June 19, 2002 - Bentley Motors has announced the first technical details of its new GT coupé. From the start the driving philosophy behind the as yet unnamed coupé has been to produce a car with true supercar performance in a package so effective that owners who used it every day would find a car with a complete range of answers to the questions posed by daily life on the road. Unlike typical supercars it would be refined, comfortable and seat four people; unlike other large coupés, it would also be utterly thrilling to drive.
Under the hood lives a 6-litre, twin-turbocharged W12 Bentley engine with a power output in excess of 500bhp. Though the engine is derived from the similarly configured powerplant used elsewhere in the Volkswagen group(same engine in the VW Phaeton W12 limo), it was designed and developed by Bentley. The GT coupé is expected to reach 60mph in under five seconds and reach a maximum speed somewhat in excess of 180mph.
Its power will be fed through a new, paddle operated six speed automatic gearbox and will be delivered to the road via all wheel drive - a first in Bentley’s history. Naturally an Electronic Stability Control system will also be fitted.
When challenged to create the first all new Bentley in fifty years, the brief laid down to design director Dirk van Braeckel was as simple to express, as it was difficult to fulfil. The car would be a GT coupé, entirely contemporary in design yet unmistakeably a Bentley. It would need to be timelessly elegant and overtly sporting, yet carry four people and accommodate their luggage.
Work started on the GT coupé in August 1999 and was ready to be submitted for board approval by December. “I’m still staggered it took less than four months,” says van Braeckel. “Whenever you design a car there always seems to be a story to tell and this one was about getting the right team of very talented designers, all of whom understood what we were trying to create and how we were going to do it.”
Dirk freely admits his design philosophy for the car was based on heritage and inspired by certain key cars in Bentley’s bloodline: “But as I tell everyone, I refuse to do retro cars – there is just no need and taking a 1952 R-type Continental and projecting it forward half a century would have been entirely wrong.”
Instead, he looked at the past to provide the key styling elements that would always make a Bentley look like a Bentley, no matter when it was designed: “I tried to understand where the roots came from and if you look back at the early days of Bentley, it was all about the engine. They had the appearance of being powered by big engines that enabled them to be driven at high speeds, low revs and minimal effort. And that is as true today as it was then.”
So the key to how the GT coupé should look today, lay in providing it with that kind of presence, a stance on the road that is inimitably Bentley.
To capture the correct Bentley proportions, it was critical that the GT coupé had a short front overhang and a dominant hood, expressed by the unusually large distance between the front axle line and A-pillar. Given the package of requirements, the dangers of making the car too long and therefore both inelegant and impractical, were clear to see. However, it was equally important that its cabin had a sleek and compact appearance.
Overlaying this was a design form language that was evolved for the car. While van Braeckel was working at Audi, he employed methodical industrial design to great effect, carrying the same sectional theme of functionality from one end of the car to the other.
The approach required for the GT coupé was almost the polar opposite. “It needed to be alive, with a form that appears and disappears like muscle on a gymnast’s arm, sculptural yet lean,” says van Braeckel.
Central to the design of the car is its pillar-less cabin. Creating a car with a ‘B’ pillar would have been easy and expected but the visual delight of an unbroken aperture from the front to the back of the cabin proved irresistible. “Had we not done it,” says van Braeckel, “no-one would ever have commented or criticised us. But once we saw how the car would look without a central pillar, we knew there was no other way to go – even if it has given my colleagues in engineering a few further challenges!”
The design team was well aware that the headlights and taillights of any car are perceived to be its jewellery and getting these aspects right was essential. The team decided on an oval theme, which recurs throughout Bentley’s design history and then applied it in a way that was fresh, unique and unforgettable. Most noticeable is the decision to use a four-headlamp appearance at the front, with the inner lamps being the larger pair. Not only does this create a striking face for the car, it also acknowledges a time during the 1920s and 1930s when large and elegant headlamps, mounted close together either side of the hood were the hallmarks of luxury car design.
The principal reason, however, for designing the headlights this way is to draw attention to the area between the lamps, namely the inimitable Bentley radiator shell. Using the same laser cut matrix technology for the grille found on the Arnage T, it adds both presence and immediate recognition to the car’s appearance.
The interior of the car has yet to be revealed, but it is safe to say that, like the exterior, it will be both thoroughly modern and instantly identifiable as that of a Bentley. Like all Bentleys, the GT coupé will be available in a large number of standard specification permutations. Thanks to the unique talents of Bentley’s Personal Commissioning and Design departments, this will be extended further to an almost endless number.
The GT coupé marks just the start of a design revolution at Crewe. Before Dirk van Braeckel arrived in Crewe in April 1999, the design team comprised just three people. At the latest count, the team now numbers 48 and is still rising, working in a design studio created on site to style the Bentleys of the future.