This year Bentley has launched two of their most spectacular motorcars, the Mulsanne and the Supersports. Whilst very different in their approach and appeal, both cars are the product of Bentley’s commitment to handcraft and heritage, as well as considerable technical innovation. Their factory at Crewe in the north of England has recently undergone significant change to accommodate the success of the Continental range, and is where both their newest models will come to life.
Bentley’s quick expansion was a response to a surge in demand for luxury cars, due in the most part to prospering regions like the Middle East. To allow maximum production efficiency, almost all the elements of manufacturing and assembly now occupy a single site. It is here that they build the W12 engines that power the Continental series, and the V8s that lie at the heart of the Arnage. With the last few Arnages rolling off the production line, the old model makes way for the new granddaddy of the marque, the Mulsanne.
The Mulsanne is the pure bred Bentley, reared on its heritage, with styling DNA taken from the S1 continental flying spur of 1955. It also retains the classic vertical matrix grill that lends majesty to the marque. A new production process, superforming, which is widely used in aerospace technology, enabled the creation of complex three-dimensional shapes that hark back to Bentley’s coach building days of the 1940s. This includes the rear haunch – the first time it appears on a four-door model. Positive and negative curves follow the styling line, simultaneously reflecting both sky and road, making the Mulsanne appear longer and more streamlined.
Every Bentley that is built is a customer ordered car. If you are lucky enough to take a walk down the production line, you can see the signature twin spoke alloys of the Flying Spur Speed, a line of rifled tail pipes and a flash of Mulliner interior trim. All the Bentley’s Speed models are unsurprisingly the most popular, with the Continental range taking up around 90% of production capacity. At their height during the peak of the boom in 2007, they were churning out around 50 cars a day. Now, it’s more like 20. ‘We always build one car less than we have a customer for’ - is the saying at the factory.
Various parts of each car are tested individually. When assembled the car is road-tested at speeds of 100mph on a 12 mile circuit of public roads. This allows Bentley to monitor the engine through deceleration and acceleration to analyse its performance, transmission and to bed in the breaks, ensuring it’s safe and roadworthy.
Back at the factory, the cars endure what’s known as the Monsoon test. Each one is sprayed with jets of water that contain an ultra violet dye to make sure it’s watertight. Then it’s straight into the ‘Tunnel of Lamps’ to check the paintwork is perfect.
Also being produced at their Crewe factory is the next must-have for the wealthy petrolhead. Unveiled in Geneva in 2009, the Continental Supersport has been termed the ‘extreme’ Bentley. It’s the fastest, most powerful production car they have ever made, and derives its identity from the 1925 Supersport, the first 100mph Bentley and a milestone in the company’s history. Not only is it the quickest but it’s the greenest too, employing a new fuel management system which takes both conventional unleaded and biofuel to significantly reduce carbon emissions. The system allows you to use any combination of the two by monitoring the percentage mix and pumping fuel to engine in the correct ratios. By 2020, this is expected to be standard all Bentley motorcars.
Back at the production line and while Bentley like to manufacture as much of the car as they can, the limited capacity of the factory means they need to produce the body shell at the Volkswagen factory in South East Germany. From the time it arrives on the line, it takes around two and a half days to assemble. Taking into account manufacturing and testing that time lengthens to around five weeks. With every car built to customer specification, close attention is paid to the details; from wood veneers to leather trim. The hide is individually selected and analysed and the wood is mostly North American walnut that is cultivated in a sustainable forestry in California.
At Bentley, nothing is left to chance, and while the market may have slowed in other areas of the world, there is still demand in the growing economies, especially here in the UAE, where we are still holding steady on our devotion to one of the best performing, most prestigious cars on the planet.
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