The first thing you notice when you walk into the Supercar Club may well be a Ford GT. Or a Ferrari F430 or an Ariel Atom or even a Segway. The second thing you notice is the wine selection.
This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s December 2008 issue
This is clearly my kind of club. Yours too, might I suggest, if the notion of buying a serious Phwaaarrr Car ever invades your otherwise sensible melon. Because, for considerably less than the depreciation and running costs of a single sunny-day plaything, you can pick from a whole fleet of ’em whenever you want … and let someone else wear the worry the rest of the time.
Bottom line: club members in Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Perth pay an annual fee and, for that, get a number of points that they trade for certain days in certain cars purely as it might amuse them to do so.
‘Certain’, of course, denotes cost. And the club offers six different levels of points consumption ranging from the likes of a Lotus Elise up to a Lamborghini LP640. Then there’s the share option in a bazillion-buck Bugatti Veyron, but better for the marriage you buy Fiji.
Anyway, it’s a pleasure scanning the offerings at the clubhouse until the arrival of Photographer Bean in his coffee-stained kiddie-hauler both lowers the tone and raises the imperative that Sir might care to bags something and be gone at his earliest convenience.
Indeed he might. And while it’s fun to play ‘Do we do Lambo…?’ for a minute or two, I already know what I want today, and that’s a Bentley Continental GT. And while I’d like you to think that 411kW, 650Nm and claimed numbers like 4.6, 13.2 and 318 are behind the choice, they’re not.
Other cars available here can match or better those figures, but that’s their limitation. Because if you’re not wringing the neck of a Porsche or Ferrari, you’re wasting its time. The DNA of such cars leaves no latitude in their character. Brilliant, ballistic and uncompromising, anything less than ferocity in their public passage can only be attributed to the driver’s shortcomings and I’m not up for that sort of nudity today.
A Bentley, however, is a state of mind. Options of cruising or bruising are more profound in this car than in any other on Earth (hot-rodded Mercs included) and the pleasure of any journey is bound to be amplified not only by the extremes of the Continental GT’s capabilities but also by their width. So the driver’s mood rather than the car’s character sets the agenda and that’s exactly what I want today. And the Supercar Club’s existence makes that choice possible.
Not only possible but, let’s be honest, probably much more pleasurable than the alternative. Had I been bright enough, in my youth, to place a bet that Bentley would be owned by Volkswagen while World War II diggers still roamed the planet, I’d now be wealthy enough to own both cars. But I’m guessing that only one of them wouldn’t frequently drive me to a frothing fury. Because, despite Bentley’s ownership, the Continental GT is still both very beautiful and British-built and a lifetime’s experience of that combination doesn’t breed optimism.
But that’s not a problem for members. Any eccentricities will be attended to by others. God knows how you access anything in the boiler room − God and the club, I’m guessing − but I don’t care and neither will you.
Instead, we may admire the many positives mercifully unafraid, and as Bean rattles around committing last art while the thing’s still clean, I savour the subtleties of the lovely two-door shape. Details such as the headlight/taillight treatments and the beautiful integration of the rear window are masterful, but even more impressive is the underlying integrity. Traditionally, a pillarless configuration exhibits compromise such as noticeable rear-panel deflection when the door is closed (as any Charger owner will attest, yes Morley?).
But this is Bentley, so not a millimetre’s movement. And the door-opening conflict between rear-seat access and seatbelt reach is defused by seats strong enough to allow the belt’s direct mounting. That locomotive strength permeates everything − from door handles that a lesser company might use as structural members to solid metal switchgear − and reminds me of one of the marque’s more spectacular moments in history: the Blue Train race of 1930.
And that decides the day. We, my soon-to-be graduating daughter and I, will cross Mount Razorback, and, beyond the Thirlmere Rail Heritage Centre, we will celebrate the splendid rural Wollondilly roads of my own childhood and the last picnic of hers. In a Bentley state of mind.
The acceleration is simply astonishing. It may be expressed in numbers but is almost impossible to describe. Nothing so big and plush should generate forces like this. Okay, the Germans and Italians can do it too, but you’re expecting that when it happens; have probably shifted down, got the revs right. Got a grip. But plant the pedal halfway up a hill road in a Continental GT and it’s like experiencing an earthquake while seated in the Ritz.
Not that full noise is needed all that often on these roads. But on the mannerly byways beyond Picton, the Bentley, as expected, inspires the selection of pace with the growing surety that, whatever the chosen clip may be, there are always reserves available. Huge reserves. And both how much and how you draw from them is entirely optional.
Leave the six-speed auto gearbox to do its stuff, and it won’t disappoint. You can use the paddles if you want (and everyone will, I suspect). Once. But to second-guess judgement of this quality is not really to anybody’s benefit. There are needier things back at the clubhouse for that.
Delight, instead, in the billet build quality reflected in the ride’s balance, and the interior ambience of cow and coachwood that very few marques (and none at all built beyond Britain, sorry) can create without parody.
And savour even those details that are parody − the starter button, the Breitling clock and the organ-stop vent controls − because no one does them better. In truth, beneath all the beauty, some of the doings are sufficiently complex that you’re going to need to take it out more than once to figure everything out but, hey, that’s what you’ve got those points for.
Today, though, we learn enough to enjoy both the car and each other’s company completely. And as we dine beneath the oak planted near the site of the original Anthony Hordern’s tree on Razorback, still bearing that company’s slogan that I saw so many times in my childhood – ‘While I Live, I’ll grow’– I can only hope its message reaches my own child, too.
Certainly, though, the Bentley needs no further growth. At 2350kg (plus picnic basket) it’s imperfectly agile, and neither the size nor mass reflect its true hospitality. For all of both, it’s really only a two-seater − accommodation and access rendering the rear beneath dignity − and nor is this the limit to its flaws. But none of them keep it from being my favourite, special-day, cross-country car of all.
So appeasing that imbalance is the real benefit of the Supercar Club. Because it allows the supping of each fantasy-wagon just long enough to appreciate its joys and not long enough to be irritated by its failings. And when, at last, there’s a way to love the Best of British without having to live with it, that’s my kind of club, indeed.
Blast from the past on classic MOTOR
Of all the Bentley Boys, none outshone Woolf Barnato (pictured, right), who, with the confidence of inheritance and the competence of three Le Mans wins, became chairman of Bentley in 1925.
The greatest Bentley of all was the 6.5-litre, produced primarily for racing and used every day by Barnato, who, at a party in 1930, was sufficiently proud of it to wager that, with both leaving Cannes at 17:45 the next day, his car could arrive in London before the exclusively first-class French Le Train Bleu had arrived at Calais. Racing through the night, the Bentley reached the coast the next morning and, crossing the Channel by ferry, arrived at the Conservative Club in London at 15:20. Le Train Bleu arrived at Calais station at 15:24.
Commemorated in Terence Cuneo’s famous painting, the feat shaped a generation’s respect for Bentley. And my own.