Driving a Bentley Turbo R in the outskirts of London
I was 20 when Ryanair and Easyjet kickstarted the low-cost revolution and that means that I'd already seen London four or five times before I even saw Heathrow. I started with Stansted, which is so far away from London it might as well be in a different timezone, then Gatwick and then Luton, which is a third-rate airport in an area of Bedfordshire that's not particularly pretty. And that's where I was on an exceptionally rainy Tuesday morning with the keys to a 1995* Bentley Turbo R.
The history of the luxury car is full of French names like Delage, Delahaye, Talbot-Lago, Bugatti and American names too, like Packard and Cord and Cadillac and some of the vehicles they built were very nice indeed. However, there is one car manufacturer that made its cars even nicer: Rolls-Royce. Founded in Manchester in 1906 by Charles Stewart Rolls and Frederick Henry Royce, the British car company has built some truly amazing classics, usually named after variants of the word "ghost". The Phantom, the Silver Shadow and the Silver Spirit, the Wraith and of course the Ghost. In 1931, while busy making the Phantom II, Rolls Royce also bought Bentley, finally completing an acquisition that had started in 1919, when Rolls Royce had began buying assets from the company. The love story went on for 50 years and in half a century Bentley gave us timeless classics like the Continental, the Camargue, the Corniche and the Turbo R that you see here today.
It is powered by the glorious "6 and ¾" L V8 which, when the car was new, gave it 296 hp and 660 Nm of torque. It was first introduced in 1985 and the first model ran on Solex carburettors until 1987, when the carburettors were replaced by fuel injection. Over the years many things were changed but the engine always stayed the same. The 6 and three quarter V8 has been lauded on several occasions and I can see why. It's big, sonorous and smooth, and while the Turbo R isn't fast, it is extremely...suave. That's the word I'm going to use.
Then again this car can't and needn't be fast. First of all it weighs 3 tonnes once you factor in a full tank and at least one person in the car and, more to the point, that's not what old Bentleys are for. This is not the car for you if you live in Reading but work in Uxbridge, or if you live in Bakersfield and work in Sherman Oaks to put it in American terms, but it is the car for you if you commute to work on a train or a deer, or you walk, and only use your car when you want to enjoy a pleasant drive from Wherever to Elsewhere on Tranquility Highway. And you will enjoy it because this feels much better than almost anything else on the road these days. You settle in, let the Neanderthal automatic transmission change gear for you and watch other motorists go about their day in a beige crossover or other.
And the best thing is you'll be watching the outside world from here. A beautifully refined cabin with leather, more leather and some more leather. And wood. You'll be driving aimlessly with the smell of vintage radica on comfortable leather sofas, I mean seats, with an old school radio which plays... I don't know, actually, because you won't be thinking about music. This car removes thoughts from your head, clearing it up and calming you down.
Old cars don't work in the modern world, that's a given. The Turbo R is fantastic but you know it only truly makes sense for certain people with a certain income living in certain parts of the globe. Fuel consumption is an issue, reliability is another and the sheer size of it is a problem, too. It only works if you live in countries like Sweden or Norway where vast areas are sparsely populated or places like California where the roads are big. I mean I live in Florence, for example, and I love the car and I love my city but I couldn't possibly use this every day because I know I'd go insane within three days.
Having said that, I fell in love with the big Bentley. It is so majestic and carefree, it's a cruiser not a racer, which is refreshing.
I know this is the most cliche of all cliches that ever cliched but the fact is these cars are probably going to become relics. Sooner or later there are going to be more old Bentleys displayed in classic car museums than there are on the road and the worst part? You won't be able to tell people that your car has a "6 and three quarter V8".
*the owner was a bit hazy on that but I've done some research and the chassis number says this car was built in 1995.