Bentley Recreate The Magic Of Formica

But it’s actually a veneer of stone made to look like a cafeteria counter-top.

2016 Rolls Royce stone_veneers
Bentley’s nice formica trim:

Fatuously, the sales pitch makes a point of noting the stone is 200 million years old. Most stone is very old. 200 million years is nothing. You would have to be very ignorant of the age of the earth to feel 200 million years is a special number. I think the reasoning for stressing the age of the stone is derived from the world of vintage wines. Older vintages are indeed rarer. A 1970 is probably rarer than a 1980. A 1930 would be priceless and scarce.

Formica, ideal for a kitchen work surface or a big, fat sports car.

By extension (and wrongly) a 200 million-year old thing suggests ultra rarity. But old rock is not rare. The world is made of rock much older (try billions of years older). Old rock is as unusual as dust or rain. What makes stone valuable is not its age but the source which is why precious marble carries a name such as Carrera and the highly regarded Travertine is sold for its appearance not its age. Bentley probably also use silver in the car and that’s as old as the universe.

Isn’t the problem with this material, this old rock, that it’s semantically wrong. You walk on stone. Stone is used in a kitchen because of its smoothness and strength. Wood is not quite so semantically-tied to a function, it’s a kind of plastic, it can do anything. Bentley have introduced a material associated with the kitchen and not, perhaps as intended, the palace.

Stone also belongs in the mausoleum or sepulchre or makes up an ancient monument. In addition, it’s pretty tasteless. The interest with wood is the almost-patterning. Stone has random flecks and random-flecks are often used on floors and heavy-duty surfaces such as train interiors. Stone is also fabulously heavy which is not what you want a car to be even if the effect of some material choices necessitates it. Heaviness is an acceptable price for structural elements but entirely wrong for decorative ones.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

48 thoughts on “Bentley Recreate The Magic Of Formica”

  1. I also saw this announced i a press release yesterday … it reminded me of when JC (Top Gear, not the star of Xmas) created a “luxury” car that had the floor paved (I think) in it as a trim feature. I actually checked the date to see whether it was already April (why not, the weather seems to think that it is).

  2. I agree that stone sends out the wrong messages, but then so does timber.

    Actually, it’s amazing you have brought this up because, by an incredible coincidence, I happen to own a car manufactured entirely from atoms that are 10 billion years old.

    1. It must be very valuable.
      Wood is pretty neutral stuff though. It doesn´t weigh much and can be shaped in many ways like plastic. I don´t see why it´s absolutely wrong. It´s a matter of preference like colour.

  3. This has already been tried before, and by none other than Mercedes-Benz during the glorious Jürgen Hubbert Era! Back in the day (’twas the late 1990s, when filmmakers thought that romantically linking the venerable Shir Sean Connery and the budding Catherine Zeta-Jones wasn’t iffy), Daimler executives and designers tried to sell the idea of putting granite veneer into the then-new CL coupé. I believe this was part of Mercedes’ ‘designo’ (pronounced as ‘dee-sign-o’) programme, and hasn’t really caught on – for mysterious reasons -, leaving Bentley to try and sell the idea once again.

    1. That’s really horrible. But there is an advantage of this pattern. I had a similar one in my kitchen ten years ago, and however seldom you cleaned it, it always looked nice. A Swiss manufacturer produced a “Rock Watch” around the ’80s or ’90s, that’s probably what you wear in such a car.

    2. Horrible as it is – that has to be fake stone, isn’t it?

    3. Daniel, it is real granite, that looks like cheap plastic after a very difficult and expensive procedure. Another great Daimler-Benz idea – perfectly realized.

      The price therefore was between 6000 and 9000 Euro (depends on the CL-version)

  4. Good point about the semantics of stone. They just don’t work for me on a car. Wood, on the other hand, has an association with the car dating back to the earliest days (when they were based on the architecture of a horse-drawn carriage and had literal dash boards ahead of the driver.

    Also, and this is a personal opinion, wood trim can have a calming effect, making it entirely appropriate for an environment in which the operator can have their judgement impeded by anger and aggression.

    Stone is cold. I suppose carbon fibre decoration is too, but that at least is another material that is used to make vehicles.

    1. Wood is entirely acceptable. As you say it´s been used in vehicles for decades. So has plastic. Why´s plastic inoffensive but wood raised hackles? Leather is fine apparently but dates back to the carriage as well. It demonstrates to me the illusion of the “form follows function” myth and bogus waffle about truth to materials.

    1. Absolutely brilliant. Good research. I wonder though is the Citroen stone 200 million years old. Maybe they only have stone that is 100 million years old.

