slower traffic at a distinctly undignified pace. “The sort of pace you’d expect from a Porsche, not a stately duchess. We’re talking about a 150mph top speed and 0-60mph in six seconds. That’s the sort of pace. But it’s delivered in majestic style, just as you’d expect from a Bentley. Who needs revs when you’re as fl exible as a contortionist? The Bentley’s power is just there, all the time, pushing you along like a helping hand. Big and, of course, almost completely silent, the Continental R’s engine is louder than a ticking clock. Just. It rumbles in the background like a thunderstorm three

counties away that never seems to get any closer.“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.

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.”

The Bentley’s talents didn’t end there though; the imperceptible shifts between ratios were just as impressive and so was the car’s ability to handle like a much smaller sports car. And despite this the Bentley was reasonably parsimonious, sipping unleaded at the rate of just 11.2mpg – far better than the Aston’s brutal 10.8mpg and you’re unlikely to get more than 16mpg – but what do you expect? Well perhaps, for something coming from the Rolls stable how about, a comparative lack of refinement? Expect a few creaks and groans – especially in the more raucous Continental T – and a ride that’s not the most soothing around.

Values and the marketplace

Evidence of regular maintenance is worth having with any classic, but at this level it’s nothing less than essential. You must buy a car that’s been maintained by a respected specialist and you need to see evidence that plenty of cash has been lavished on the car over several years.

Skimping on maintenance is guaranteed to come back and bite you; putting off that £500-£1000 bill will almost certainly lead to a much bigger invoice further down the line.

Steve Drewitt is a factory-trained Rolls-Royce and Bentley technician, and since 1990 he has run Bournemouth-based Silver Lady Services with his wife Karen. As well as a busy workshop he always keeps lots of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys in stock for sale. He says: “You can buy a Continental R or the newer, four-wheel drive Continental GT for much the same money, while the Azure and the Continental GTC are also worth similar amounts.

But the two cars are vastly different in every way; the newer model is faster, handles better and is more usable but it doesn’t have the classy looks of the older Continentals.

“The older cars are also now going up in value whereas the GTs are depreciating. That’s partly down to their age and also the fact that there are so many GTs to choose from; the Continental R and T as well as the Azure were made in much smaller numbers. The older cars appeal to older drivers; the GT is what younger Bentley enthusiasts want to buy.

“Facelifted cars from the mid-1990s are more sought after than the earlier ones as they look better and are more highly specified. Those earlier cars still make a great buy though and you can buy one from around £35,000, or even a bit less, especially if it’s being sold privately.

“If you want a facelifted car you’ll generally pay upwards of £40,000 for it. Low-mileage or special edition Continental Rs can fetch much more though; I’ve got a 1998 Chatsworth in stock right now (one of just 10 made) that’s done just 34,000 miles and it’s up for £70,000”.

Drewitt continues, “The Continental SC is a rare beast but they do come up for sale from time to time. You’re unlikely to find one for less than £100,000, although it’s easy to spend more like £120,000-£130,000 on one. If you’re in the market for an SC make sure it doesn’t leak because Bentley had a lot of problems getting these cars to seal properly – and removing the roof panel is a lot more fi ddly than you might expect.

“The Continental T is very sought after and they fetch strong money, with prices typically starting at £50,000, although superb low-mileage cars can go for as much as twice this. The forgotten Continental is the S which is worth no more than an equivalent R because nobody ever specifically seeks out one of these editions”.

Improvements

None of the usual rules apply when it comes to upgrades. This is already a car that’s ludicrously fast and impossibly luxurious, so any deviation from the standard specification is unnecessary. There are ways of personalising a Continental though which doesn’t make it better – merely different.

When new, Bentley offered all sorts of packages to personalise the Continental through its Mulliner coach building division, which launched a Personal Commisssion programme in 1999. This allowed buyers to upgrade the brakes, suspension, power, all at vast expense. Buyers could pick and choose from an extensive list of standard options, including up to £4000 on a set of four 17-inch alloy wheels, an in-car fridge (£1110), a wood-rim steering wheel (£1200) and integral navigation (£3675).

