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The Complete History Of The Bentley Continental

One of the Grandest Luxury Cars of All Time

The story of the Bentley Continental begins at the same point as the brand responsible for creating it: in post-World War I Europe. Amidst the war-ravaged landscape, W.O. Bentley’s engineering genius finally got the chance to express itself. In October of 1919, the first Bentley engine roared into life. 


Throughout the roaring 20s, Bentley’s creations would go from strength to strength, with racing triumphs across Europe helping to furnish a reputation for reliability, speed and incredible performance. Sales soared.




The 1930s saw the first tentative hint of the future Bentley Continental peep its head over the parapet.




1938 Bentley Continental


Fresh from its latest one-two victory at Le Mans, Bentley launched an 8-litre in direct competition with its fabled Rolls-Royce rival, pitting proven performance against legendary smoothness, sporting handling against quiet refinement. 


Sadly, the Great Depression would put paid to further dreams of victory, when the behemoth that Rolls-Royce had become swallowed the financially vulnerable Bentley Motors and merged the two. Production was transferred to Derby and a new chapter began for the up and coming brand.  


Working together, the two motoring giants produced a flood of new ideas and technological refinements that would further enhance the Bentley concept. With war clouds gathering to blacken Europe’s skies a second time, they rolled out a 4 ½ litre engine, an overdrive gearbox, independent front suspension in the successful Mark V and the blueprint for the vehicle that would become known as the Bentley Continental.




The development of the Continental would not be revisited until the 1950s. By 1952, the beloved Bentley Mark VI was in desperate need of a facelift, and from the ideas for its successor came the new R-Type.





Although the R-Type closely resembled its forbear, the Mark VI, it boasted technical improvements and, perhaps, more importantly, it would go on to inspire the legendary R-Type Continental.


For ten long years, this revolutionary vehicle would remain unique. Despite the success of its originality, new Bentley and Rolls-Royce models would continue to share identical technology, with only the Continental variant, with its coach-built two and four door versions, breaking the mould and moving away from Rolls-Royce styling.




Bentley S2 Continental 




In 1991, it was the turn of the Continental R to steal the limelight. It did so in style at that year’s Geneva Motor Show. It entered production a year later, with its turbocharged and intercooled 6.75-litre V8 offering buyers 150 mph performance.




1991 Bentley Continental R


Models including the Bentley Brooklands and Bentley Azure soon joined it in the line-up, ensuring that Bentley was firmly back on its feet. With W.O’s original vision back behind the wheel, the direction for future development and innovation was clear.


The 1990s was a glorious decade for the brand, with the Continental T also rolling off the production line, instantly becoming an integral part of the Bentley range. With 420bhp, a top speed of 170 mph and 875Nm of torque, it broke all records for a production motor car. 




Bentley Continental T


The acquisition of Bentley by the Volkswagen Group in 1998 added greater resources, newer technology and even greater impetus to the momentum of the Bentley renaissance.


2000 Onwards


Thanks to the Volkswagen takeover, Bentley saw massive investment in their Crewe facility at the turn of the century, with their new overlords keen to make plain their intention to maintain a thoroughly British bloodline.


In the same glorious year that Bentley endeavoured to embark on a new racing vehicle, they also unveiled the stunning Continental GT in Paris. The delectable motor attracted 3,200 deposits eight months before the first one was even scheduled for delivery. 




Bentley Continental GT


Following hot on its heels in 2005 was the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, succeeded one year later by the Continental GTC.




Bentley Continental Flying Spur


Bentley wasn’t finished with the development of the flagship Continental, however. Finding themselves embroiled in an industry-wide debate as to the growing environmental impact of motoring, and the feasibility of using renewable fuel sources, Bentley launched the Continental Supersports.  


The Continental Supersports was the delivery of a promise made by Dr Franz-Josef Paefgen, Bentley Chairman and Chief Executive, to cut CO2 emissions and significantly improve fuel economy across the brand’s range by 2012. The fastest, most powerful Bentley ever, it was also its creator’s first FlexFuel performance car.  




Bentley Continental Supersports

So what’s next for the legendary Bentley Continental? The final chapters in the iconic models story have yet to be written, but one thing is certain: the Continental will retain its revered position as one of the greatest cars ever produced irrespective of the direction it takes. For Bentley enthusiasts the world over, it will forever have a special place in their hearts.  


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