The Brave Pill | Bentley Turbo R

It may seem improbable that we've managed to reach month three of Brave Pill without already featuring a 1990s Bentley. Crewe's missiles from this era have always held much of the high ground in the Land of the Brave, enticingly priced but with the ability to drop thermonuclear bills. It's almost impossible to deny the appeal of a four-figure Turbo R, but it's also hard not to look at it and hear ticking.

Yet the square-rigged saloon is now the cheapest way into a fast Bentley. In the U.S. there seem to be enough neglected examples of the W12-era Continental to keep several automotive YouTubers in clickbait like "Guess how MUCH my $10K Bentley has COST me THIS WEEK?!" But over here even the cheapest, nastiest Conti is still getting on for twice as much as this Turbo R.

Yet the Turbo R is arguably a more appropriate way to land a winged B badge. Given a bit of time slippage this is a car that Woolf Barnato, Dudley "Benjy" Benjafield, Sir Henry "Tim" Birkin or any of the other 1920s Bentley Boys would likely have recognised as a proper Bentley. It's big, loud, as exclusive as the old tie from an expensive school and balances its power to weight ratio with equally serious numbers on both sides of the scale.

Yet it's no exaggeration to say that the Turbo R was one of the key parts of Bentley's transformation. Prior to its arrival Bentley was very much the minority partner in what was then Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars, the 1980 Mulsanne being little more than a badge engineered version of the Silver Spirit. The sort of clientele drawn to big luxury saloons at that time - many of who went onto be answers in the game of Yewtree Bingo - showed a marked preference for a Spirit of Ecstasy on the prow rather than a winged B.

Which is where the smart idea came to differentiate Bentleys by adding performance. The Mulsanne Turbo came first, launched in 1982 with a forced induction version of the company's venerable 6.75-litre pushrod V8, boosted to make around 300hp - Bentley wasn't brash enough to discuss power figures - and more torque than many shunting locomotives. It was fast, but it certainly wasn't agile. Ettore Bugatti's old insult about Bugatti making the world's fastest lorries pretty much summed it up.

The Turbo R was far better. It was developed from the Mulsanne Turbo to be far more athletic, within the limitations of its two-tonne weight. Suspension got some major upgrades; the R's front anti-roll bar was 100 percent stiffer than the Mulsanne Turbo's and a Panhard rod was fitted to bring some much-needed discipline to the back. The end result wasn't going to be confused with a BMW M5, but it was almost certainly the best-handling car Bentley had produced up to that point.

It was also a hit, quickly becoming Bentley's top seller. Both Rolls and Bentley sold in tiny numbers those days, and the total of 7200 Turbo Rs between 1985 and 1997, almost exactly 600 a year. Survival rates are impressive, for much the same reason as many large, expensive pedigree dogs make it to old age - somebody is usually willing to pick up the vet's bills.

Bills are what it's really good at. The cost of keeping a Turbo R in fettle can be truly terrifying. Bentleys of this era were designed to have frequent servicing, as in every 7500 miles of six months, whichever comes first. As they have grown older and cheaper so less affluent owners have tended to stint on this, especially the more expensive ones. The heftiest of these is the "D" - coming every four years or 60,000 miles - which demands the replacement of all brake lines, flexible hoses and a full flush of the hydraulic and coolant systems. Don't expect much change from £2500 after VAT.

And this is the routine stuff. Turbo Rs are still capable of dropping the Mother Of All Bills on the unwary. The R devours brakes, tyres and suspension components, all of which are punishingly expensive to replace. Other problem areas include leaks in the hydraulic suspension, head gasket failures - they have to be replaced as a pair - and rust. Put it this way, 15mpg is the least of a Turbo R owner's worries. But let's not get all dull and sensible here, this is a car that is clearly going to appeal for somebody with a keen appreciation of higher risk investments. Our Pill is being sold with a fairly limited description, but does promise a large history file that any potential buyer would be advised to investigate in forensic detail. The vendor, a Land Rover specialist in West Yorkshire, also reports to having just fitted new brake pads, new rear suspension spheres and two new tyres.

The MOT history doesn't raise any red flags, but does wave a couple of yellow ones. This R seems to have been off the road, or certainly somewhere outside the DVSA's domain, between 2016 and this February, with a three year gap in the record. It passed its most recent ticket with advisories on low front brake discs and a tired bearing plus the two worn tyres that were likely the ones since replaced. So even if bought with a discount on the asking price this Turbo is highly unlikely to be a four-figure Bentley once returned to fettle.

Yet there's plenty to like as well. This car is late enough to have the four-speed autobox in place of the earlier three-speeder, plus various other upgrades. Calypso blue with a magnolia interior has long been one of Bentley's best colour combinations, and while the front seats are slightly worn this one looks as if it could scrub up nicely. It's also got an entirely appropriate level of walnut trim plus the all-important picnic tables that fold out of the backs of the front seats. It will still feel hand-built for the obvious fact that it is, as an engineer once put it "craftsmanship is the ability to fit two things together which do not fit", but it will also feel properly special.

Bentleys from this era also have a brutish appeal that contemporary Rollers just don't have. A Silver Spirit without the ribbons and bouquets of a cut-price wedding car looks lost; the Turbo R still has a gangsterish swagger alongside still-impressive performance. Ownership wouldn't be cheap, but it would almost certainly be exciting.

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Comments (52) Join the discussion on the forum

  • humphra 25 May 2019

    My first thought was, "this could ruin someone financially". Then I thought, "perfect choice for a brave pill!

    My nads aren't big enough and metallic enough for this one, but we salute the madman - I mean brave soul - who does buy it!

  • darkyoung1000 25 May 2019

    The design of this appeals to me so much more than modern Bentleys, although it’s still not my sort of car... I wonder why they recommend replacing the brake lines every 4 year?

    Article said:
    Ettore Bugatti's old insult about Bugatti making the world's fastest lorries pretty much summed it up.
    Didn’t he say that about Bentley....?

  • AC43 25 May 2019

    Love this quote; "as an engineer once put it "craftsmanship is the ability to fit two things together which do not fit"".


  • Raygun 25 May 2019

    A proper Bentley rather than the turgid things they make these days.

  • Helicopter123 25 May 2019

    This was pretty retro, even back in the day.

    Fantastic to see Bentley prospering today.

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