An early spring arrival in Sheffield:
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.