In the automobile industry, there are certain companies with the reputation for creating the most luxurious cars in the world -- Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Lexus and BMW spring to mind. But it's a smaller circle of luxury automobile companies that set the benchmark for opulence -- like Maybach, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Maserati and Bentley. In recent years, the Bentley in particular has emerged as a popular choice of car for the rich and famous.
The Bentley Motor Company, like Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce, is a historic British car company. W.O. Bentley built the first Bentley automobile in 1919. He was a race car enthusiast and thrill-seeker who wished to design and produce the world's best race car. He called his first effort the EXP1, a prototype race car with a 3-liter engine. Racing enthusiasts took notice of the car's superior performance.
Bentley's designs were very successful -- a Bentley automobile dominated the Le Mans races from 1927 to 1930. Bentleys came in first place in races across Europe, and soon a collection of race-car drivers known as the Bentley Boys became famous for taking home trophies.
The Bentley line of cars had many rivals -- perhaps the most notable was Rolls-Royce. While Bentley automobiles were known for speed and performance, Rolls-Royce cars were famous for elegance and sophistication. Both lines pushed automobile advances in Europe. The rivalry might have lasted indefinitely had it not been for the Great Depression. Bentley Motors became financially unstable, and Rolls-Royce Limited purchased the company in 1931. Gradually, Bentley automobiles began to resemble the styles of the Rolls-Royce cars. Some models even used the same chassis -- the same base frame -- as the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud.
In 1998, Rolls-Royce sold Bentley Motors to Volkswagen (eventually BMW purchased Rolls-Royce, so two of England's beloved car lines are now owned by German companies). Production of the Bentley line remained in Crewe, England, where they've been building Bentleys since 1946. Today, Bentleys fill a niche between the Rolls-Royce cars, known for their style and elegance, and the Aston Martin cars, famous for their performance and speed.
In this article, we'll learn about Bentley customization options, the Bentley Bond and Bentley driving courses. In the next section, we'll look at the current Bentley models (or marques, as the Brits like to say).
Bentley's two flagship models (or marques) are the Arnage and the Azure. The Arnage is a four-door sedan, while the Azure is a two-door convertible. The Arnage model has three major variations - the Arnage R, the Arnage T and the Arnage RL.
The Arnage R (the R, according to Bentley's Web site, is for "refinement") is all about elegance and comfort. Each car comes with natural wood panels, chrome controls, a handcrafted leather interior and a powerful 6.75-liter, twin-turbocharged, V8 engine. The engine gives the car 450 horsepower, quite a kick for a luxury vehicle.
The Arnage T is more about power and speed than its cousin. Its engine provides 500 horsepower, allowing the driver to push the car at speeds of 179 miles per hour (mph). It can go from 0 to 60 in just 5.2 seconds. Many Bentley enthusiasts see the Arnage T as a direct descendent of early Bentleys, when speed and performance were more important than luxurious interiors.
The Arnage RL is actually a limousine (the L stands for "long wheelbase"). Bentley extended the wheelbase by 10 inches, meaning they expanded the rear compartment of the vehicle so that passengers have extended leg room. The RL line has the same engine as the Arnage R cars. Arnage RL cars often include the latest technological advances, including entertainment systems with video game consoles or mobile office communications systems. Bentley limited the Arnage RL production run to just 20 vehicles.
The Azure line features an engine similar to the one found in the Arnage R. It's a 6.75-liter, V8 engine that provides 450 horsepower, allowing drivers to push the car up to 171 mph. The engine's torque provides a smooth transition as the Bentley changes gear and increases speed. Bentley calls the performance "effortless."
Besides the Arnage and Azure lines, Bentley also produces a line of cars under the marque name Continental. The Continental GT is the fastest Bentley designed so far. This two-door coupe can top speeds of 200 mph. In a similar vein, the Continental GTC is a convertible based off the GT coupe design. It can accelerate from 0 to 100 mph in just 5.1 seconds. The Continental Flying Spur is a four-door sedan that's aimed at wealthy, but not extremely rich, clientele.
Bentley offers one other model of car, the Brooklands. Named after a racing circuit famous during the heyday of the Bentley Boys, the Brooklands sold out its first year of production before a single car was ready for delivery. Bentley says they will produce only 550 of these cars, then retire the marque. They've scheduled the delivery of the first Brooklands cars for 2008.
In the next section, we'll look at some of the features for which Bentley is famous.
One of the most appealing attributes of the Bentley line, apart from the reputation for excellent performance, is the extent to which the customer can customize his car. Bentley Mulliner, a division of the company with the sole purpose of customization with unparalleled craftsmanship, is in charge of making sure the customer gets what he wants.
The Mulliner division has a history even longer than that of Bentley itself. As far back as the 1500s, it was a company that produced saddles. In 1760, the company began to design coaches (of the horse-drawn persuasion). The company gained a reputation for meticulous work and attention to customer requests. When the automobile debuted, Mulliner adapted its methods to building coaches for cars. In fact, Mulliner designed and built the interior for W.O. Bentley's EXP1.
