The nutbag Dutchman in the driver’s seat next to me is tipping into second- and third-gear corners with no grip left and he’s off-line. By some margin. Even so, the nose heeds his sharp, misguided calls and aims for the chosen apex, somewhere about two metres inside the cliff face, on the wrong side of the road.
This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s December 2006 issue
From my seat, I’ve already figured out which tree the spitback will bounce us into and I’m hoping it’ll be on his side. He’ll deserve it. Bastard.
Never mind that to achieve his desired apex, he’s got to pass across the sharply cambered crown onto the wrong side of a blind corner on a Californian mountain road that, so far, has been peppered with dual-wheeled American pick-ups big enough to land Chinooks on. It’s the cliff, though, that looks set to claim the Continental GTC before any Detroit dinosaurs will get the chance.
Then he starts sawing savagely at the wheel, ripping left and right for reasons nobody with a basic understanding of weight transfer could fathom – certainly not the chassis and definitely not the ESP which, to his utter disgust, translated this bewildering exercise into staccato tyre howl.
Somewhere amid all the sawing, though, the convertible has avoided the cliff and emerged, still completely on the wrong side of the road, to find a black Dodge Ram maybe 30 metres too late to put the GTC’s structural rigidity to the ultimate test.
There are two lessons here: never entrust yourself to a driver whose country has neither corners nor hills, and; the GTC is a stupidly fast, disturbingly serene bullet.
Capable of hitting 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and bursting to 306km/h even with the roof down, the GTC is the last and best car off the Continental program – the one that finally shows what the body was meant to look like all along.
MOTOR used car advice: Best kW-per-dollar choices
Twelve cylinders, two turbochargers, 411kW and 650Nm are enough to make it legit MOTOR territory. But it’s also bloody heavy, bloody composed and have I mentioned already that it’s crushingly, disdainfully fast? It even has bucketloads of mid-corner grip and sounds better than either of its siblings, with which it shares about 70 per cent of its doings.
The rest – around 700 parts in all – is there either to keep the rain out or to make the whole thing stiffer. Bentley claims a bending stiffness of 22,500Nm per degree, but what the hell does that really mean?
Well, according to engineering director Ulrich Eichhorn, you can attach a one-metre bar to any corner of the GTC, hang another 2495kg GTC off it, and it will only bend by one degree – and then bend back when you remove the load. It’s impressive stuff, and the whole diagram of the additional stiffening looks like a Mecchano set gone wild. In stupidly expensive Boron.
So, right about now isn’t when you want to know about a six-layer, seven-bar roof system, but the really cool piece of theatre is that it can be either opened or closed while driving up to 30km/h. I know. I tested it at 25 seconds up, and 25 down.
Where Aussie road gangs would call you a wanker if you did it rolling past them, the Americans want to cheer you and clap. Unless you’re Dutch, and you’re flinging past them at 100 kays, in which case they’d happily call you a wanker – if they knew what it meant.
While the convertible adds 110kg to an already stupidly heavy motor car, there is some good to come out of it, and especially for the GT. A little left out of the latest engineering pushes, the GT will get the GTC’s new front end which, in the interests of rigidity, does away with little comfort niceties like bushes between the chassis and the subframe.
It makes a huge difference to the speed and accuracy of the front end, especially under hard cornering. Its turn-in bite is hard, and it feels much better to drive than the hardtop GT. It’s certainly more direct, and it doesn’t hurt that it inherits the upgraded, feedback-oriented steering Bentley introduced on the Flying Spur. This front end needs to find its way into the GT, and fast.
The GTC bites harder in fast corners than slow ones, even though it’s pretty good in them, too – certainly better than the GT is. There’s more feedback from the front through the wheel and pedals, and it’s
a very sharp, very composed car.
However, in the slower corners, its turn-in bite is harder than its static-state grip seems able to sustain – and there’s always 2495kg arguing with the helm about the direction of travel, especially if you’ve flicked it across a change of direction to make it bite in the first place.
The only issue is that, after it tips in flat and clean, it can waft into understeer as the weight takes over and the ESP won’t give you the throttle to correct it. The GTC's slightly different in faster corners, where it whisps through and is ridiculously flingable for a car this heavy.
