Pretend, for a moment, that you have an incredibly wealthy uncle. His bloodline is steeped in aristocracy; his Savile Row suits make your finest clothing look like used-up Kleenex. His taste is impeccable and represents a sheer quality of judgment that can result only from years of breeding. Picture this uncle’s sitting room and all it would entail. Now imagine–right where the coffee table goes–a turbocharged, aluminum-block, 6.8-liter V-8. It’s resting on a giant velvet pillow. And it pumps out some 487 lb-ft of torque.
This was the Bentley Turbo R.
The 1985-1994 Turbo R wasn’t Bentley‘s first turbocharged car (that honor belongs to the Turbo R‘s predecessor, the Mulsanne Turbo), but it was arguably its most successful. And while there have been faster and more refined Bentleys since the Turbo R’s 1985 Geneva debut, few have had as much character.
Admittedly, in spite of the impressive engine output, the ingredients don’t look like much. The 5270-pound, seventeen-foot-long, 297-hp Turbo R was essentially nothing more than a tweaked and revised version of the Mulsanne Turbo, which was itself little more than a frighteningly fast Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit. (Frightening due to balance, not speed; suspension tuning was left virtually unchanged when the comfort-at-all-costs Silver Spirit was given a Bentley badge and a blower, leaving the boosted Mulsanne with all the dynamic stability of a giraffe on mescaline.)
But the Turbo R came at a time when Rolls-Royce was undergoing changes. Mike Dunn, the company’s chief engineer, had just arrived from Ford of Europe, where he had been director of chassis and powertrain engineering. The Mulsanne Turbo was revamped under his watchful eye. Dampers were stiffened, antiroll bars were enlarged (50 percent in the front, 100 percent in the rear), a Panhard rod was added, and the self-leveling rear suspension was retuned. The end result? Suddenly–even though ride quality differed little–the Turbo R handled.
The numbers are telling: 60 mph arrived in 6.7 seconds–near supercar acceleration for the time. The redline came at a sedate 4500 rpm, but almost all the V-8’s thunderous torque was available from idle. All this, coupled with traditional Roller-Bentley refinement.
More important, though, was the fact that the Turbo R felt like a real Bentley. At a time when most Bentleys felt like Rolls-Royces, this was no small thing. The Turbo R’s tall, snorty personality made you think of woody scotch, fox hunts, and unstoppable, daylong charges through the French countryside. From behind the wheel of the Turbo R, the Bentley mystique began to make sense. It was a car with the power to convert heathens, and it signaled the beginning of Bentley’s return.
WHAT TO PAYEarly solid drivers cost from $20,000 to $30,000; pristine ’94s can double that.
BODY STYLEShort- and long-wheelbase four-door sedan.
PRODUCTION5864, of which 4653 were SWB and 1211 were LWB.
WHAT OUT FORInfrequent maintenance, budget-oriented sellers.
ROLLS-ROYCE AND BENTLEY COLLECTOR’S GUIDE, VOLUME 4: 1980-1998 by Graham Robson, Motor Racing Publications, $23.
ROLLS-ROYCE & BENTLEY MULSANNE by Malcolm Bobbitt, Veloce Publishers, $23.
ROLLS-ROYCE & BENTLEY GOLD PORTFOLIO by R.M.Clarke, Brooklands Books, $30.
SPARES AND DEALERS
BENTLEY ZIONSVILLE 317-873-2360 www.albersrollsbentley.com
MONTAGUE & COMPANY011-44-1483-898-595 (United Kingdom)www.rolls-parts.com
BRITISH CAR PARTS COMPANY281-448-4739 www.britishcarpartsco.com
ROLLS-ROYCE OWNERS’ CLUB www.rroc.org
OUR CHOICEThe long wheelbase cars are better to be driven in; the short wheelbase cars are the ones to drive. We’ll take an early SWB Turbo R in British Racing Green.