There was also a long list of ways that the Continental buyer could tweak the spec of their interior or interior trim, including a bespoke headlining colour (£350), leather-edged Wilton mats for the footwells (£725), a wooden gear lever (£410) and alloy pedals (£350).

Nowadays, the most popular upgrades for these cars is bigger wheels (but generally only up to 18 inches, which the Continental T got as standard), air vents in the front wings and fitting a wire mesh grille, as seen on the Continental T where it’s standard.

Sixty years of superb silky service

The pushrod 6.75-litre turbocharged V8 that’s fitted to all Continentals is as tough as they come, partly because of its relative simplicity that dates back 60 years. Predictably, occasional short journeys and/or a lack of maintenance are the biggest killers of these engines; regular use and servicing will see at least 200,000 miles despatched without murmur. If there’s blue exhaust smoke it’s probably because of worn valve stem seals or a tired turbocharger but neither is especially costly to fix. More problematic is a failed head gasket which isn’t likely but it’s still worth checking for.

All Continentals and Azures were fitted with a GM-sourced 4L80-E automatic transmission that’s incredibly tough, with problems unheard of. You still need to make sure that it’s in fine fettle though, so make sure that the transmission fluid is bright pink; if it’s brown it’s overdue for replacement. Also make sure that the Sport mode works as it should; this changes up later and speeds up the gearshifts.

With a kerb weight of around two tonnes the Continental’s brakes have to work pretty hard to cope. They’re perfectly capable though, with anti-lock fitted to all cars as standard. If there’s juddering through the pedal it’s because the discs have warped, probably because of infrequent (rather than hard) use. Leaky callipers aren’t unusual but rebuild kits aren’t expensive – neither are discs and pads. However, some cars were fitted with an optional Alcon uprated braking system; run-out cars got this as standard. Parts for this are much more costly than for the regular set-up.

Front brake discs for the regular braking system weigh in at £342 apiece from Introcar, with a set of pads priced at £220. The equivalent prices for Alcon-equipped cars are £1704 and £1650…

The shock absorbers are computer-controlled to ensure the ride quality isn’t compromised while also minimising roll. While the suspension itself is generally reliable the shock absorbers do wear out eventually; new or reconditioned replacements are available. Every eight years or 96,000 miles the suspension’s hydraulic fluid should be drained and renewed.

First class travel

Interiors were very expensively trimmed in Connolly hide, Wilton carpeting and acres of wood veneer. Damage is unusual and it all wears well, but if any repairs are needed you’ll pay plenty to get them sorted professionally. Don’t forget to inspect the boot because it’s often overlooked – focus on the tool kit which might be incomplete, while the battery can leak leading to all sorts of problems.

On SCs check the rollback hood’s condition along with its runners, etc. They were rarely watertight 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.

All Continentals came with a lot of standard equipment such as electrically adjustable heated seats, electric windows, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and so on. Check that everything works; there aren’t really any inherent problems, but lack of use and age can take their toll on everything including the components and connectors.

I bought one

Marque specialist intended to buy R-Type… but couldn’t resist continental’s charms and value

Eric Healey has been around Rolls-Royces and Bentleys all of his working life, having run a well known marque specialist focusing on these two brands for many years before retiring. He comments: “I started at 22 and finished at 67, so I know the cars pretty well; we used to do everything in-house including the bodywork and paint, trimming and mechanicals. Our focus was on the early post-war models; I’m still the RREC’s registrar for the post-war six-cylinder cars.

“A little while ago I was at Colbrook, the Rolls-Royce and Bentley specialist near Peterborough, and I mentioned that I was looking for an R-Type from the 1950s. I’m very picky with my cars and I couldn’t find anything suitable so I mentioned that a more modern car might fit the bill as a temporary measure – perhaps a Continental R.

“It turned out that Colbrook had taken in a very nice 1996 example just the day before, so I looked at it and bought it on a whim.

