‘…Are you around on 13 August, I have arranged for you to drive a new Bentley Continental for a few days, oh and by the way you can also drive my 1929 Bentley?’ That was the text I received from my great friend Jonathan Turner, obviously I ‘hummed & aahhed’ and begrudgingly agreed to drive the cars and review them both for BQ Magazine.
So it was I turned up at JCT 600 Bentley in Leeds on a sunny afternoon in August to pick up the new Bentley. My trusty BMW looked rather dishevelled amongst the gleaming Bentleys on the forecourt, but on seeing the prices on the windscreens the Yorkshire girl in me thought to myself, ‘who would pay THAT for a car’?!’.
Mike Carr of JCT did the paperwork and took me to the car: a navy blue Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible, with a hand stitched cream leather interior…heartstoppingly beautiful! Mike explained Bentley’s heritage of building ‘Grand Tourers’:- well built, comfortable cars with a huge amount of horsepower and this one is the cream of the crop, with a 6 litre W12 twin turbo engine, churning out a whopping 626 horsepower and a top speed of 200mph.
After Mike had pointed out the necessary driving controls and, more importantly, I had shown him how to sync my Iphone with the bespoke ‘Naim’ sound system, I set off into the sunshine, roof down, music pumping. I have to admit that my perception of Bentleys was that I was the wrong sex and about 30 years too young to be driving one, and that it would be rather like manoeuvring a high powered tank, but as I pulled out into the rush hour Leeds traffic, I was very pleasantly surprised. The car felt smaller and more nimble than I expected and the great big engine purred quietly below the bonnet as we negotiated the city traffic. Some blue lights approaching rapidly behind me on the dual carriage way caused brief panic and a check of my speedo, but all was well and he whizzed past.
Opening the car up on the M1 was astonishing, it is blisteringly quick, but also so well balanced and thanks to the clever wind deflector it was possible to drive at high speed with the roof down without disturbing my hairstyle. Negotiating the country lanes towards my home was exhilarating, and the car certainly turned heads in Ripon.
Usually it is only tractor engines that break the peace in the sleepy market town! On arrival at home my teenage sons rushed straight out and had the bonnet up and declared it to be ‘quite cool, but couldn’t you have got a Bugatti Veyron?’
The next day I couldn’t wait to get back in the car, and thankfully the English summer was holding out, so I could continue to pose with the roof down. I set off to meet Jonathan at Bowcliffe Hall, where his 1929 4.5 Litre Bentley awaited me.
It is hard to believe that the same manufacturer had built these two cars 86 years apart. The badge on the front is really where the similarities end: Jonathan’s vintage Bentley is also stunning, but in a completely different way – it represents a bygone era when men were gentlemen and ladies wore pearls. This type of car was raced at LeMans - winning four times in the late ‘20s, and as I climbed into the driving seat I felt as if this was a seat from which many adventures had been enjoyed.
Indeed this particular car is one of the most travelled in the world - Jonathan has driven from Peking to Paris (through China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and into Europe), around New Zealand, Iceland and much of Europe competing in racing and rallying events.
This engine was noisy too, but much less refined, no powered steering, gear changes were a challenge and there was certainly no clever wind deflector, or in fact roof at all. But it was enormous fun to drive: much faster than I expected and you really felt like you were driving, as opposed to being a mere passenger. Who needs a swanky sound system when you can listen to the wind in your ears and the 4,500cc engine revving?
So after a whizz round the Wetherby bypass and a certain amount of gear crunching, I returned Jonathan to the driving seat, and he showed me how to drive it properly! This car turns heads too, and I can now understand Jonathan’s passion for these beautiful vintage cars. After some photography of the old and new and a delicious lunch at Jonathan’s new, appropriately named, Driver’s Club, it was back into the seat of the GT.
This is the type of car that you feel excited about getting in to, it is also the type of car that you could very quickly lose your licence in, as without any apparent effort on the part of the car, the speedo is reading speeds in excess of 100mph.
I had to return the car the next day, and perhaps appropriately the Yorkshire summer had reverted to type and it was pelting it down. Roof up at the flick of a switch, and I was surprised at how quiet the interior of the cabin was with a ‘soft top’. Back at JCT and Mike had very kindly had my BMW valeted, perhaps he anticipated my reluctance to swap back from the beautiful GT and was trying to soften the blow. I drove away heavy hearted, this is a genuinely awesome car, and even the Yorkshire lass in me would part with the required sum of money to bag one.
Perhaps I will have to have a word with Father Christmas.
My huge thanks go to Mike at JCT and Jonathan Turner for organising this test drive.
Polly was driving a Bentley GTC Speed finished in Dark Sapphire Blue with Linen coloured hide interior. It’s the fastest production Bentley convertible ever produced and prices start at £185,200 for this W12 cylinder, 6.0litre model with a top speed in the region of 200mph.
JCT 600, 102 Gelderd Rd, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS12 6BY. 0113 244 0600.
Bowcliffe Hall is a spectacular events and conference venue located near Wetherby. See www.bowcliffehall.co.uk for more information