Something Growing out of Season

An early spring arrival in Sheffield:

All Images:

Goodness, it seems a long winter: early December snow followed by unseasonably mild conditions, yet the days are still too short, the daylight pallid and grey. One looks forward eagerly to spring, when the brightness and warmth of the sun lifts the mood and instils new energy and vitality: folk smile, appear more relaxed and less hurried to retreat indoors – and they change their cars. The swapping of cars can happen at any time, of course, and for wildly different reasons, but the auto trade eagerly anticipates the green shoots of spring for the new business it brings.

On a recent dash for urgent supplies of dried coriander(1), I witnessed a previously unseen and unseasonably early new shoot: where once resided an ignoble looking red Fiesta Mk3, that space had been well and truly filled by a product of Pym’s Lane, a white Bentley Continental GT. In the bright sunshine, one’s hat brim required tipping to shade the reflective glare from its shimmering flanks. Heavens, even daubed in winter’s grime, this Cheshire blossom fair shone.

In an area not normally regarded as affluent, arriving home in such an awe-inspiring beast must certainly have caused a curtain or two to twitch. Just as when it was first launched in 2003, this car exudes more than a whiff of professional footballer, if now rather more Motorama National League than Barclays Premiership. A touch garish, maybe, yet it fills this particular driveway quite handsomely. 

Your author has always held a yearning to someday own a Flying B, and the tipping of my hat towards this Maid of February(2) was heartfelt. Its new owner had taken a plunge that I simply could not have countenanced . Brave? Certainly, for this is a very early 2004 example. I know of few people who would contemplate buying any car at eighteen years young, and even fewer prepared to run on a daily basis a six-litre petrol engine capable of at best seventeen mpg. Should their commute be relatively short, the trips to the pumps may be less frequent and, as long as there’s an occasional motorway blast to clear its lungs, all should be well. Such pent-up power still sits uneasily in the urban jungle, however.

Seeing the Continental made me question several matters; the costs of purchasing and running such a behemoth, the reliability and longevity of the Continental, and the reason for its choosing. One can only speculate upon the latter, but hopes the unknown purchaser had accrued enough shekels to treat themself to this indulgence without worrying about any unforeseen consequences. ‘I’ve done enough paper rounds. Now it’s time to splash the cash.’ is the right and indeed only mindset for such a leap of faith. One cannot imagine such an example deriving from Crewe’s Pre-Owned selection either: cars of this vintage, even Bentleys, often end up on pot-holed gravel forecourts festooned with gaudy bunting, offered for sale by individuals with superficial charm, but only a passing acquaintance with the truth.

A government MOT history check reveals that this hulk has covered just over 68,000 miles, a modest tally for its age. A couple of MOT failures for tyres showing more cord than rubber raises questions about the manner in which the car was maintained, the more recent previous owners no doubt struggling to feed this baby the requisite amount of beans.

What might it have cost its latest owner? Perusing the Autotrader website reveals examples with twice the mileage starting at around £13,000, with a decent selection of clean looking cars in the £15,000 to £20,000 range, a not inconsiderable wad of the folding stuff for quite the ingot of metal.

When new, the Continental R cost £124,000, small change even then for a top-flight Premiership footballer.  Has losing over a hundred thousand pounds over the years dulled those 552 horses and 480 torques? Probably, but not greatly if it has been properly maintained, but this by no means a given, however.  It’s unlikely to have visited a Bentley dealership for some time, but any competent local garage can surely handle the W12’s 10,000-mile oil-change, surely the single most important attention in maintaining its health. Spares, however, won’t come cheap.

Ignoring any twitching curtains, I inspected all too briefly the interior’s saddle leather before glimpsing the Breitling dash clock. No obvious signs of wear-and-tear were to be seen. Inside and out, the passing seasons appear to have been kind to this Grand Tourer, which pleased me greatly. Surrounded by new-spangled SUVs and dreary hatchbacks, this car stood out for reasons all good. Yes, it’s huge. Yes, it’ll rattle the neighbours’ window panes on start-up but, amazingly for such a vintage machine, it conforms to ULEZ requirements, which beggars belief.

