The current Continental GT is the backbone of Bentley’s lineup, and rightfully so. It’s a fast and luxurious tourer not quite like anything offered by any of the British carmaker’s rivals. And in a way, it’s also a nod to Bentley’s past.
While the Continental name may not be unique (see Lincoln’s Continental), it has been adorning Bentleys on and off for 63 years. The name was first applied to the 1952 R-type Continental, one of the few sporty Bentleys at a time when the company was mostly selling copies of parent Rolls-Royce’s cars.
The two carmakers split at the turn of the century, Bentley spent most of the last century as a Rolls possession. When it was still independent, Bentley developed a reputation for building genuinely sporty cars, a reputation backed up by multiple 24 Hours of Le Mans wins. The 1952 R-type Continental recaptured some of that magic. It had a top speed of 120 mph, which was pretty fast for the time.
Except for brief interludes like the 1980s Turbo R sedan, Bentley wouldn’t really get back into building performance cars until the current Continental GT was launched in 2003. The model has undergone several revisions over the years, and has spawned convertible and Flying Spur sedan variants, but remains an impressive performer. The most potent versions boast a 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W12, and a top speed of 206 mph.
Bentley is quick to point out that there’s still a bit of the old 1950s Continental in the new model’s styling. Cues like the “power line” running from the leading edge of the front wheel well, and the bulbous “haunches” that define the rear fenders reference the 1952 model, Bentley says. Both cars also have grilles the size of bank vault doors.
Also with the larger Mulsanne sedan, the Continental GT is very traditionally Bentley, but now the company is changing things up. It’s in the process of launching its Bentayga SUV, and may put the well-received EXP 10 Speed 6 concept into production as a smaller, more nimble sports car. Both will help generate more sales, naturally. Tradition is nice, but sometimes change is necessary.