Driven! The $1.9 Million Bentley Mulliner Bacalar
Twelve cylinders, 200 mph, 5,000-year-old wood on the dash, and a $1.9 million price tag.
The limited-edition 2021 Bentley Mulliner Bacalar was intended to be one of the stars of the 2020 Geneva Motor Show. But COVID-19 had other ideas, and with Geneva's sudden cancellation, Bentley was forced to forgo the pomp and circumstance of launching the Bacalar at an event that has in the past hosted the debuts of style icons such as the Jaguar E-Type and Lamborghini Countach. Instead, Bentley's first two-seat car in 90 years was revealed via a direct data dump into media inboxes around the globe.
In the end, it didn't matter. All 12 Bacalars were quickly snapped up without a single customer having seen an actual car, and not one canceled their order even as the pandemic threw the global economy into chaos. Anxious Bentley boss Adrian Hallmark, who has met, via Zoom, all the Bacalar buyers at least three times over the past 12 months, asked each of them why they still wanted to buy a car that was a pure indulgence. Their answer? "Why not?"
The Bentley Bacalar's Roots
The Bacalar is based on the Continental GT Speed convertible, sharing that car's running gear and basic inner body structure. That means the Speed's 650-hp, 664-lb-ft version of the twin-turbo W-12 engine is under the hood, driving all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission tweaked to provide slightly faster shifts than in regular Conti GTs. It also means the Bacalar has the Speed's rear-wheel steering system and electronic differential, as well as its quicker steering ratio. The spring, damper, and anti-roll-bar rates are identical to those of the Speed convertible.
The only exterior components the Bacalar shares with the Speed droptop are the door handles, and only because they contain the hardware for the keyless entry system. Every exterior panel is unique to the Bacalar, designed and crafted by Bentley Mulliner, the company's in-house coachbuilding, customization, and classic-car specialist. The hood and door skins are aluminum; everything else is made from carbon fiber.
Though it shares key hard points with the regular GT convertible—wheelbase, dash-to-axle ratio, cowl height—the Bacalar is 2.0 inches longer overall, with most of the extra length behind the rear wheels. It's also 1.7 inches wider, thanks to rear fenders pumped up to accommodate a 0.8-inch increase in the rear track. Finally, the windshield is shallower, reducing the overall height by 1.6 inches. As a result, the Bacalar hunkers closer to the road than the suavely elegant GT Convertible, all sinew and muscle under a tautly stretched skin, like LeBron James in a Savile Row suit.
Naturally, the Bacalar Is Special Inside, Too
The Bacalar interior has also been given a Mulliner makeover, with re-profiled door and center-console treatments, a digital instrument panel, and detail changes to everything else, right down to knurling on the bullseye vents, the pattern of which is repeated on the steering-wheel controls, media and climate controls, and the speaker grilles. The two seats feature a unique quilting pattern that, according to Bentley, requires precisely 148,199 stitches per seat to complete. Behind them, under the aero humps extending onto the rear deck, is room for two specially designed bags by Italian luxury luggage maker Schedoni.
Only 12 Bentley Bacalars will ever be sold, but 13 exist. Bacalar Car Zero is the test validation mule, a car that, among other things, has already covered more than 6000 'customer' miles and more than 4500 'durability' miles in its short career. It is, as Bentley insiders freely admit, a little scuffed around the edges, not least because the lack of a roof means even the interior was subjected to climatic testing involving temperatures ranging from 14 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit, humidity levels of 80 percent, and high-intensity UV loads. But apart from some distressed lacquer on the painted areas of the 5000-year-old Riverwood veneer, the interior looks none the worse for wear.
The wind deflector between the aero humps is a prototype part fastened with bolts, and the unique wheels are painted black for convenience. (Each 'production' Bacalar wheel, which has three separate finishes, requires a day's painting and preparation before being fitted to a car, says Omar Sheikh, coachbuilding project leader at Bentley Mulliner.) Apart from those items, and the steel brakes, Bacalar Car Zero is pretty much the same spec as will be delivered to the well-heeled purchasers.
A Special and Unique Driving Experience
Feathered tires and a spongy brake pedal betray the hard life of a factory test mule, but in every other way, Car Zero feels fresh. The Speed-spec engine and transmission deliver Bentley's trademark 12-cylinder thrust in a single smooth surge all the way to 6000 rpm, to the accompaniment of a tingly muted snarl from the exhaust, particularly in Sport mode. Despite the cold, blustery spring weather, it's quiet enough in the cabin to engage in normal conversation at freeway speeds.
There's a familiar measured cadence in the way the Bacalar goes down the road, and a calm heft to the body motions as they are artfully modulated by the air suspension and steadied by the 48-volt anti-roll system. But the moment you pull the steering wheel off center, it's clear the Bacalar is a very different sort of Bentley, light on its feet and surprisingly responsive. It's not really light—although it has no convertible roof and attendant mechanisms, and it's swathed in carbon fiber and aluminum, the Bacalar weighs just 66 pounds less than a 12-cylinder GT convertible. No, the Bacalar's alert front end is a result of the rear-steer system, the differential, and the quicker steering.
It's quick and composed, but it's not a sports car. The Bacalar has been tuned for comfort, not for ricocheting from apex to apex with your hair on fire. It's a Bentley perfectly pitched for a languid late morning run along the Grande Corniche, the blue waters of the Mediterranean sparkling in the distance, en route to lunch at the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco. Where, of course, its rarity and style will earn it a primo valet spot right out front.
Even Bentley's Adrian Hallmark, no stranger to selling expensive cars to well-heeled clients, seems slightly surprised that, in the midst of a global pandemic, anyone would splash $1.9 million on a hand-built, 12-cylinder, 200-mph car that doesn't even have a roof. "We're not seeing recessionary behavior; we're seeing something like a postwar boom," he says of the response to the Bacalar, the first in what will be a series of limited edition coachbuilt cars from Mulliner. "People are saying, 'life is too short not to do what I've wanted to do.' "
The Bacalar is a Bentley for the Roaring Twenties: the post-pandemic 2020s.