July 8, 2008
North Vancouver, British Columbia – Driving Vancouver’s rain-slicked streets in a quarter-million dollar Bentley recently, I was reminded of the first motorcycle I ever owned. It was brand new and I paid just over $1,800 for it. Of course, on the face of it, comparing a 2008 Bentley Continental GTC to a 1988 Yamaha Virago 500 is a little like comparing an SI swimsuit model to a Seventies-era East German female shot-putter.
But what had me thinking about that old battle horse — the bike, not the Olympian — was an incident that happened at a gas station the day after I got that Yamaha so many summers ago. As I went to put the fuel pump nozzle in the gas tank opening, I accidentally bounced the nozzle off the red tank. It might have been only a tiny paint chip, but from that moment onward I was pretty annoyed every time I looked down at the tank. My perfect motorcycle was now blemished.
Back to the present, and as I babied the Bentley around crowded city streets, I thought about how peeved I’d be if I put a mark on this magnificent machine. Any mark.
And make no mistake – the Continental GTC is a motoring masterwork, blending exacting craftsmanship with state-of-the-art technologies to create one of the finest performance convertibles ever conceived. Not surprising when you consider the convertible is a powertop configuration of the exquisite GT Coupe, which charmed the automotive world with its debut in 2003. That Dirk van Braeckel design remains one of the iconic motoring statements in this still young Century, but ask the Bentley Chairman and CEO, and he’ll tell you the convertible one ups it’s hard-topped stablemate.
"The Continental GTC is the most distinctive new Bentley yet," stated Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen at the GTC’s launch. "It is very elegant and at the same time effortlessly modern."
Indeed it is dear Doctor.
It is also monstrously powerful, featuring the same 12-cylinder twin turbocharged 6.0-litre that powered a GT Coupe to the world speed record on ice (331 km-h/207 mph). That car, piloted by four-time world rally champ Juha Kankkunen, was identical to the production model, save a roll cage, aero improvements and low temperature fuel and calibration.
Producing 552 horsepower and an equally impressive 479 lbs. of torque, the big engine and twin Borg-Warner turbos propel the heavy GTC (2495 kg/5,500 lbs.) from 0 to 100 km-h in a brisk 5.1 seconds. And as to top end, Bentley press notes state maximum speed with the roof up at 312 km-h/195 mph; with the roof tucked in back, top clip is said to be 305 km-h/190 mph. Talk about wind-in-your-hair motoring!
All that power is transferred through a smooth and strong ZF six-speed automatic transmission, though steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters do allow you to take some control of the beast.
And thanks to massive stopping power — the 405mm ventilated front discs are the largest discs of any production car on the market — keeping the powerful Bentley out of harm’s way isn’t too difficult.
And that’s a good thing, as once you get up close and personal with the GTC’s cabin, you’ll be as protective of this car as you are with that heirloom furniture gathering dust in the attic.
As much as the Continental GTC is a high-performance machine with the numbers to prove it, what really sets this convertible apart from the high-end competition is the cabin. From the craftsmanship to the choice and quality of materials used, the interior pulls off the improbable and conveys a contemporary feel with a classic design. Small touches like the dash-mounted Brietling analog clock and the Bentley Wings logo handstitched into the seatbacks make a profound statement, and one that merges perfectly with the performance of the GTC.
The convertible configuration has added a little over an extra inch of knee space for rear seat passengers in comparison to the coupe, but the back seats are by no means built for large people. Even medium sized ones will have to do a little twisting to get back there.
Just as the senses reel when you press the throttle and the twin exhaust ports bark to life, it’s a little intoxicating to sit in the car and take in the wood, leather and polished surfaces. How seriously does Bentley take its interiors? Consider that the only leather that gets near the Crewe, Cheshire factory is of the Northern European variety because colder climates there ensure insects do not damage hides when they are in use by their previous owners. As to colour choice, the premium Grade-A leather is available in 17 hues, while wood veneer choices include Birds Eye Maple, Madrona, Piano Black and dark-stained Burr Walnut.
As much as the visual and tactile cues embrace a neo-classic look, the cabin’s inner workings are as 21st Century as it gets. These include a full-blown DVD Satellite/Nav system; an optional television; a premium audio system, a six-CD changer in the glove box, keyless entry and ignition and full Bluetooth capability.
There’s also room in the trunk for two sets of golf clubs and skis (and yes, there is a bag in the ski pass through so that snowmelt doesn’t touch the leather).
Once you get over the high quality of the cabin and summon up the courage to hit the centre console-mounted start/stop button, the real character of the Continental GTC emerges. Like the interior, it is refined with a bit of a wild side. A new rear suspension system with continuous dampening adjustments gives the Bentley a solid yet sophisticated ride, and on sport setting really settles the heavy car down in the corners. When a coupe is converted to a convertible, one of the biggest concerns from a design standpoint is what is referred to as ‘scuttle shake.’ Since cutting the roof of a coupe lessens chassis stiffness, many convertibles have a tendency to shake or vibrate when pushed a little. Not the GTC, as Bentley engineers went to work with significant steel reinforcement in the sills and additional cross braces running underneath the cabin. Steel tubing was also used in the A-pillars and windscreen surround. Despite all that additional metal, the weight of the GTC is just 110 kilos over the GT Coupe.
Also keeping the car under control is a computer controlled all-wheel drive system with Torsen differential, providing great grip in slick conditions.
I’ll leave the last word on the Continental GTC to Dr. Paefgen, who proved that even doctors can see the value of emotion over logic. "The proportions of the Continental GTC are the epitome of the elegant, modern convertible and clearly distinguishable from the GT Coupe. As the first model in the Continental family, the GT has been responsible for building the Bentley brand across the globe, but it is the Continental GTC that is the most emotional car in the range."
Pricing: 2008 Bentley Continental GTC