At the birth of the automotive era a few companies began to carve out their own niche, an area of the industry in which they wanted to make their mark. For Bentley that was the performance racing car.
With wins at Le Mans in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1930 and a reputation for some of the most exciting machines on four wheel the future of Bentley seemed to be bright. The late twenties however brought with it the Great Depression and sales dwindled. As complete collapse seemed imminent a bail out in the form a purchase by British Central Equitable Trust gave hope that Bentley would live on to grow into the racing legend it so deserved to be. It quickly became apparent, however, that this had been a front. Rolls-Royce had, under the guise of a fake company, now bought out Bentley, which it had began to see as a rival.
For the next 70 years Bentley was relegated to selling Rolls-Royce cars by another name and everything that the company had stood for faded into distant memory.
After the purchase of Bentley by the VW group in the late '90s, there was hope again. The first car to be developed by the new, freer Bentley was the Continental GT. After a great reception, sales for Bentley went though the roof. The Continental GT acted as a bridge between the stately luxury of the Rolls-Royce-era Bentleys and the exciting racing cars of the '20s.
Development of the Continental GT has continued since its original release in 2003 and now the fastest-ever production car Bentley has ever produced has been added to the lineup: the Continental GT Speed. With a top speed of 205 mph, it certainly lives up to its name. We had the chance to take the car out for a spin on a soaking-wet Autobahn in Germany, the only place the GT Speed can truly stretch its legs.
In normal drive mode the car eats up the road as you would expect from a luxury GT: fast, comfortable, and quiet. The new eight-speed ZF gearbox allows high-speed cruising at relatively low revs and makes for a fantastic ride as the Bavarian countryside flies by. Put it in sport mode, however, and a little bit more control, although not all, is given back to the driver, along with the responsibility to use it wisely. Now that gearbox which allowed you to cruise so quietly can drop from eighth gear to third gear in the blink of an eye and thrust you back into your seat in a fashion that would cause an owner of a Roller to lose his lunch. Feeling the back end twitch as you corner at 130 mph on a crowded Autobahn is enough for you to appreciate the balance Bentley has found between giving the driver the best driving experience possible whilst still keeping him safe.
Bentley Continental GT Speed (pictures)See all photos
After getting my adrenaline suitably pumping I returned the car into drive mode and reflected that the direction Bentley is going in might be technologically forward but emotionally it is looking back. Back to an era when driving was the greatest thrill on earth. Back to when what mattered wasn't where you were going but how you got there. Back to when Bentley ruled the roads.