To understand the new 2012 Bentley Continental GTC first you must make a trip to the Body Assembly Hall at Crewe, England, the factory where these magnificent automobiles are handcrafted. Bentley Motor Cars, in operation since 1919, started off with the 1920 2 Litre, a vehicle which went on to win the Le Mans in 1924. “Bentley’s have been making beautiful history ever since,” explained our guide, Slim, who has been employed with Bentley for 40 years.
True to Bentley style, the facility, which has 4226 employees that help produce around 150 cars a week, maintains the standards that have been the company’s benchmark. “We still do clay modeling and we still use the human ear to detect engine sounds,” Slim explained.
“Last year we had 8,000 visitors to this site. And most people say that Bentleys are not expensive enough after seeing this process,” he quipped. Truth is, sales are up. In 2010, sales were up 11%, to 5,117, over the previous year’s sales of 4,616. In 2011, global year-to-date sales are up 33% to 5,379 from 4,056.
But the proof is in the craftsmanship. It takes 150 hours to build a Continental. There are only two places on the production line where tasks are performed by robots: the lacquer spraying of the highly-polished wood veneers of the fascia, consoles and trim, and the application of a consistent bead of adhesive around the edge of a Bentley’s windscreen prior to installation.
Every piece of glass in a Bentley is given its final polish with finely powdered pumice normally used to polish optical lenses. Brightware – including items like the radiator grille, door handles, badges and wheels – is finished in a process that takes over ten hours, with around 85% of the polishing done by hand.
Even the steering wheel is doubled stitched by hand using two needles simultaneously; the process is far too complicated for a machine. It takes 15 hours to create one steering wheel and one and a half hour to stitch it! “The stitching has to be absolutely perfect. The lines can’t be wobbly… it feels nicer on the hands because you are in contact with the craft,” explained Brett Boydell, Senior Interior Designer. Furthermore, as Slim pointed out, the craftsmen still use forks to pierce the holes in the leather.
Exacting detail goes into the seating as well. A complete set of upholstery for a Continental Series Bentley is made up of more than 11 leather hides, which are mostly from the colder climates of Northern Europe (so they are not nicked by mosquito bites!).
The wood trim is sourced worldwide by an internal team that handpicks everything: oaks in America and walnut in England, exotic veneers in Africa, and eucalyptus fiddle back from Australia. “We focus on enhancing the natural beauty of the wood. Rather than forcing it to be perfect, we embrace it. Each piece is individual and, thus, every car is different… No two cars have exactly the same wood,” explained Boydell.
Indeed. To test out the new Bentley GTC we jetted off to Croatia—a country of unparalleled roads and vistas, magnificent foods and wines and lovely people. We started our journey at the Hotel Monte Mulini, located on Croatia’s Istrian peninsula and a ten-minute seaside walk to Rovinj, a 6th century Venetian-inspired town complete with a handful of renaissance and baroque palaces.
Our test ride took us on boulevards that sliced through towns with cobblestones that looked hand-polished. The route hugged the Adriatic Sea and went through flat silent stretches of forests dotted with hidden hillside castles. We let loose on winding routes that eventually led us to the medieval town of Buzet, also known as the City of Truffles.
The new Bentley Continental GTC, a four-seater convertible, has been improved in all ways, resulting in a vehicle that retains the Bentley panache but is crisper, more flowing, and leaner. This time around, advanced manufacturing techniques produced aluminum wings in the front, eliminating the need for any seams or welds. The classic Bentley radiator grille frames a new headlight design with LED daytime running lamps that incorporate the traditional four-lamp format. Slimmed down by 44 pounds, the GTC has a wider track, a higher waistline, and is slightly longer and roomier with additional legroom in both the front and back.
Inside the handcrafted cabin, one can choose from 17 soft-touch leather hide colors and seven wood veneers. The interior is replete with deep pile carpeting, a seat back neck warmer (to be used instead of your cashmere scarf), delightfully cool-touch metals, and lovely knurled instrument knobs. The instrument panel and dashboard, designed to echo the Bentley “winged” motif, house an 8” touch-screen with Google maps and NAIM, the hi-end British audio system that was developed specifically for top-down driving. Oh, and yes, the seats have a 10-cell massage function.
The new Continental GTC has also upgraded its suspension system and steering. And the car that boasts the largest production brakes in the world houses a 6.0 litre, twin turbocharged W12 engine with 567 hp and 516 lb.ft of torque. Yes, wow!!! 100 mph was too easy to ignore. With a 0-60 of 4.5 seconds and max of 195 mph, driving the Continental GTC is like flying with angels. The ride was stunning, sturdy, exhilarating. Plus, my ride was painted the new color, Breeze, a sparkle finish over subtle metallic silver.
Simply put—ethereal green.
Holly writes about cars, travel and lifestyle. Her work has been featured in publications that include: Elite Traveler, The New York Daily News, The Washington Post, The Boston Herald, Motor Matters syndicate, Hamptons Magazine and VroomGirls.com. When she’s not on the road testing cars or taking care of her family of five (including the dog!), Holly is on the board of Voices Unbroken, a NYC based non-profit.