Until you get behind the front seats, the GTC is visually identical inside and out to the GT, but from there it gets all quirky. There’s about 110mm less shoulder room (though, curiously, more headroom when the roof is up) in the back. But it will still carry two golf bags which, for Americans, is very important.
MOTOR review: 2018 Continental GT
The burble of the W12 is very familiar, and with the roof down, playing with the bubbling overrun is even more fun, leaving a light, trailing throttle for it to pop through the exhaust. But light throttle is a bit silly when you’ve got this much potency under management, and the drivetrain is fabulously stable and assured, regardless of when you want to bury the welly.
The GTC has a superb ride quality. Brilliant, even. There are four air-suspension settings and, while most Australians will find the softest a bit marshmallow, the Seppos seem to enjoy it. The middle two settings are the go, because the sportiest setting seems a bit hard for the real world, and the middle ones let the driver push firmly with some suspension compliance to keep rubber on the road.
The stiffness is not a numerical illusion. We only provoked any sort of shaking with extreme aggravation over heavily-cambered, flip-flop esses. Even when deep into its bump rubber, the GTC only momentarily shook with rack rattle and scuttle shake, the tyres never lost contact with the road and the car never altered its line. Impressive, especially with the forces being punched through by the inertia that 2495kg generates.
The biggest production-car brakes going around don’t seem to struggle with the GTC on public roads, and at 405x36mm up front, squished by eight pistons worth of caliper power, you’d hope not.
Push hard, though, and it’s not the weight or the body rigidity, but the gearbox that lets the GTC down first. Left in Drive, it’s as though the brain is engaged in a constant race to get into sixth gear as quickly as possible, giving each cog a cursory spin before it reaches the tallest one, and trying like buggery to stay there. Bentley thinks it can justify that by having its torque peak arrive at 1600 revs. It can’t. It’s annoying, not smooth or serene.
The transmission will hold gears in Sport mode, but it drives best in Manual, when you change gears with the lever or (preferably) the paddles.
That way you can just let the computer figure things out, keep pulling down gears on your way into corners (because it won’t let you go too low), and playing with the surprising throttle delicacy to keep the car on line through corners.
The Bentley's got the torque for high-gear potency, but it lacks for fine throttle control, so it’s better to keep it at high rpm. All the while, it’s blasting out a slightly off-beat 12-pot warble, echoing off the trees and soaking the cabin in its meaty goodness.
Even in manual mode, the tranny will upshift without you asking if it’s about to hit the limiter. But what’s worse is that it will jump down anywhere up to four gears if you nail the throttle hard enough to push through the détente. Is this manual or isn’t it?
According to CEO and Chairman Dr Franz-Josef Paefgen, this is US liability law at work. The rest of it is part of Bentley’s constant philosophical debate about how far to push the sport while maintaining grace, composure and an unruffled interior feel.
This car is undoubtedly Bentley’s masterpiece so far in its rebirth. The Spur is terrific, but ugly and lacks visual integration in its hindquarters. Not so the GTC – it looks and drives like the Continental was meant to all along.
Can't spell classic without class on classic MOTOR
2006 Bentley Continental GTC
BODY: 2-door, 4-seat convertible
ENGINE: 5998cc DOHC 48-valve twin-turbo W12
POWER: 411kW @ 6100rpm
TORQUE: 650Nm @ 1600-6000rpm
BORE/STROKE: 84.0mm x 90.2mm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
0-100KM/H: 5.1sec (claimed)
TOP SPEED: 312km/h
SUSPENSION: four-link independent, air springs (f); multi-link, air springs (r)
BRAKES: 405mm x 36mm ventilated discs, eight-piston calipers (f); 335mm x 22mm ventilated discs, six-piston calipers (r); ABS, EBD
WHEELS: 19-inch alloys
PRICE: $400,000 (tbc)
Stiffness is the name of the game when you cut a hole this big out of a car this heavy. The GTC gets massive diagonal cross braces beneath the cabin, tacked-on bracing underneath the door sills, and windscreen pillars cut from a tougher cloth. There’s also some extra bracing around the roof’s hidey hole and all of that roughly accounts for most of the 110kg weight gain.