“The car had covered just 44,000 miles when I bought it, and it was in superb condition, but the owner was very ill so he decided to sell it. As you would expect the Bentley is really lovely to drive as it’s so comfortable, well appointed and there’s no shortage of torque. My slightly later car is also nicer than the earliest models as Bentley incorporated a few styling tweaks and improved the usability in small ways – the steering wheel adjusts for height for example, which wasn’t the case on earlier models. The colour scheme also makes a big difference to the desirability; I think the red paint of my car really sets off the lines while the magnolia trim is very classy. Some light colours don’t work so well though, so look at any car in different lights and from lots of angles before buying.

“If you do a lot of miles the fuel costs will be quite steep but most of these cars are used sparingly and the thirst isn’t what you might expect. I’ve done a few long-distance drives in mine, of several hundred miles, and I’ve averaged up to 21mpg – switch it into Sport mode though and I suspect that would halve. “I try to use my Continental as ooft en as I can although it doesn’t do a huge annual mileage. Colbrook still looks after it but there’s no shortage of good specialists around the country who can keep these cars running perfectly. Maintenance costs aren’t necessarily all that high – I think a budget of £1000 per year is ample if the car doesn’t need significant work. But once you’re into the realms of engine rebuilds or major braking system overhauls it’ll soon get expensive.

“That’s why you need to be choosy when buying, and don’t be afraid to call in the professionals to inspect any potential purchase,” Healey advises.

What To Look For

That body beautiful?

The bonnet, boot lid and door skins are made of aluminium while the rest of the car is built of steel. New panels are costly as are used ones, and because of the hand-built nature of the Continental, everything has to be fettled to make it fit properly. The good news is that because these cars are usually cherished and garaged, bodywork damage from impacts or corrosion is extremely rare.

If there is any corrosion lurking, it’s likely to be in the rear valance which is bombarded by road debris and hidden by the large rear bumper so it rusts out of sight. The front and rear wheelarches are also worth a look along with the sills. Electrolytic corrosion is a possibility between the door skin and its frame so check for bubbling just below the window line along the doors.

Three Of A Kind

Rolls-Royce Camargue
Rolls-Royce Camargue
Launched almost 41 years ago to cater for a younger buying clientele, the Camargue is an acquired taste. A bit roomier than the sleeker Bentley but the design’s slab styling was never to everyone’s taste. Based upon the Shadow I, albeit slightly higher tuned, it drives pretty much like one and as a result is no match for the Conti although later cars came with same improvements as Shadow II; it depends what you’re after and these elder Rollers are now starting to gain a fanbase and prices to match.
Aston Martin Vantage
Aston Martin Vantage
Aston Martins have got very expensive in recent years and this one is no exception. It sounds fabulous thanks to its twin-supercharged 5.3-litre V8 that puts out a stonking 550bhp, it’s brutally quick as a result and the interior is every bit as luxurious as the Bentley’s. But the Aston’s cabin is nowhere near as spacious and in reality you need to view the DBS design as a two-seater – or at best a tight 2+2 if you’ve got very small children. Bear in mind that you can also have the car in cabriolet Volante form. Series IV and V are best.
Bentley ContinentaL GT
Bentley ContinentaL GT
You either like or loathe the modern Continental replacement 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 supercar that can be now bought for around 20 grand! Cheap to buy for sure but this Bentley is complex and pricey to repair (dearer than the earlier namesake) and many are being bought by chancers with empty pockets.

Verdict

In a world of small engines and a push for ever greater efficiency the turbocharged 6.75-litre V8 in the Continental is a breath of fresh air (as it were). Effortless performance, unparalleled luxury and discreet lines mark these Bentleys out as something special, but as you’d expect you need deep pockets to buy and run one. But if you’re in a position to own and run one of these cars it’s hard to find a reason not to – the Continental R really is one of a kind and a cheap, viable alternative to a rival Aston or Ferrari. And dare we add a more cultured classic into the bargain?



User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Subscribe