The pale hue does not flatter the car, nor does it help hide its size one iota. Practically any other colour would suit this car better without any need for shouting its considerable presence. Parked rump facing out, Belgian designer Dirk van Braeckel’s oval styling motif is writ large on the Continental GT; from the shape of the rear window to those contained within the brake lights, the fuel filler and the angled exhaust outlets. The rounded hips and pleasantly junk-free haunches all sit rather well together. A simple black trim strip above the sills breaks up the otherwise white mass. 

The rear three-quarter view is perhaps this GT’s best angle, muscular, purposeful and confident, with no wayward bones. The front, especially in white with its black grille and slightly askew circular headlamps, doesn’t sit well with me. It is rather blunt and plain, certainly when compared with current visages that err in the opposite direction; bespoilered, multi-tiered and aggressive. The car’s heavy and somewhat inert stance does not suggest 200mph performance, but those (apparently unkerbed) huge alloy wheels and wide tyres hint at its potential. The Continental R is certainly no delicate Lily of the Valley, but I’m glad such monsters can, against all odds, still exist in the suburban environment.

With a fresh spring in my step, my mind drifted to thoughts of having that amount of power under my right foot, then to those unsettling feelings concerning the cost of owning and driving such a thing, and finally to the realisation that in Nimrod, my Volvo S90, I may not have anything approaching the same brute power, but I pilot a car much more ethical, balanced and sane, one more in tune with these anxious times, yet I still enjoy the sense of occasion it delivers. Nimrod has been referred to as the ‘Swedish Bentley’ on more than one occasion, a compliment I’m happy to accept.

Still, that W12 would still make for great company on the coriander hunt…

Author’s note: Discretion and the aforementioned twitching curtains prevented me from photographing the car described above, so the photos in the piece are of an almost identical example of the same age that is currently for sale on Autotrader.

(1) In the frigid North, nobody just ‘pops out to the shops’ in winter: expeditions such as this require detailed planning and all the kit and kaboodal of an arctic explorer.

(2) An old-fashioned name for snowdrops.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

25 thoughts on “Something Growing out of Season”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. I always liked the white with saddle brown interior combination, but in this color and with these wheels the Continental is rather in your face.

    One of my friends in the UK used to own a black Continental with a red leather interior. He didn’t enjoy it as even in black it was drawing too much attention and he got quite a few negative comments. It was traded for a 7 series if I remember correctly and he was much happier with that.

    The thing is I don’t like Breitling watches, so I can’t really own a Bentley, can I?

  2. Morning Andrew. Wow, I’m impressed with the buyer of this beautiful car, taking the plunge. I’ve always fancied a Bentley over a Rolls, but it’s the running costs that scare me to death. I hope the owner looks after it and gives it the love and attention it deserves.

  3. Good morning all. For anyone tempted by the car shown in the photos, I’m sorry (relieved!) to say it no longer appears on AutoTrader. It looked like a particularly nice example, a relatively low mileage car being sold privately for £16k ‘ish with a perfect MOT history. It was a hell of a lot of car for the money, but…

  4. Humm… I’ve taken a similar plunge 2 weeks ago. I’ve sold my faithful 2007 S-Max and bought a well cherished 2003 Cayenne S. May God be on my side.

    1. Good morning PJ. Best of luck with your new purchase, from one Porsche owner to another! Hope it gives you great service.

      We would love to see some photos!

    2. Hi PJ. If you click on the ‘Driven to Explain’ tab above and scroll down to the bottom of the page, you’ll find instructions as to how to embed photos, which vary depending on the type of device you are using. Alternatively, if you would like to e-mail the photo(s) to me, I’ll embed them in your comment for you. I’ll send you an e-mail to which you can reply with the photo(s) attached.