      I can´t get over how much collective knowledge there is here.

    1. And it was a really really… really expensive option back then. Like, really todally expensive.

    2. Back to your (understandable) question: Let’s not forget that those were the late 1990s, a period of time when those in charge at Mercedes-Benz believed that the capsizing A-class and brown-accentuated W220 E-class hadn’t really tarnished the brand’s reputation all that much, which led them to embark upon an undercooked electronics offensive that plagues the resultant automobiles to this day.

      In stylistic terms, one can only assume that Bruno Sacco’s red wine had been adulterated, leaving him drugged and apathetic, while Peter Pfeiffer did as Schrempp, Hubbert et al told him to. Crass caricatures, such as the abominable SLR and this particularly ghastly option, were the end result of the kind of hubris that reigned supreme at Untertürkheim at the time.

  5. My point about wood is based exactly on what Jacomo mentions. Wood is a traditional car material and hints at the underlying construction of many coachbuilt cars. As such, it could be argued it is just as semantically inappropriate to modern car design as stone, like lace ruffs on a bomber jacket.

    1. Wood was also decorative. It is wood used in this sense that is quite alright. I am very sure there were carriage interiors where wood was not structural. There are features on your clothes tthat are not structural. While it is not unreasonable to argue against excessive decoration, the same argument knows no non-arbitrary lower boundary. As such it´s an incomplete argument. I have been reading quite a lot of philosophy at the moment it means I like the words “non-” and “account” and “argument”. My view is that Ruskin´s ghost has cast a long shadow over industrial design. David Pye is upfront about decoration and surface finish which he calls useless work but in so doing makes the point that functionality is not the only parameter (narrowly defined) There´s another one: “narrowy defined”,
      We all agree stone is vile inside a car. I will emphasise the consensus here.

    2. No we don’t all agree! At least not until someone agrees with me that wood is no more natural in a 21st Century car than stone. And stone has two advantages. It doesn’t rot and you can cut it so thin you can backlight it. Which conjures up ideas of flush integrated instrument panels and, even, onyx headlights. Bear with me, this is Glamour month.

    3. I’ve made that point before about wood, although I eventually conceded that with a modern treatment it could be quite acceptable, as with the inlaid trim on the Vel Satis.
      And I can actually see some potential in the backlit onyx.

    1. Very much the opposite was the case with the Citroën GS “Basalte” special edition of which you just reminded me. I suspect that not a single part of the car was made from stone, but it had very nice red stripes on a black body as well as matching upholstery.

    2. I do love the names that manufacturers used to dream up for special editions, particularly during the late 1980s to mid 1990s.

    3. Chris .. there could be a whole theme on special edition names (yes, please Mr Editor!). A recent favourite was the Kia Sportage “Axis” which, unfortunately, (being British) conjured up thoughts of the “Tripartite Pact”, but I’m probably (also) showing my age …

    4. SV. That’s a fine suggestion. The only problem is that Mr Editor Kearne has an obsessive desire to keep Monthly Themes to a single word. Can you think of one that would suggest that particular theme? If so, I’ll wait until the sherry has kicked in and pitch it.

    5. Sean, how about “Special-editions”, or is that too much of a cheat? The subject can then be a little broader than just the name and get into the inanity of the “special” kit/ trim/ paint that was applied to make it thus? I recall being bemused by the Citroen AX “K-Way” when being a poor student in Paris at the end of the 80s, and amused by the Renault 21 “Manager” of a slightly earlier era. Some, of course, were very attractive, for example the Visa Platinum of which I have written in the past.

    6. ” I recall being bemused by the Citroen AX “K-Way” ”

      Funny that – when special editions were mentioned yesterday that’s the first car I thought about, soon followed by the VW Golf “Rolling Stones” and “Bon Jovi”…

    7. SV. Simon insists that we keep editorial decisions reasonably secret, since he claims it “increases the mystery and anticipation, rather like a beautiful girl who ….”. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination, he can get quite embarrassingly florid at times.

      Anyway, I think I have a solution and will put it forward when we get together at the next editorial board meeting – assuming we can find a wine bar that Simon hasn’t been banned from.

    8. Laurent, from memory, there was a “Genesis” Polo too (obviously, Genesis being only worthy of a sticker on a Polo) … Best pun of a SE was surely (I’ve mentioned it before) the “Van Rouge/ Van Blanc” used to introduce the Citroen C15 (Visa-based) van to the UK.

    9. “Van Rouge/ Van Blanc”

      Good pun but were they actually special editions or just a slogan?

