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Bentley Mulsanne

Published: 17th Mar 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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BENTLEY BOY Racers

The Mulsanne was more than just a rebadged Rolls-Royce – it had its own sportier identity so saving Bentley from the scrapheap

In complete contrast to the Skoda Estelle we featured last month, we’re looking back at Bentley’s Mulsanne and a pair of opposites you’d be hard pressed to beat. And yet in their own strange way both offer remarkable value - the Skoda was new, and the Bentley, now well over 30 years since its launch.

Few folks dream of owning an old Skoda but with prices from £5000 you don’t need wishful thinking to own one of Crewe’s classiest classics. What marks the Mulsanne out more than the near identical Silver Spirit is that the model reinvented the Bentley name and saved it from extinction.

After Rolls’ take over of the carmaker, Bentleys were little more than rebadged Rollers and only about five per cent of Shadows were delivered as Bentleys during its 15 year production run. We didn’t know it at the time but that famous stretch of the Le Mans race track, of which the new Bentley took its name from, stirred the soul at Crewe and not before time. David Plastow, the then chief executive, began thinking he could do some daring things with Bentley to give it a new personality all its own and distance itself from the regal Rolls, just as the new thrusting, power dressing 1980s was getting underway.

We didn’t have to wait long. In 1982 the Mulsanne Turbo was announced; a full fat two ton of a monster of a sports saloon, capable of hitting 0-60mph in less than seven seconds thanks to some 298bhp and a massive 450lbft of torque; independent figures as, of course, Rolls never got involved in such vulgarity. In an era of the GTi and the smaller pocket rockets hot hatches, the Turbo not only went completely against the grain but was almost anti social, even in the decade Gordon Gecko announced that lunch was for wimps and greed is good.

Costing around £60,000, it was too rich even for many rich folk, but like Black Adder’s Baldrick, which was on the TV at the time, Plastow had a cunning plan – a Bentley for those who were broke, well comparatively speaking.

The Eight was essentially Bentley’s Escort Popular. It was a plain Mulsanne with some cost-cutting features such as a mesh radiator grille, less wood and leather and slightly more basic specification. This enabled the price to be pegged at just under the magic £50,000 barrier to attract younger buyers to the badge who might have gone the Beemer or Merc route. Mind you the cheapest Bentley still cost around double what you’d pay for a Daimler

Sovereign HE and a Mercedes 500 SE. About the only car in its class in terms of price was the sharp-suited Aston Martin Lagonda, which is another lottery winning limo that’s sunk to virtual banger status.

Was the Bentley now the best car in the world? In terms of feel good factor, possibly but not build quality. Amazingly, considering the reputation of the craftsmen at Crewe, early Silver Spirits and Mulsannes suffered a myriad of niggly faults and the Turbo had one of its own such as poor starting that only a change to fuel injection in ’86 rectified.

Making Bentley hip was a massive gamble for such a small specHAVE A MULSANNE FOR JUST MONDEO MONEYialist carmaker but it paid off handsomely; 1734 Eights were sold in eight years, before the model was replaced by the Brooklands. Only the Turbo R (R for ‘Roadholding’, a new chassis and suspension upgrade) was more prolific, with 4115 finding owners. Compare this with only 482 Mulsannes sold at the same time, and it was patently evident that Bentley was emerging from Rolls’ shadows.

In fact, Bentley was now proving so successful as a brand that it released the sleek and stylish Continental – the first time a stand alone Bentley had been produced since the original Continental of the 1950’s.

Ten years after its launch, the Mulsanne S2 came along with styling changes, but the most significant revision was the vastly superior four-speed automatic gearbox. 

Engine power was increased for 1994, and Adaptive Ride control and twin airbags featured. By mid 1995, there was improved charge cooling for the turbo and new stylish 17inch wheels.

HAVE A MULSANNE FOR JUST MONDEO MONEY

Magazines found such a coverline too tempting to resist as massive depreciation forced the values of the earliest cars to working class levels. But while you certainly could buy a Bentley for the price of the family Ford, running one was another matter entirely, although those with deeper pockets who were swanning about in XJ6s or top-flight Mercs, found the step up not too painful, especially if the car was used as a special treat. Economy was never going to be the car’s forte but some owners speak of well over 20mpg on a quiet run, something that was entirely feasible, especially on later models when the final drive ratio was upped to a loping 2.69:1 and 2.28:1 for the Turbo.

The differences in driving a Bentley to a Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit remain noticeable. Bentleys ride a lot firmer than their Rolls’ counterpart and the Turbo R is quite astonishing in the way it handles, considering its aged design. Weighing in at well over two tonnes and bulk to go with it, the Bentley was never meant to be a sports car in terms of agility and poise but it is arguably better than an equivalent Aston Martin of a similar vintage. Later S and the Brooklands models benefit from the same suspension set up and while not in the same performance league as the Turbo, are the easier to own.

Enthusiasts trading up from an XJ6 are likely to have been disappointed by the assorted creaks and groans, the shortcomings of a tuned suspension design dating back to the 60’s. Ironically, a Mondeo probably rides more serenely – a point that was not lost on contemporary road tests. “While the Bentley (Turbo R) rides well by most standards it will disappoint those who are used to the very best,” opined Autocar.

Ride apart, few other cars have not so much a feelgood factor but rather an ‘up yours’ one such as a Bentley with a posh number plate (which masks the car’s age well-ed). Some drivers treat it with forelock-tugging deference, others take pleasure in reminding a Bentley owner that he is no more than their equal.

“It is part of the Bentley’s charm, insidiously overcoming one’s initial personal feeling about the car that it encourages the driver to take a relaxed and detached attitude to either reaction,” remarked the ’87 test. In other words, ignore the peasants!

IS IT A CLASSIC CAR OR A POSH CUSTOM CAR?

Silver Spirits grew old gracefully, unlike the Bentleys where the model’s new found cult status has resulted in a popular line of customising gear being offered, such as more aggressive front grilles, added chrome and so on. Blinging a Bentley is the new boy racer look – but more sophisticated.

Never mind the prospect of a Mulsanne for the price of a Mondeo, you can pick one up for the Fiesta money but that’s not the sensible thing to do. We’ve seen them at auction go for £3000 and admit that the look and smell of that interior alone have tempted us many times! But just remember that a hydraulic overhaul will cost almost that much alone, although to be fair, there’s plenty of independent Rolls and Bentley emporiums who can contain running costs and this includes specialist breakers.

Buy a good one for MGB money, slap a personal posh plate to hide its age and real value and everybody will think you’ve made it – and in many ways you probably have.

But is the Mulsanne a classic? That’s hard to accurately answer because, like the Silver Spirit, it’s a car that continues to fall between two stools.

But when you consider that before the Mulsanne, Bentley sales were so dire and the brand so dull, that Rolls-Royce seriously contemplated axing the brand altogether in the 1970s, then it has to be yes. Just ask Audi.

As with all things in life you get what you pay for with an old Bentley so beware. And make sure your eyesight is sound so you don’t make the mistake of buying a Chrysler 300C saloon instead – have you noticed how many have been made to look like the real thing, a majestic Mulsanne?

When The Car Was The Star

Surprisingly, the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit was a more popular sight on screen than the Mulsanne, although it did make occasional appearances in Stella Street. You half expect one to turn up on EastEnders with Phil behind the wheel, wouldn’t you? Del Trotter had the Roller as did a similar spiv-like jack-the-lad in Just Good Friends; remember Vince Pinner played by Paul Nicholas?



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