There are cars that one can drive and quickly forget, and then there are those rare occasions when something makes such an impression that it becomes a measuring device for future comparisons. For road cars I have a very select short list. The Porsche 930 Turbo that made its debut in 1975 in Europe, the Ferrari F40, Audi S8 and the Bentley Arnage. Now along comes the 2006 Bentley Continental GT and its inclusion is under advisement to join that list.
Back in 2003 when the C-GT made the spiritual trip from Crewe to Le Mans before hitting the market, many had serious doubts as to the validity of putting it in production. Bentley had only recently turned things around and the split up of Rolls Royce to BMW and Bentley to VAG (VW Group) only increased the scrutiny. Then there was the styling. All the PR talk about the legacy of the Continental R from the '50s, the true inspiration for the new C-GT owes more to the wonderful Lancia B-20 Aurelia coupe than that big Continental.
With Bentley's Arnage being the standard of the big four-door luxury sport cruisers, the launch of the C-GT seemed to be nothing more than a ploy to capture "the rapper and trash-talking jock market," according to many including writer Mike Magda. On the surface that would appear to have been true, but the Continental GT turned out to be much more than the usual bling-bling. The final product is a car that W.O. Bentley himself would have approved. Had the savior of Bentley and three-time Le Mans winner Wolf Barnato had the chance to drive the C-GT he would have favorably compared it to his legendary 1930 Speed Six "Blue Train Special" as a car in the spirit of Crewe.
So what is it like to live with a C-GT for a week? The sleek silver Crewemobile arrived mid-week and I promptly loaded up the boot and hit the road for the final round of the American Le Mans Series at Laguna Seca Raceway. There are few cars that match the sheer presence that the C-GT commands on the road.
Cruising at any speed over three digits is where the car's engineering excellence is most evident. This is not some aftermarket tuner special that stretches a car's capabilities; the C-GT is the real thing. The powerband is smooth, it does not hit you nor push you back deep in the seat the way a whooshmobile would. In fact, the rush doesn't seem to exist at all. A blip of the throttle and you have merged past seven cars on the road, the speedo shows 120 and your mind says "OK officer, maybe 75." Much like the experience of riding the high-speed bullet trains, the C-GT is not supposed to give one that sensation of being on the edge. It was built to do a job and one of those requirements was to do it quickly and in the uppermost in comfort and safety.
Supercars occupy a strange place in the automotive sphere. Is it the styling, is it sheer speed, is it the unobtainium factor of pointless exclusiveness? When you examine it point by point, most cars with the supercar tag are anything but. Cramped, uncomfortable, difficult to negotiate in traffic, prone to overheating, ground clearance issues, where do you park? The list goes on. The truth is that most of the cars with the S-tag are only seen on rare occasions that call for it leaving the garage where no doubt it is stored 350 days of the year. A concours, a race, a premier, something to enforce the exclusivity and rareness of said supercar.