Both relaxing and exhilarating, a Bentley represents an intensely personal journey. For the driver, it means entering a world of luxurious high-performance. For the brand, it represents the skills, passion and pride of our people. Their craftsmanship is evident throughout, right down to the initials carefully etched into the upholstery inside every car. An individual hallmark of absolute quality.
We say the Mulsanne is handcrafted from the ground up in Crewe, and its luxurious journey begins in the Body in White workshop. The product of £25 million investment, it is the start point of a 400 hour journey to completion. 570 kg of steel and aluminium must be brought together by the 83 Bentley employees. Working by hand and by eye, the master metalworkers expertly complete hundreds of metres of welding and 5800 individual welds. Where the roof flows into the rear haunch through the deep D-pillar, a dedicated team brazes the joint by hand until it is totally imperceptible. It takes a human touch to achieve, and once painted will be invisible to the eye - looking and feeling as though hewn from solid metal.
Colour is as individual as the customer who specifies it. If none of the 120 in Bentley's extended palette reflects the personality of the owner, they create their own. Matching paint to a customer's treasured item is a painstaking process, and the application process is no less so. Each car is corrosion proofed before the primer and top coat are applied. The curvature of the body means paint must be applied in different depths to appear even, which is why each one is hand sprayed with colour. Once lacquered, each car is fine-sanded before being polished with lamb's wool for 12 hours to achieve an appearance so reflective it's termed the Bentley Mirror Finish.
Opening the door of the Bentley flagship reveals the indulgent permanence of wood, with the foundation of solid walnut, cherry or oak visibly running through the dashboard and overlaid with a choice of 10 different veneers. The story of this wood does not begin in Crewe, but in every corner of the world where exotic trees grow for up to 200 years before being harvested and replanted - seven for every tree. After the root burl has been steamed and finely sliced into 0.6 mm thick bundles of veneer, Bentley veneer experts travel to wherever it may be to check every inch, a process that takes two days. The final selection process occurs at Crewe, when the veneer is chosen by the craftsperson who will transform it. Only the most highly figured areas of veneer are chosen, before being mirror matched and applied to the substrate - solid wood in the case of the Mulsanne. After sanding to create a smooth surface, each part is lacquered before being cured for 72 hours. When cured, it is sanded and polished again before being fitted to the car.
3000 bull hides are used every week in Bentley's Leather Workshop. Hides are sourced from Northern Europe, where the temperate climate and lack of barbed wire fencing means the hides are mostly free from the imperfections caused by scratches and biting insects. Nonetheless, each hide is checked and marked by hand and eye before being precision cut. Of the 400 hours it takes to build a Mulsanne, around 150 are dedicated to creating the sumptuous leather interior - before additional options are considered. Stitched, shaped and finished entirely by hand, the completed seats, doors and other leather accoutrements rival the quality of the finest furniture - the contrast stitching alone takes anywhere between 20 and 40 hours to complete. A Bentley craftsperson would be able to correctly identify whether the cross stitching inside a Bentley is their work by the stitching alone - to check you could find their initials etched onto the inside of the upholstery - a mark of accountability and pride that is consistent throughout the build process.
Inside the main assembly hall operate two lines, one for the Mulsanne and one for Continental and Flying Spur models. Here is where every aspect of the car comes together. Wiring looms must be connected - in the case of the Mulsanne it is two miles long and weighs 50 kilos - dashboards must be fitted; engines married; the iconic matrix grill united with the front fenders; wheels attached; windscreens bonded; and seats inserted - all by the 702 Bentley employees who work in main assembly. When all of these elements and more have come together by hand each car is checked by eye for quality against a 500-650 point checklist. Not all checks can take place while the car is stationary, so each undergoes a four-mile drive on a rolling road, and 14 miles on the Cheshire roads around the factory, when specialists listen and feel for sounds and vibrations to ensure the character is absolutely right. To ensure the car is completely water-tight, each car is sprayed with 1,820 litres of water tinted with a trace of UV dye in a process referred to as the "monsoon test", before it is thoroughly checked under UV light. Finally each car is valeted and checked a final time under a light tunnel before it can be signed off for the customer.
Bentley's Pyms Lane factory has a rich history of engine production, producing around 26 thousand Merlin Engines between 1938 and 1945. The legacy is continued today as Bentley's position as the world's largest producer of the W12 engine is reinforced by its establishment as the centre of excellence for the Volkswagen Group for all W12 engine production from the end of 2014. The heart of each Bentley is the engine, and each one is handcrafted. Every single component of the 6¾-litre twin-turbo V8 and 6-litre W12 is selected and installed by hand by a small team of dedicated engine technicians. The key internal components are individually chosen to form a matching, balanced set so that the engine runs perfectly smoothly - a skill that takes years to perfect. Once completed, and after a thorough suite of testing, the engine is signed-off by one of Bentley's engine specialists.