PH Heroes: Bentley Turbo R

How do you define a performance car? Probably high-revving, lightweight and compact would be a good place to start. But what about a different approach? The Bentley Turbo R is the kind of car that turns perceptions on their head, a huge two-tonne monster that seemingly has none of the common attributes you would apply to a sporting car but yet is a performance icon.

This is a car that not so much delicately weaves down a twisty back road, instead just steam-rollering it flat. I’d heard a lot about the Turbo R, how it is filled with surprises that belie its huge bulk and land barge proportions. Big sporting saloons with mega-torque are everywhere these days but the Turbo R first appeared in March, 1985, and for those days the figures must have been even more impressive.

It had the 6.75-litre V8 from the Mulsanne Turbo but gained Bosch KE-Jetronic electronic fuel injection, giving it a power output of around 300bhp and over 400lb ft of torque (no official figures were provided). This equated to 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 143mph with a red line somewhere in the region of 4,500rpm. But in a way squeezing a load of power out of the engine was the easy bit – it later grew to 386bhp – but the hard bit was making sure this 2,252kg leviathan went around a bend without its well-heeled owner ending up in the brambles.

Bentley went to work on the chassis and transformed it. The engineers increased anti-roll bar rates by 60% on the front and 80% on the back and uprated the dampers. A Panhard rod was also introduced which reduced side-to-side movement in the corners. The car even got alloy wheels – a first for Bentley. With prices for Turbo Rs now dropping below £10K the cars are becoming very affordable and have always had something of a cult following. I wanted to try one to find out just how sporting a huge chunk of metal and walnut veneer could be.

I called up the guys at Driving Spirit ( in Basingstoke knowing they have a mint example on their fleet. When I arrive at the premises the Turbo R is waiting outside. It’s certainly imposing, or should I say absolutely huge. Not huge compared to say a modern day Phantom but big all the same. There is something reassuring about the shape, it harks back to a time when the makers of these cars really could say they were the best in the world, a classic shape that seemed to be around for ever.

Driving Spirit owner Steve Marshall assures me that despite its size the Turbo R can be surprisingly swift and can be hussled down even fairly narrow back roads. I’m looking forward to finding out and once I have settled into the beautifully made interior, which has predictably a rather high driving position, I turn the key. Of course it is an auto, but there is a ‘sport’ mode, which I engage immediately.

Pulling out onto the streets of Basingstoke the Turbo R wafts, leaving you to admire the opulent surroundings and almost become a little detached from the real world. But to find out a Bentley is comfortable and soothing is like discovering Simon Cowell’s trousers are too high – we all knew that already. I pull onto the A33 and once the traffic disappears push down the accelerator. The almost silent V8 emits a muffled muscle car roar and pulls the Turbo R down the road at an alarming rate. In fact it takes a moment to realise you are no longer floating around in a moving boardroom and in fact you are picking up some serious speed. The car redlines somewhere around 4,500rpm but so huge is the wave of torque that this is all it needs. The Turbo R really is very quick for what it is. The steering is lighter than it could be and the brakes are not exactly progressive but it is good fun crushing miles in this thing.

I peel off onto a narrower B road and figure this is where the Turbo R must prove itself. True enough it starts to feel far smaller than it actually is and hunkers down nicely when you throw it into a bend. I would hazard a guess that with enough room the back could be coaxed into play although only a brave man would try to catch two tonnes with his fingertip. Dial in some more power through the bend and the outside rear squats, with the chassis feeling strangely balanced and predictable. It is an incredible experience and one I would recommend everyone try once. The best bit is when I pull into a golf club in hope of grabbing some nice pictures and instead of being greeted with suspicious stares no-one bats an eyelid. It could be a useful tool for both back roads and opening doors then.

On the way back I let the car do the work, fiddling around with the various switches covering the dashboard. This is where the Turbo R converts back to luxury mode and does the job of getting you there as smoothly as possible. It has a dual personality and although it may not be the sharpest performance tool there is no question it is extremely quick. If you like your performance cars to do things differently the Turbo R is certainly worth a look.

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  • Zumbruk 13 Aug 2008

    When I did the Prescott Hillcimb Driver's School, one of the other people there had one of these. Huge fun (he sat in the startline queue reading the FT) and huge clouds of Pirelli smoke... I've wanted one ever since.

  • Chris71 13 Aug 2008

    I rather like these. Quite surprised you don't see more about.

    ...significantly cheaper to tax than a 2.0 Focus and probably quite cheap to insure on a classic policy. Just don't ask about the fuel consumption (single figures I guess?)

    Very Withnail!

  • Howitzer 13 Aug 2008

    Was the car green?

    I've loved the idea of these since I found I was a bit of a big engined barge fan. I remember having a hilarious race with an old chap in one a few years back, it went like this.

    M6 toll, about 10pm, clear night.

    Me - See Bentley turbo in next booth, do a quick launch and a few Nigel Mansell gear changes in my Tdi Golf.

    Bentley - Old chap sees my efforts, squeezes another 2mm of throttle

    First the back end dropped a little
    Then the front end raised a little
    Then he sucked the horizon closer to him and buggered off into the distance like the Saturn 5 had been fitted to a stately home.

    Wonderful toys.


  • BlueCello 13 Aug 2008

    Always loved these beasts, but don't think I could ever justify one really.

  • sjwb 13 Aug 2008

    I was involed with RR on a 'special' contract in the late 90's and did a few miles in the Turbo R, including the long-wheelbase. What a truly wonderful car, much more fun than a Royce and rarer. If the price of fuel hadn't now become a very serious consderation I would buy one tomorrow.
    Whilst the Conti R was my favourite for looks it was neither as much fun, refined or regal.
    Apropos RR, watching them being built was a very sobering experience indeed; how they ever made any money is beyond me.

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