    3. Well done, PJ, for fathoming out how to post photos but, more importantly, for your new Cayenne. Hope it gives you good service and great pleasure. 👍

  5. I hate the wheels on the Autotrader example – not just the inappropriate size, but the spoke design as well.

    1. I agree, Mervyn. In side profile, they look just comically oversized.

      These standard(?) wheels look more style and size-appropriate, I think:

  6. These are a regular sight at BCA auctions, starting to nudge £10k now and always with 9 previous owners and a dashboard lit up like a christmas tree. My friend was a master tech at Jack Barclay and, as a fellow Mercedes S600 TT V12 owner, considers owning one of these without a warranty to be absolute insanity. Many tales of engines out for trivial parts, five figure service bills, and general VAG over engineering and poor quality parts.

  7. Great article as ever.

    Slightly of at a tangent. Lily of the valley and snowdrops are different plants and from completely different families.

    The difference? Only a single flower on each stem = snowdrop, multiple flowers = lily of the valley.

    Oh and lily of the valley smells of everyone’s granny. Or is that the other way round?

  8. An excellent article Andrew. I agree that the wheels look “large” to say the least and the cost of replacement tyres doesn’t bear thinking about. Servicing and maintenance costs would , I imagine , be astronomical too. Saying that I would love to drive one just for the experience.

  9. “Practically any other colour would suit this car better without any need for shouting its considerable presence.”

    +1 here. I’m living in Moscow and yesterday I spotted my first Bentley (new) Mulsanne ever, in a city where I see at least six S-Class Maybachs a day, sometimes 15. The Mulsanne was painted in a shade of blue whose beauty I can’t describe in any language. It just exuded aristocracy and nobility, and I’m glad that my first live contact with the Mulsanne had such a striking feature for me to remember.

    Count me among those who are glad for the arrival of the white beast in Sheffield, Andrew. When I was living in Brazil I took the plunge and got a 12-year-old CLK 320, whose running costs are prohibitive there, so I can somewhat relate to the Continental owner. And after nine years of motoring, I sold the Benz and promised myself not to do it again, but every now and then I feel the need for a Lancia Thesis…

    1. Hello Eduardo. Aha, so that’s where all those Mercedes-Maybachs are going…

    2. yes, Daniel. I’ve never been to China but I can assure that half the Maybach S-Classes are here, all of them in black and some with more chrome than my eyes can handle.

      and maybe there are some more units in Saint Petersburg…

  10. This is a nice coincidence. Recently a clean example of the first generation Continental GT drove alongside me for a while on the Amsterdam ring motorway and, having not seen one for a long time, I was pleased to observe that a design I was unsure of when new is aging very gracefully.

    Buying such a machine would indeed require a whole bottle of brave pills; it makes my old MG look positively sensible. Bravo.

  11. Very interesting – I enjoy the fantasy of owning something like this, but I would find it terrifying in reality, I think. I wonder if one could lease a secondhand one, for a short while, just for fun. I suspect one would become accustomed to the luxury and power. However, there are better ‘real-life’ alternatives which provide a great experience – the S90 being a perfect example.

    The used car dealer channel, High Peak Autos, did a review of buying these secondhand, recently, which I found quite interesting:

    1. Thanks, Charles. No Mulliner spec for me, I hat quilted leather and I don’t like the wheels either.

    2. I’m a fan of High Peak reviews, although even after a lot of Range Rovervideos I’m still frightened by the cost of ownership of such beasts…

  12. A fossil from the days before Bangle!

    These cars look huge, when they’re about the same size as a same-year Honda Accord (US) or 5er. The plain slab sides and rounded back make the car look much bigger than it is. Like the first gen Panamera, the smooth round back causes too much visual mass back there.

    Got to give it to Bangle – today’s tall, bulky cars demand extra surfacing. The 3rd generation CGT looks much more balanced to me

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