By: Dave Abrahams
Crewe, Derbyshire - This, says Bentley chairman Wolfgang Durheimer, is the most sophisticated open-top car the company has yet created.
Unveiled to a select few invited guests on Monday night, it will be on display at the Los Angeles motor show from Thursday (19 November), alongside the new Mulsanne Speed sedan.
Durheimer said at the preview: “This concept demonstrates Bentley's ability to create a supremely elegant convertible Grand Tourer. With this car we combine the luxury of the Mulsanne with the sensory indulgence of open-air touring, bringing together luxury and performance in new ways.”
Based on the Mulsanne, the Grand Convertible is understated, almost old-school in style; it’s entirely hand-built, using the finest materials available, as an automotive work of art in the tradition of the classic coachbuilders such as HJ Mulliner, Park Ward and the iconic Parisian carrosserie of Figoni et Falaschi.
So much so, in fact, that that when the Los Angeles auto show closes on 30 November the car will travel to Miami, Florida for Art Basel, the world's premier international art show for modern and contemporary work.
The hand-built body is finished in Sequin Blue, originally a bespoke colour created from a single sequin off a customer's haute couture evening gown, with a silver 'liquid metal' finish on the bonnet and windscreen frame.
The hand-finished and polished alloy rims, each with five slightly offset spokes, are handed - that is to say the rims on the right are mirror images of those on the left so the spokes on both sides of the car are offset towards the front, for a powerful visual effect that makes the car look like it's speeding even when it's standing still.
Under the bonnet is Bentley's classic 6.75-litre twin-turbo V8, directly derived from the 1959 L410 engine, making it one of the world's longest-running production engines.
In 2014 Mulsanne trim it's rated at 395kW and a hugely muscular 1100Nm, delivering effortless performance without ever actually working very hard.
But it's inside this very special tourer where the level of detail work that's gone into the showcase project becomes apparent. No less than 14 naturally tanned linen-coloured Connelly hides (each from a steer, to avoid the faint stretch-marks common on cow hides after the birth of a calf) are merged together in progressive-diamond quilting, with the shape of the pattern changing over the seats and doors in a cabin laid out for four adults, each seam cross-stitched by hand with Sequin Blue thread.
The pale upholstery leather is contrasted by sleek, dark grey Beluga leather with narrow chromed trim around the top of the doors and extending back to the piece de resistance - a handmade wooden tonneau cover with book-matched, mirror-finished and dark-stained Burr Walnut veneer (the biggest piece of wood veneer ever used on a Bentley), finished with narrow chromed-steel strakes in parallel lines.
The fact that the paint colour was created at the request of a specific customer leads us to think that this car was actually built to order, like the superlative show cars of the 1960s, and will eventually - when the art world has finished ooh-ing and aah-ing over it - find its way into a private collection.
But Durheimer hasn't ruled out the possibility of creating a few replicas of the extraordinarily graceful Grand Convertible.
“We're awaiting the response of our customers to this car,” he said, “but we will ensure that if it reaches the roads, it will be a highly exclusive, extremely limited collector's piece.”