– which either have an engine three times too small for their body, and hence look like a 40yo stuffed into shorts, blazer and school cap in some desperate school dinners reaction. Or they have the proper engine and calamitous depreciation.
But none of them have the sheer gravitas to pull off the role of super-saloon. For that, you need to look at Crewe and the last of the Proper Bentleys. I’m not referring to the curiously cramped interiors and melted-candle designs of the Arnage. No, for the real Beefy Boy you need the Turbo R.
Launched in the early 1980s as a Rolls-in-drag, the Bentley soon got the grunt it deserved, after a research project handed out to Broadspeed engineering showed that adding a truck turbo to the 6.75 litre engine could transform the old lady into one that growled. The engine, designed for absolute refinement and silence, is desperately limited by its overhead valve design and the input and output tracts are tiny. Hence the rev limit of some 4500rpm – there is no point attempting to go further. The advantage of a vehicular blowjob, however, allowed the old dear to gobble faster and with more gusto.
The original Bentley Turbo was a curious thing. All go and no steer, stop or cornering. This was soon replaced by the Turbo R, with the R standing for Roadholding, or Ruddygoodfun or some other appropriate term. And then the model settled down to a long period of extraordinary sales success, and rapid development.
With the RT, Bentley reached its peak. The recipe was simple – take the Turbo R body in its RL stretched form, where 4″ of metal is inserted into the rear doors and hence rear legroom. Pull out the perfectly adequate 360-ish horsepower engine and shoehorn the engine and running gear from the newly launched, T for Terminator, Continental T.
Now roll these figures around… 400bhp. 590lb·ft of torque. A turbo not just from, but the size of a truck. Zytek state of the art engine management. A monumental air-water intercooler system plonked on top of the engine, cooled by a radiator in the front wing big enough for a decent family car.
And if that wasn’t enough, then Sir will be interested in the options available from the Rude And Naughty Department at Bentley, codenamed “Mulliner”. There, your wallet could be torn to shreds. An ECU upgrade lifted the power to 420bhp and the torque to 650lbft. A Mulliner handling kit, consisting of bright yellow painted anti-roll bars front and rear, the thickness of small tree trunks, which could cut down the ungracious behaviour when escaping from gun toting terrorists or smelly foreigners. A thick leather steering wheel, and even a “jewelled” machined chromed fuel cap, hidden away behind the power operated flap were all available.
The serious drivers ticked all the performance boxes, and ignored the coachbuilding nonsense like picnic tables in the back of the front seats.
And so with the RT, laden with Mulliner naughtiness, the last of the proper Bentleys was born. With the later Arnage, Bentley had a best-forgotten foray into a twin turbo’d 4.4 litre BMW V8. This was soon replaced with the trusty 6.75 unit. But the tide had turned – VW were now the owners.
So what is the attraction of the RT? Simple: it’s big. It’s fast. It’s rude. And a mint one goes for around 40 grand.
When I spotted it in the showroom of a Bentley dealer in west London, my wallet twitched. Soon the deal was done. What particularly enamoured me to the car was its full dealer service history, the 8 grand service bill some six months earlier, the fact that the dealer I was buying from hadn’t touched the car, and that there was every indication that this car was one of Prince Jaffri’s toys. Indeed, looking at dates, and with inside knowledge at both Bentley and Aston Martin, it’s not impossible to suggest that Jaffri, the brother of the Sultan of Brunei, had ordered the car. It was in his personal favourite colours – black exterior with red pinstripe, all-black interior with red piping. A true Batmobile of a Bentley.
Driving the car was scary. It positively lunged at the horizon. There were a few things which didn’t feel quite right, and some faults soon came to the surface. At this point, I had to make a hard decision. Did I take the car back to the originating dealer, which I didn’t trust as far as I could spit? Or would it be a good idea to drop the car into my local Bentley Franchised dealer, Bentley Essex in Colchester, for a once-over and fault fix?
The problems were not major, except for one – the Engine Check light kept coming on randomly. When this happened, all turbo boost was lost and the engine dropped into limp-home mode. Investigation at Bentley Essex showed that one of the pressure valves on the inlet manifold was sticking. A replacement and tweak of a few other things, and I had a bill for over a grand. However, they pronounced the car to be in excellent health.
But a few weeks later and the Engine Check light was coming back on with a vengeance. I could clear it by stopping the engine and restarting it three times. On the third start, the fault code was cleared from the ECU, the light went out and power was returned. But at some random distance, from 20 yards to 20 miles later, the light would come on and the Über-grunt was lost.
Back to Bentley Essex. Ah, it’s the other pressure valve sensor thing. That got changed, and the bill was around 400 notes. I asked for the suspension, especially at the rear to be checked, and they said it was fine. I thought, however, that it was a trifle bouncy, as if the car was pivoting vertically around the front axle.
The following week, I visited Phantom Motor Cars in Crondall, near Guildford. They had been recommended to me by a guy on Pistonheads as being the best place in the UK for Turbo R work. I dropped in first thing in the morning, and met a most amiable pair of brothers. We talked about service schedules, the work they did and so forth. We then took mine out for a little run. Before we had left the forecourt, Simon told me that the rear suspension wasn’t working at all, and that both rear suspension spheres were evacuated. “You’re not intending to drive far on this, are you?” was his worrying comment. Fortunately, they had the parts in stock and dropped everything to make the car road-safe for me, fitting two green spheres at 80 quid each and a hundred in labour. The ride was transformed. Quite what the calibrated bottom at Bentley Essex thought the week before is beyond me.
We had the car up on the ramp, and both Simon and Stuart gave the car a thorough checkover. The fact that most of the front suspension rubbers and joints were worn out was pointed out to me – it was obvious when you looked. The ride height front and rear was wrong. All stuff that you would expect after 8-9 years of 2.5 tonnes of weight sitting on a car’s suspension, but things that I had hoped the full dealer servicing would have picked up on and fixed. It seemed not to be so – my faith in Franchise Dealers took yet another knock.
We agreed to book the car in for a full service in a couple of weeks time, and to take the plunge and do the full suspension rebuild that was necessary.
At this point, I hope you are sitting down…[the full horror to be revealed in the next entry- ed]