    10. They were actual special editions with a fun logo emblazoned on the front-facing facia panel of the cargo section above the driver/ passenger cab – I’ll try to find a photo …

    11. The Wiki entry confirms “The C15 was introduced in the UK in 1985, initially badged with the pun ‘van blanc’ or ‘van rouge’ according to body colour.”

  6. What’s today’s sherry? If it’s fino wait a bit as that’s only 15%; if it’s an oloroso then it’ll take less time as it’s 20-22%. Amontillados are in between.

  7. According to Autocar:

    “Split from larger pieces of stone, the slate and quartzite veneers are just 0.1mm thick, and serve as an alternative to conventional finishes such as wood and metal.”

    Is it possible to produce a sheet of stone with a thickness of 0.1mm? I’m convinced it would just crumble.

    1. I can imagine that it’s possible if you first put something on top (like an adhesive foil or similar) before splitting it from the slab. What you see afterwards in this case is not the original surface, but the cut face.

  8. Further on in the Autocar article:

    “It’s cured using glassfibre and a bespoke resin, before being shaped and hand-finished in a choice of four colours: Galaxy, Autumn White, Terra Red or Copper.”

    Perhaps the glassfibre and resin is applied before cutting. Regardless, it goes against nature. Stone is very strong in compression, weak in tension and shear. Wood, being fibrous, is amazingly strong in tension – much better than steel, weight for weight. Using stone in this extreme fashion just seems plain wrong.

    Then again I am a bit of a Phiistine in these matters, conditioned by Calvinism overlaid by Bauhaus philosophy. Visiting the Bentley factory a few years ago, I was treated to numerous demonstrations of wood and leather craftsmanship. All good and well, but I was left wondering if any of this skilled handiwork made the Footballers’ Phaeton Coupe an iota better as a car.

    It’s ALL a veneer – material detached from its physical qualities and functional purpose.

    Not long after, I visited the Morgan factory and found the application of craftsmanship far more honest. Morgan chassis aren’t made of wood, and never have been, but the superstructures are still hand built in aluminium sheet formed on an ash frame, even on the Aero series cars. It’s much the nicest way of making small-volume coachwork, far better than fibreglass, a useful and efficient material, but deeply unpleasant to work with.

    1. Are those two respective tours worthwhile? The only car factory I have ever toured was the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which yielded precisely zero insight into the manufacturing process.

  9. The thinnest stone veneer might be 0.1mm, but it depends on the type of stone, certainly, and the whole laminate will be at least 1mm thick. I, too, assume that it is bonded to the resin before slicing.

    But, again, I return to the fact that using wood as a veneer is no more natural than using stone. Both are dishonest since they lose their structural characteristics when used in this way, although it’s true that wood veneer can exist on its own without a resin base. The main thing wood has going for it is tradition, and I’m disappointed that the free thinkers at DTW are being so reactionary here – that said, please don’t think I actually like that Mercedes!

    I’ve not visited Morgan, Robert, but apart from the odd splinter, I wouldn’t imagine that working on the relatively small amount of timber they use is very unpleasant at all, no more than it would be for a high-end cabinet maker. Certainly nicer than welding.

    1. It’s fiberglass that was referred to as unpleasant to work with…

    2. And he is right, as always. Well, almost.

  10. On the matter of ‘veneers’, I recall that in the early days of the Footballers’ Phaeton Coupe, a VW high-up admitted that the car’s Breitling branded clock had exactly the same quartz electric mechanism that went into the contemporary Passat.

    No mention of whether it was the noisiest thing in the car at 70mph; I suppose it would be drowned out by the ‘Naim for Bentley’ sound system.

    Which I am starting to think may never have been anywhere near Salisbury …

    1. That kind of thing is pure “brougham”. It’s not any different from Oleg Cassini interiors, Cartier Lincolns and the like. The VW guy should never have admitted the Breitling was only a transfer on a clock face.

  11. Mr. Chris Ward,

    Both Bentley and Morgan visits were well worth the effort.

    The Bentley tour was more ‘regimented’, and concentrated on the craftsmanship and bespoke aspects of the operation, but when a few of us showed some knowledge of engineering and production, an extra-curricular detour to the Mulsanne assembly area was fitted in for our benefit. Hilariously tawdry souvenir shop, possibly it has improved since.

    Also the original Embiricos Bentley was on show in the museum at the time. I’d have made the trip to Crewe for that alone.

    The Morgan visit was far less formal, and conducted by Morgan historian Martyn Webb. Pretty much access all areas, except the design office. Highly recommended, regardless of what you think of the cars.

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