Bentley Continental: Buyers Guide
Joe Kenwright walks us through the tricks and traps behind buying a big classic Brit
Bentley's first purpose-built sports coupe in decades emerged from a mid-1980s decision to re-position Bentley as a younger, separate brand, not a badge-engineered Rolls-Royce. After the fibreglass Project 90 coupe concept drew accolades in 1984, a Continental R production version emerged in 1991, released locally late in 1992.
Using the Turbo R saloon as a base, outsiders Ken Greenley and John Hefernan gave it flowing lines that established future DNA for Rolls-Royce and Bentley. Styling links with today's Bentleys belie its 1984 origins. In October 1996, the special T version arrived with a four-inch-shorter wheelbase and weight cut by almost 100kg.
A hotter turbocharged V8 with 298kW/800Nm was teamed with specific 18-inch alloys and Goodyear Eagle tyres. Just two came to Australia. For 1998, the range was freshened-up with a mesh grille and other cabin improvements. The T's torque was boosted to 881Nm and power exceeded 300kW, pushing top speed to 175mph (282km/h) at the end.
In 1999, this engine was fitted to the Bentley Continental R Mulliner with a firmer handling package. Sporty body tweaks and special interior details were part of a special Le Mans version in 2001. Production ended in 2002 but sales trickled into 2003.
New price of $500,000-plus has dropped to under $100,000 for the first Continental Rs. At over $800,000, new Mulliner versions attract a premium, topping $250,000. Final cars are worth more than the later Continental GT.
* Generally reliable and well-sorted, but only if used regularly - otherwise it springs expensive leaks in steering racks and transmissions.
* Engine/suspension electronics can restrict servicing to those with factory computer systems.
* Under-bonnet heat and extra thermal loads from Turbo can harden hoses and manifold gaskets earlier but should be picked up in normal servicing.
* Mix of local deliveries and private imports can have entirely different sets of body, cabin and electronic items that deteriorate.Check car's origins and apply extra checks where applicable.
* Check paint carefully as different paints can react with the original. Aluminium badgework sets up electrolysis between steel and aluminium parts. Look for corrosion around badges and window frames on even the most pampered local cars.
* V8 has alloy block/iron wet liners that require frequent coolant changes and special coolant to protect seals. If they fail, oil and coolant mix and block the cooling system for disastrous results. Coolant history is critical.
* Rear self-levelling suspension is expensive, routine service item.
* Weight and grunt can chew brake rotors (over $700 each). Correct tyres critical to keeping it tidy on the road and not cheap.
* Four-speed GM automatic generally bulletproof but requires routine servicing.
* Lavish interior very costly to repair if quality fittings damaged.
Thanks to Bentley Continental specialists Ekberg and Lang Pty Ltd (03) 9533 5777.
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