Geneva, 3rd March 2003... Bentley Motors is delighted to unveil the production version of its new Continental GT. Conceived to be a sporting coupé without rival, the Continental GT is the fastest genuine four-seat coupé in the world. It is also the first all-new, unique Bentley design to be launched in 70 years. It combines all elements of the finest Grand Touring traditions and Bentley handcraftsmanship with some of the most advanced technologies ever brought to the automotive market.
Featuring a 6-litre, W12, twin-turbocharged, engine driving all four wheels through a paddle-operated, six speed sequential automatic gearbox, the Continental GT offers supercar performance combined with the interior space, versatility and ease of ownership to make it a natural everyday car. In this respect as well as many others, Bentley believes the Continental GT to be unique.
The Continental GT was designed and engineered by Bentley at Crewe and will be manufactured there in all-new facilities that combine state of the art technologies with the unique hand finishing and attention to detail that has been the hallmark of all cars to wear the winged 'B'. It goes on sale this autumn and will bring the prospect of Bentley ownership to a wider audience of discerning enthusiasts than ever before.
And while the Continental GT is a Bentley from bumper to bumper, the role of the company's Volkswagen AG parent has been critical to the process: it was only the £500 million vote of confidence placed in the marque by the VW Group that brought the 20-year old dream to reality.
The styling story of the Continental GT dates back to August 1999 when Dirk van Braeckel started on a design for an all-new Bentley coupé. By Christmas, it had been approved for production.
The key to honouring Bentley's design past without creating an inappropriately 'retro' car was to understand the design philosophy of the marque and use it in an entirely contemporary context. The philosophy for the Continental GT can be quantified as follows: the car must have a short front overhang and a dominant bonnet. The pillar less cabin itself needs to be sleek and compact while the rear haunches should be taut and pronounced.
Finally there is the car's 'jewellery'. It was decided that brightwork should be minimised while the headlamps assume a dominant role in the styling signature to draw attention to the most distinctive Bentley feature of all: the matrix radiator grille. A rear spoiler that retracts into the boot lid at low speeds provides essential aerodynamic stability without spoiling the car's lines.
Interior design and style
The cabin of the Continental GT is designed to make Bentley devotees and marque newcomers feel equally at home. Most notable perhaps is the symmetrical facia with a centre console rising up and curving left and right in front of the passenger and driver in a shape that reflects the design of the famed Bentley wings.
Behind the wheel a unique driving environment awaits and it goes almost without saying that an ideal driving position is easily achieved - Bentley's ergonomicists have been as far as to measure New York basketball players to make sure all shapes and sizes are accommodated.
Meanwhile, those in the back will scarcely believe the amount of thought that has gone into creating the rear cabin. Far from appearing as afterthoughts, the rear space and seats have been designed with the same care and attention as those in the front.
The toughest task facing designers of all luxury car cabins these days is to present the controls and information interfaces in a way that is both uncluttered yet easy to use. In the Continental GT, most routine operations used frequently can be operated direct from the steering wheel. Other functions are individually controlled but displayed on the same screen sited in the middle of the centre console.
Naturally wood and leather remain an integral part of Bentley furniture but they have been tailored to suit the Continental GT, proving that these most traditional materials can still create a contemporary feel.
The Continental GT is also the first car to be fitted with a Breitling timepiece. Designed by Bentley after extensive consultation with Breitling to determine the correct proportioning, size and style of the font and needles. It features a classic black dial with white lettering in recognition of the same style used for the pre-war racing Bentley instruments while its hands are blood orange in colour. The shape of the bezel reflects that surrounding the famed 'bulls-eye' air vents and has a satin finish. In production, the clock will be fitted by Bentley and has been designed to be incorporated fully into the Continental GT's ultra-sophisticated electronic networks.
The brief was to create a car with as much room as the most spacious coupés on the market, equip it with the performance and responses of the world's most dynamic supercars and retain the whole within compact dimensions.
The secret of the Continental GT's interior room is, in fact, its incredibly compact engine. By using staggered banks of cylinders, the W12 is the shortest 12-cylinder engine on the market, allowing space it would otherwise use to be given over to the interior.
Inside the key is a raised 'H' point - the position in which the driver and front passenger hips naturally sit - which gives a relatively upright driving position, liberating vital room in the back. The result is that in the Continental GT four six footers (1.82m) can be accommodated.
Even the 370 litre luggage capacity has only been achieved through fresh thinking and innovation - siting the 90 litre fuel tank under the floor and thereby also providing a handy through load facility for skis.
The Continental GT is the first Bentley to have been designed entirely in the computer 'virtual' world. Every single component, down to the smallest washer was not merely computer designed but designed into the Continental GT concept alongside every other part.
With all components existing in the virtual world before a single one is created as a physical property, it is possible to see how each part interacts with all the others, illuminating problems and conflicts that may otherwise never have come to light until the part have been machined. This process cuts down development time and enables Bentley's engineers to design in quality and consistency at a component level.
The choice of a W12 formation engine was made to provide a new level of power to the marque in a manner that still remained inimitably Bentley. The basic engine was also available within the Group and it was soon determined that turbo charging would enable it to deliver Bentley's torque and performance goals.
3K turbochargers were chosen and integrated into the under-bonnet package while our engineers modified the internal componentry of the powerplant until they were happy all its power, torque, emissions, consumption and durability targets had been met or exceeded.
