I’m not sure if Salvador Dali was interested in cars, but if he was, one of the mind-bending surrealist images to have come out of his dazzling brain might well have been that of a Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed, drifting around the Yas Marina F1 circuit. Just think about it for a moment – if you had an F1 track all to yourself, what car would you pick to thrash around it? Surely not a luxo-barge the size of a house, weighing in at 2,525 kg?
Yet there I was, looking ahead through the passenger window rather than the windshield, grinning like an idiot, while a Bentley driving instructor flung the Spur from side to side and I tried not to swear. You wouldn’t think it, but the Spur is quite happy to loosen its upper lip and indulge in this kind of anti-social behaviour, all the while cosseting you in the sort of luxury reserved for ultra-swank hotel rooms. I only wish I had pictures of what I’ve described, but the photographers at hand were unfortunately not shooting any of this. This 600 bhp beast is the most powerful 4-door car Bentley has ever produced, and with a 322 kph top speed, a cabin oozing quality and serious road presence, it is a (very) heavy hitter.
When I moved on to the new Continental GTC, I experienced much the same sensations as in the Spur – refinement, luxury and sophistication, all topped off by a slightly anaesthetised driving experience. Let’s face it – Bentleys are meant for grand touring and showboating in supreme comfort, and the whole idea is to provide a driving environment that highlights these aims; visceral thrills aren’t really a part of the package.
Don’t get me wrong – you can’t really argue with 567 bhp, 71.3 kgm, a lightning-quick transmission and the stiffest chassis in any convertible in the world. Mash the loud pedal to the floor and the GTC rockets forward not so much like a locomotive but like the entire railway system – you haven’t really experienced torque if you haven’t driven a Bentley. The noise from the 12-cylinder engine falls just short of memorable, but there’s no denying that it’s an amazing powerplant. Here, too, you get a cabin dripping with luxury, finished to the highest standards, and the rear seats can actually be occupied by full-grown adults, rather than pet rodents. I daresay that if I wanted to do a cross-continent drive, I’d pick a, er, Continental GTC to do it in.
These are two extremely good automobiles, but for me, the star of the show was the gorgeous Bentley EXP2, the oldest Bentley in existence. Built in 1919, it enjoyed great success at motorsport events, especially in the hands of French F. Clement, one of the famous Bentley Boys back in the 1920s. I’m a sucker for old machines (I was born in the wrong era, I tell you), and couldn’t help thinking that it was the most beautiful car on show that evening. Being driven down the Yas Marina straight in the EXP2, at a scorching 90 kph, was a far more thrilling experience than going sideways in a Spur. All said and done, it was an interesting evening out on the track, and I was only a little disappointed that we didn’t get to spend more time driving the cars!