It was launched in 2003 and much of the press sniffed at it, some saying it was no more than VW Phaeton in a posh frock. What few even acknowledged let alone accepted was that the Continental shared not a single significant dimension with the Phaeton – not even its wheelbase – and, more relevantly still, the choice was not between a bespoke Bentley or a Bentley using VW-derived architecture, but between a Bentley that made the most of its parent’s resources or no Bentley at all. And how quickly they had forgotten the dark old days when a Bentley really wasn’t a Bentley in any way at all, but a Rolls with difference badges and a different radiator grille.
Happily, the public were far less reserved and flocked to the sharp-suited new coupe. It was the most powerful Bentley in history, the fastest and, as something of a bonus, the cheapest in real terms too. It cost £112,750 and had 552bhp. By contrast the extant Arnage had 450bhp yet cost £170,000. Sales began in earnest in 2004 and having sold barely 1,000 cars the year before, over 6,500 Bentleys rolled off the rebuilt lines in Crewe. With the addition of the four-door Flying Spur version, sales soon topped 10,000 units.
In fact, those early cars were quite rough diamonds but Bentley never stopped working on it. Over the years the Continental lost weight, was turned into one of the best-engineered convertibles that ever existed and steadily gained power. Then a 2011 face life and the addition in 2013 of a 4-litre twin turbo V8 gave it a whole new lease of life.