As 2009 is winding down, we look back on a horrible year for the auto industry specifically as well as the economy in general. From manufacturer bailouts and bankruptcy, to local dealers shutting their doors, this was a dismal twelve months to be selling cars.
But we’re starting to see quotes here and there from analysts that the economy may be slowly recovering. And at the L.A. Auto Show that’s going on right now downtown, there’s a new glimmer of optimism in most of the display areas.
So with that, I thought I’d have a little fun the next couple of weeks with some fantasy cars that very few will own, but that just about everyone drools over. I recently wrote about the spectacular new Ferrari California, a car with racetrack performance and runway looks and style. Now, something else to admire and dream about.
I’ll get right to the jaw-dropping number first. The Bentley Continental GTC Speed, a large four-seat ultra-luxury convertible, carries a base price of $231,000. While some may say it’s frivolous for anyone to spend that kind of money on a car, I hope people of means will. Not only would its purchase support the families of those who work at the dealerships, but the sales tax and license fees go right to the state treasury, where money is pretty scarce these days.
There are a few other jaw-dropping numbers associated with the GTC Speed. The engine has twelve cylinders, with two turbochargers attached to it. The six liters of displacement help it produce 600 horsepower, sent to the ground through all four wheels. While that amount of horsepower is mighty impressive, the car weighs 5500 pounds. Nevertheless, you’ve probably never seen more than two and a half tons of leather-lined luxury giddy-up so quickly.
While Bentleys have always traditionally been sporting cars, the brand has really turned up the performance rheostat in recent years since it became part of the same company that builds the Audi and, gulp, Volkswagen brands. Yes, German cars for commoners have a connection to the car of British aristocracy, but that’s actually a good thing. The engine and all wheel drive system are sourced from Audi’s flagship A8 W12.
This is an amazingly athletic car for its size and weight, and it’s as luxurious as automobiles come. The leather is oh so supple, and the vast amounts of wood on the dash are actual high-grade timber, not fake plastic. It’s also hard to find any plastic at all inside the GTC Speed, as most every switch and control are machined from metal, and there is leather nearly everywhere else. To spend time inside this car is to be swaddled in British craftsmanship and materials, from the wool carpet to the soft headliner inside the convertible top.
No folding hardtop for this luxury ride, as that would be a packaging nightmare in a car so large. Instead, one of the thickest and most insulating fabric tops I’ve ever experienced. Its multiple layers assure that most all outside noise stays on the outside, and it even has a small dome light nestled into the headliner.
This car has presence, to be sure. Its sheer size makes it stand out on the road or just parked in a driveway. The styling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, as the shape is very curvy. But there is just such an air of luxury to it, even if you never step inside. Some may complain that many cars look alike these days, but I don’t think anyone can rightly say that this car looks like any other on the road.
And the driving is like nothing else either. After climbing inside, you can just gently shut the door (slamming it would not befit a vehicle like this) and a small motor draws it to a full close for you. Twisting the key or touching the start button on the console brings a powerful whirr from the starter motor until the twelve cylinders burble to life. Slotting the selector lever into gear sets everything in motion and soon you’re off. The GTC Speed glides over bumps, but can tackle a corner when asked.
It’s also perfectly happy to motor along rather silently, until you feel the need to stab the accelerator and bring all 600 horsepower to work. Then this luxury car turns into a very large sports car, though it gets pretty thirsty at 10 miles per gallon in the city and 17 on the highway. This probably isn’t the sole car that many of its owners possess, and I imagine many have something a little more efficient beside it in the garage. A Bentley convertible is something that’s an ideal car for weekend jaunts.
The GTC Speed’s price puts it out of reach of most everyone, and it gulps premium fuel at rapid pace. The rear seats aren’t very big, so you really can’t carry four adults in comfort. Does any of this matter to those who desire and can afford it? Probably not. Cars like this are rare, refined, and ready for sporting driving, which is all its customers really want from it. This is where the sporting Bentley delivers in style.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.