Beyond a certain point, you're not buying a car. You're buying a rolling testament to extravagance — clearing a path before you like a victorious Roman general enjoying his triumph. It is tempting to think of yourself as a god.
This is how you feel when piloting the 2001 Bentley Continental R, a sort of "sporty" (if two tons of anything can be called "sporty") Rolls-Royce two-door model that weighs more than most SUVs, at nearly 6000 pounds, but which has the brute power to steam to 60 mph in fewer than six seconds. The price you pay for this show is $300,000 or so out of pocket (depending on how you trim out the car), plus the distinction of topping the EPA's list of least fuel-efficient passenger vehicles. On a very good day, with the wind at your back, a light foot and lots of downhill, you might tickle 10 mpg. The gas guzzler tax alone is $4500.
As Austin Powers might say: "Oh, behave!"
In theme, feel, looks and raw, big-engined power, the Bentley R reminds any driver over a certain age of what American cars used to be like back in the 1950s and 1960s. Acres of metal, thud-heavy doors and a titanic V-8 (6.75 liters and 420 hp in the Mulliner version). The 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix SSJ 428, for example, comes to mind. Or perhaps the '68 Cadillac Eldorado, with its 472 cubic-inch monster underhood and a chain-driven turbo Hydramatic pulling two tons of lead sled by the front wheels. It was something to see.
Of course, no General Motors product ever came with such finery as hand-stitched Connolly leather (in your choice of color-matched hides, baby) and Wilton lambs wool carpets. There’s a massive, real chrome grille, a pair of fitted umbrellas for the trunk, a bottle cooler in the center armrest, and a flat-screen, integrated audio and GPS system that pops out of the dash and requires three — 'count 'em — separate remote controls and mastery of a good-sized instruction book.
2001 Bentley Continental GT
Bentley builds each Continental to individual customer specifications and will color match the thing to complement your eyes or even your Great Dane. Just add another $4750 to the bill.
It is a monument to unapologetic indulgence free of any petty worry about the wage slave proletarians out there. They buzz around the Bentley like annoying gnats in their ever-so-ordinary S-Class Benzes and BMW sevens. So common! So nouveaux riches! One mighty surge of the burly, cast-iron, 1950s-era Bentley V-8 and they are shooed away in a haze of tire smoke and spent hydrocarbons.
No need for anything fancy, let alone efficient, when the crushing motive force of nearly seven liters' worth of cast-iron, two-valve, pushrod-actuated menace is at your disposal. The 590 lb-ft of torque will liquefy the Pirellis for 50 yards if you desire it. Tap the machine-drilled pedals and the mighty dreadnought raises up on its haunches and simply bullies its way through the wind.
Imagine a battleship dropped from a height of two miles up. The only sane thing to do is to get out of the way.
And that is the whole point of owning a car such as the Continental R. It's not about technological sophistication, or even luxury as such — because quite frankly, an A8 Audi, BMW 7-Series or Mercedes S-Class offers more up-to-date equipment, equivalent ride comfort and luxury, better safety equipment, and probably better build quality, too. On every objective point, they make more sense.
But who cares about sense? Mercedes and BMWs have become like bellybuttons and opinions: everyone seems to have one. Drive a Bentley and you are alone. You are King of the Road.
That, ultimately, is what it's all about.
2001 Bentley Continental R Mulliner
Base price range: $279,000-$315,000
Engine: 6.75 liter V-8, 400 hp (420 hp, Mulliner)
Transmission: four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 120.5 in
Length: 210.6 in
Width: 81 in
Height: 57.6 in
Curb Weight: 5401 lb
EPA (cty/hwy): 11/16 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, traction control, stability control, ABS
Major standard features: Turbocharged V-8 engine, Wilton lambs wool/Connolly leather trim, fitted umbrellas in luggage compartment, bottle cooler in center armrest
Warranty: Three years/unlimited miles
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