2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur

Timothy Ferris
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Martyn Goddard
Full Front Grill View

The steep and jagged Dolomites are in many respects even more dramatic in appearance than the Alps. Goddard aptly described them as looking like "the way a child draws mountains." Back in the old days, when motorists had to stop and change carburetor jets to get over the top, they could seriously challenge a car's ability to handle altitude and weather changes, and even today they can bring out unexpected and occasionally un-nerving aspects of its personality. As we climbed through the Giau and Tre Croci passes, with their classic successions of tight hairpins, short straightaways, and eye-popping views of sharp drop-offs into oblivion, the Bentley's straightline speed, which is what usually wins races and almost always dominates on mountain roads, allowed us to gobble up everything in sight effortlessly. Its cornering, too, was excellent, although I had trouble finding a good line through the many blind left-handed hairpins. You're tempted to clip the apex, but that could result in a head-on collision with a bus or a truck lumbering down the mountain, while the big sedan tended to lose momentum at the slower speeds imposed when taking a wider line.

Like many modern high-performance cars, the Bentley offers a variety of transmission and suspension settings. Soft dampers and full automatic, fine on the freeways, were less suitable here, as were the intermediate tranny programs that allowed the car to upshift on throttle lifts just before the next turn. I soon settled on the up/down shift gate, the Bentley's closest impersonation of a manual gearbox, in which the car constantly generated g-forces higher than a courteous driver would normally care to inflict on back-seat passengers.

Roadways are like music, their designers like composers-there are many more mediocrities than Mozarts-and by late afternoon, the splendid passes gave way to a dog of a road, with scarcely a good turn on it, running to the Austrian border. But soon thereafter, we were pulling up in front of the Residenz Heinz Winkler in Bavaria. No parking spaces were in evidence, so we left the car directly in front of the inn entrance, where it remained throughout the night without anyone's objecting. It's surprising how nicely strangers treat you when you arrive in a Bentley. On the way to an eagerly anticipated dinner-Winkler is perhaps Bavaria's greatest chef-I checked on the car and found an even longer Maybach now parked next to it, its chauffeur down the way having a smoke. This, I reflected, was the other traditional approach to touring: having a chauffeur means that you can come out from Munich, eat and drink all you like, and ride home in safe, legal comfort.

Passenger Side Front View

Over a dinner of lobster ravioli, Dover sole, and a fine chilled Riesling, I expounded on the history of GT cars to Goddard, who listened tolerantly, although he knows more about the genealogy of British motorcars than I ever will. Americans, I reminded him, tend to confuse Bentley with Rolls-Royce, which bought Bentley Motors in 1931 and eventually turned the marque into merely a Rolls with a different grille. This conflation was etched into the American consciousness by the famous David Ogilvy advertisement, still taught in marketing classes and said to have sold out the entire American Rolls inventory at the time, which concluded: "The Bentley is made by Rolls-Royce. Except for the radiators, they are identical motorcars, manufactured by the same engineers in the same works. People who feel diffident about driving a Rolls-Royce can buy a Bentley." Yet the cars had once been very different, I noted. The Rolls was principally for being driven in, by a chauffeur, while the Bentley, a star on the racing circuit, was for driving. Now that Bentley was once again independent (having been purchased by Volkswagen in the confusing 1998 deal that yielded the Rolls emblem to BMW) and successful on the racing circuit (having captured first and second place at Le Mans in 2003), it had emerged anew as a luxury GT for the driving, as opposed to riding, auto enthusiast.

"It's not the same to be driven as to drive," I concluded. Goddard-who has done plenty of both and probably could obliterate my lap times on any track while wearing an Ogilvy-style eye patch-smiled tolerantly and said, "On the other hand, I myself was driven here, in a Bentley, by my driver." He returned to the theme at an alfresco lunch the next day just off the autobahn. "You see?" he observed cheerfully. "Here I am, having lunch with my chauffeur."

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