Mulliner craftsmanship is legendary, and they employ only master artisans. You might be surprised at the titles of some Mulliner employees -- on their payroll they have coachbuilders, coppersmiths, cabinetmakers and experts in leading-edge technologies. Almost everything in the interior of an Arnage or Azure is handcrafted. Creating the steering wheel alone could take as long as 50 hours.
Mulliner allows a customer to be as involved in the design process of the interior as he wants, even to the point of giving input on initial sketches or computer-aided design (CAD) drawings. Practically every element within the car can be customized or personalized if the customer wishes. Extensive customization tends to result in long waits for vehicles, but most customers seem content to wait, knowing their Bentley will be a truly unique machine.
Before Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley, the line of cars was known mostly for its speed and performance. Some fans of the car felt that the influence of Rolls-Royce diluted Bentley's lineage. Today, Bentley is winning fans back with models like the Continental GT, which once again brings speed and performance in focus. Now, Bentley has a reputation for producing some of the most luxurious cars you can find, as well as vehicles that are as elegant as they are fast.
In the next section, we'll look at some famous Bentley owners and enthusiasts.
Famous Bentley Owners
One of the most famous owners of a Bentley never even existed. He is 007, James Bond, of Her Majesty's Secret Service. In the original novels by Ian Fleming, Bond owned several Bentleys (in the films he usually drove an Aston Martin). Bond's first Bentley shuffled off this mortal coil in "Moonraker," when it met its end as a result of a car chase with a truck.
Some non-fictional owners of Bentleys have also achieved a degree of fame. Rapper Jay-Z mentions Bentleys in several of his songs and drives around in them as well. Ludacris owns a platinum Bentley Continental GT -- he claims he got the hookup from his friend Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq has his own Bentley, reportedly with a custom Superman logo mounted on the front grill [source: Forbes].
Some other famous Bentley owners:
- Paris Hilton - celebrity arrested in her Bentley for driving with a suspended license
- Kobe Bryant - LA Lakers basketball star
- Fabolous - gangsta rapper and proud Bentley owner
- The Game - rapper and former Bentley owner who donated his car to an auction to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina
- Xzibit - rapper and owner of a Bentley Continental GT
In 2002, Bentley Motors presented the Queen of England with two Bentley limousines as a present for her Golden Jubilee, a celebration marking her 50th year as queen of England. These limousines are now the official state limousine. Bentley designed the cars to travel smoothly even at a walking pace -- necessary if you spend a lot of time in parades or processions. Reportedly, the cars have exceptional stereo systems.
Bentley automobiles are rare in the United States. They are also very expensive, ranging in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their performance, luxury, scarcity and expense combine to make a very tempting package for the wealthy. There's a sense of prestige that comes with owning a Bentley -- you're part of an elite class of people if you can afford to roll in a Bentley.
In the next section, we'll look at some of the Bentley Driving Courses.
Bentley Driving Courses
Bentley offers several driving courses for Bentley owners (though only one course is available in the United States). Courses range from testing a Bentley's capabilities at high speed to getting one-on-one instruction about your personal driving habits.
- The Driving Dynamics Course - This course lets Bentley owners experience their car's capabilities at speeds most people never get to drive. In the United States, it's a full-day course -- the British version is just a half-day. Drivers learn how to brake in emergency situations and steering techniques. They also participate in an "Acceleration Exercise."
- Personal Driving Course - In England, drivers can work with a personal trainer to correct any bad driving habits and concentrate on perfecting good technique in their Bentley. Every course is personally tailored to the individual owner.
- Chauffer/Owner Driver Course - This course, available only in the United Kingdom, takes five days to complete and includes everything a driver might need to know about driving and caring for a Bentley automobile. The course includes sections on the history of the company, car maintenance, driver etiquette, car handling and technical training.
- Defensive Driving Course - Another course exclusive to the United Kingdom, this three-day program teaches drivers who have already completed the Chauffer/Owner course how to handle themselves in adverse situations. Techniques include route planning and hazard perception as well as evasive maneuvers. Course teachers even spend time teaching drivers how to recognize improvised explosive devices!
Bentley Motors continues to strive to be the best not only in luxury car production, but also customer service. While getting your own Bentley isn't as easy as driving a car right off the lot -- some Bentleys can take more than a year before they are ready for a customer -- you are assured of amazing attention and service, not to mention you'll be joining the ranks of the elite in your new wheels.
To learn more about Bentleys and related topics, check out the links on the next page.
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More Great Links
- Bentley Motor Company http://www.bentleymotors.com/Corporate/
- Dukcevich, Davide. "The Ultimate Custom Car." Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/2003/03/04/cx_dd_0304feat.html