Bentley considers the Continental GT to be unique because it features a 6-liter, 1L cylinder, twin-turbo charged engine with more than 500 bhp driving all four wheels through a paddle-operated, six speed automatic gearbox combined with its interior space, versatility and ease of ownership that make it a merely viable everyday car.
Being designed and engineered by Bentley at Crewe, the vehicle was manufactured in all-new facilities that combine the art technologies with the unique hand finishing and a special attention to detail. The inimitable Bentley craftsmanship is hallmarked on all the cars that wear the winged “B”. The car went on sale in the 2nd half of 2003, even if the dream of building a new Bentley coupe is not new. It has been alive at Crewe for over 20 years and only the $500 million vote of confidence placed in the marque by Volkswagen brought the dream to reality. Volkswagen has enabled Bentley to turn the Crewe factory into a thoroughly modern centre of manufacturing, ensuring Bentley to be in a better shape than ever.
Let’s turn back to August 1999, if we want to talk about the styling of the Continental GT, when newly appointed head of design, Dirk van Braeckel was briefed to prepare a concept for an all new Bentley coupe: one that would use 80 years of Bentley design as its inspiration, yet look only to the future in its shape. It took just 4 months when van Braeckel submitted his preferred design to the board of Bentley Motors. It was approved on the spot. So they took the design philosophy that inspired cars like Bentley Speed Six of 1928 and the 1952 R-Type Continental used it in an entirely contemporary context. It was a magical process because they looked for those things that gave those cars much presence and a stance that “shouted” Bentley at anyone who looked at them.
Bentley’s design philosophy for the Continental GT referred to the fact that the car had to have a short front overhang and an overly dominant bonnet expressed by the unusually large distance between the front axle line and the A-pillar. The pillarless cabin itself had to be sleek and compact while the rear haunches should have been taut and pronounced to give the impression of a crouching animal ready to pounce. The styling team manted this car this car to be curvaceous and sinuous with a form that appears and disappears like muscle on a gymnast’s arm.
The shape of the car was essential because it had to suit its sporting intentions and that’s why it was decided that the brightwork should be minimized, limited to the door surrounds, a finish along the sill, the exhaust surrounds and radiator grille. But the headlamps themselves had a dominant role in styling being the larger of the 2 pairs, and also to draw attention to the most distinctive Bentley feature of all: the matrix radiator grille.
Having achieved such a distinct design they thought of the dynamic challenges of such a high performance vehicle. Formed in 1999, the aerodynamics department at Crewe had a rather more elegant solution in mind. The Continental GT is fitted with a rear spoiler skillfully integrated into the design of the car, where the rear screen meets the bootlid. It is for the most part invisible, deploying automatically when high speed merits additional downforce.
The Central High Mounted Stop Lamp is another unique feature of the car. Regulations require the CHMSL to be placed in a certain area, but do not dictate its shape. So Continental GT is featured with a CHMSL that is just 3 mm tall but fully one meter wide. The result is that it has no negative impact on the styling.
Interior Design and Style
The cabin is designed to make the driver feel comforted and reassured by the expanses of top quality hide and fine wood veneers. The cabin also ensures a new level of luxury, style and good taste. The symmetrical nature of the fascia with a centre console rising up and curving left and right in front of the passenger and driver in a shape of the famed Bentley wings. It also has the effect of creating the same atmosphere on either side of the car so that the passenger can feel almost as much part of the action as the driver.
Regarding seat design, Bentley is one of few car manufacturers that design seats as an in-house field and anyone who has traveled in a Bentley knows how important this area of design is to the marque. The particular feature with the Continental GT was to offer a comfortable seat complete with considerable front and rear travel, a multitude of electric adjustments and integral seat-belts. Bentley’s designers met all the safety targets of the integral seat and belt without compromising the interior style of the car. The front seats have been designed pillarlessly while the rear seats have been given the same attention as the back passenger sit well apart with deeply scalloped recesses for their elbows, allowing ample personal place.
A task the designers of all luxury car face is to present the controls and information interfaces in a way that is both uncluttered yet easy to use. In Continental GT, most routine operations can be operated direct from the steering wheel. The air-conditioning, navigation, computer information are individually controlled and displayed on the same screen sited in the middle of the centre console.
The aluminum pedals, chrome instrument surrounds, knurled finishes of the ancillary controls give comfort and luxury inside the vehicle.
The way Bentley tailors the natural wood and leather to suit the Continental GT proves that these traditional materials can still create a contemporary feel. The 21st century technology enabled wood to be curved in a way that would simply not have been possible in the past. The leather is cut from the hide using a new digitized process that ensures minimal levels of wastage and maximum efficiency.
The secret of the Continental GT’s interior room is its engine. By choosing the basic architecture of the W12 powerplant used in the Volkswagen Group, Bentley’s engineers staggered the cylinders in each bank creating effectively 2 narrow angle (15 degree) V6 engines sharing a common crankshaft and giving rise to the “W” formation.
Thus providing a short engine with a considerable capacity and frees up space that can be reapportioned to the car’s interior. Indeed it is the shortest twelve cylinder engine on the market.
Regarding the fuel tank, that is usually between the boot and rear seat, the Continental GT’s fuel tank is under the floor of the car. This requires to straddle the transmission tunnel, but the result is effective.
The first Bentley designed entirely in the virtual world, the Continental GT’s every single component was not merely computer designed, but designed into the Continental concept alongside every other part.
Using the latest CATIA-based Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs, the Continental GT represents a huge step forward in Bentley design technology. With all components existing in the virtual world before a single one is created as a physical property, it is possible to see how each part interacts with all the others, illuminating problems and conflicts that, in the past, may never have come to light until the part had been machined.
Powertrain and Chassis
The W12 formation engine was a natural choice for Bentley. Not only did it have the potential to deliver these objectives, it also boasted the incredibility compact dimensions required to realize the Continental GT’s packaging requirements.
Using two turbochargers on an engine with two banks of cylinders has many advantages over the old, single turbo method. For a start, because there are two of them, each turbo is much smaller than would be a single unit designed for the same purpose. This means they have less inertia and therefore accelerate up to and back down from operating speed much more quickly, minimizing turbo-lag.
It is a fair observation that a 6-liter, twin-turbo engine with tremendous torque does not strictly need six gears to keep itself on the boil.
The basis of the Continental GT’s chassis strategy is an extremely stiff body, without which, even the most sophisticated of suspension system can be undetermined. To this was applied the very latest in suspension technology featuring an innovative double wishbone arrangement at the front and multi-link rear axle behind.
The Continental GT is equipped with the full suite of passive safety equipment. As well as possessing exceptional front, side and rear deformation characteristics on impact, there are two front airbags, four side airbags and two side curtain bags that, unusually for a coupe, each run along the full length of the cabin. Seat belt pretensioners are used for all four seats.