When they were done, the result was a car with 560PS (411kW) at 6100rpm, making more than good Bentley's earlier promise to power the Continental GT with an engine of 'more than 500bhp'. It is, in fact the most powerful four seat car currently on sale. But power is nothing without the torque to back it. The idea that a Bentley should be fabulously responsive from any point in its rev-range is not new - indeed it was a precedent set by WO Bentley's first six cylinder cars over 75 years ago - but the Continental GT will take the execution of the concept to new heights, providing relentless acceleration from idle to its red-line. This has been achieved not simply by providing 650Nm (479lb ft) of torque but by making it available at just 1600rpm, a speed at which most engines are little more than idling.
Having created one of the world's most powerful and responsive engines, it was clear that an equally extraordinary transmission would be needed to transmit its power and torque to the driven wheels.
The use of four-wheel drive was decided in the earliest stages of the project as it was felt that this new level of power demanded a commensurate level of control. Nevertheless, in order to ensure that the right Bentley feel is retained, Bentley's powertrain and chassis engineers have experimented extensively to provide the Continental GT with all the security of a four-wheel drive system but, when appropriate, the fun of a rear-wheel drive layout.
Providing the link between the wheels and the engine is a six-speed automatic transmission built for Bentley by ZF and the first of its type in the world to be used in an ultra-high performance coupé. Firstly, the new transmission was modified by moving the differential forward, which allowed the drive shafts to be as far forward as possible, thus enabling the wheels to be close to the front of the car. But the defining characteristic of this transmission, apart from the use of six ratios, is its ability to lock its torque converter in normal driving, providing the same immediacy of response expected of manual transmissions. Despite this, shift quality is so good that often the most obvious evidence of a gearchange having taken place is the repositioning of the rev-counter needle. Tiptronic actuation means that the car can be used either as a conventional automatic or as a clutchless manual.
The Continental GT has been equipped with a chassis that should appeal to sybarites and thrill-seekers equally. The car has a firm but not harsh ride, offering impressive resistance to roll, pitch and heave yet compliant enough to ride poorly surfaced roads with absolute equanimity.
The basis of the chassis strategy is an extremely stiff body. To this was applied the latest suspension technology featuring an innovative double wishbone arrangement at the front and an exceptionally well located multi-link rear axle behind.
Air springs are used at each corner in place of conventional coils, each one containing its own infinitely adjustable electronic damper.
The electronic dampers fitted to the Continental GT are capable of adjusting themselves infinitely and continuously without the driver ever being aware of it. A computer processes information fed to it from sensors around the car and instructs the dampers accordingly. Naturally both traction control and the latest Bosch Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) are fitted.
That said, as the most sporting Bentley in the company's post-war history, the Continental GT is a driver's car and Bentley's chassis engineers are aware that not only must the chassis have the ability to match perfectly the engine's phenomenal output, it must provide it in a way that indulges its driver.
To this end, a huge amount of work has been done to ensure the car has the right stance on the road and then exhaustive testing of different steering geometries has been undertaken both to eliminate unwanted torque reactions and also to provide the appropriate amount of 'feel' in the chassis.
Wheel and tyre choice is crucial to the development of any chassis and it has been decided that the Continental GT will come with 19in wheels as standard.
Braking will be provided by all new, ventilated discs brakes at each corner featuring the latest Bosch anti-lock system with Brake Assist and Emergency Brake Force Distribution.
As well as all its impressive active safety attributes, the Continental GT has a full raft of passive safety features with two front airbags, four side airbags and two side curtain bags that, unusually for a coupé, run along the full length of the cabin. Seat belt pre-tensioners are used for all four seats.
The Continental GT is the result of a deep seated emotional desire extant within Bentley for over 20 years to create a new compact coupé.
The business case for such a car hinges on what Bentley believes to be a clear gap in the upper luxury coupé market: for those who crave true supercar performance but need the flexibility of a car that seats four, carries their luggage and can be used everyday. Some 75 per cent of those who will buy a Continental GT will not be existing customers.
These new customers will be people who already admire Bentley and would like one of its current product but who either cannot quite afford one or baulk at the prospect of spending £150,000 or more on a car, even if they believe it to be worth the money.
The profile of the typical Continental GT buyer will also be subtly different to those who buy from Bentley's existing ranges. They will tend to be younger, with an average age of just under as opposed to just over 50 years old. Men will still buy many more than women, but their majority will decrease from the overwhelming 96-99 per cent of current customers, to a slightly more balanced 85-90 per cent.
In all physical senses, the changes the Continental GT has brought to Bentley have transformed the company beyond recognition. The car itself and the renewed factory in which it will be built mark the dawn of a new and thrilling era for the marque.
But in a no less important way Bentley is returning to its heartland values, as defined by WO Bentley. The strength of any brand is the thought that created it and now it is this that resonates through the walls of the factory.
WO's proposition was to combine cutting edge design with outrageous performance and superlative craftsmanship to create a potent, authentic and unique motoring experience. Moreover it would have a purpose that took it beyond mere recreation and turned it into something of real use and significance. And while it would offer great comfort and unquestioned luxury, so it would also possess a thinly veiled ability to turn into something very special at any moment. These are precisely the qualities the Continental GT has been engineered to provide and as a result, we believe, is a car of which WO Bentley would be rightly proud.