After reaching its zenith in the 1920s and 1930s, the Bentley began a long, slow decline in the 1950s. By the 1970s, the once-proud marque was reduced to a badge-engineered Rolls-Royce afterthought.
Finally realizing that this was an atrocious squandering of the heritage of a storied brand, managers in Crewe decided that a few pounds of manifold pressure might restore a bit of pride and self respect to the Bentley marque. The resulting Mulsanne Turbo (its name recalling long-ago victories at Le Mans) was a true super sedan.
Starting with the unlikely platform of the then 6-year-old Rolls-Royce Silver Spur, the Mulsanne added improved ventilated front disc brakes and sportier Girling self-leveling suspension control for the rear. But the big thing was the Garrett AiResearch exhaust-driven turbocharger. The 6.75-liter V8 (whose horsepower was always quoted as simply “adequate” by the manufacturer) handled the added stress of forced induction as imperceptibly as a sumo wrestler taking a punch to the stomach administered by one of the Jonas Brothers.
A street brawler in a Saville Row suit
More than just the sum of its new, go-fast parts, the character of the car was utterly transformed from a stuffy, rather pretentious saloon for octogenarians of all ages to—as it’s been so aptly put in so many places—“a street brawler in a Saville Row suit.” Magazine writers reported 0-60 mph times in the high sevens to low eights. Not crazy fast by today’s standards, but it was quite impressive for the day, particularly in light of the fact that the car weighed about as much as two BMW 320is.
Those testers who foolishly expected the car to handle like a Porsche or even a relative heavyweight like an Aston Martin V8 coupe came away disappointed. There was, however, a sense of extreme security to the Mulsanne’s road manners in nearly all road conditions. In terms of cabin comfort, all of the usual Rolls Royce amenities were present, including Connolly leather, lovely wood trim, wool carpets and headliner.
Also for the first time on a Crewe-built product, standard fitment was a set of light alloy wheels usually shod on a set of Avon blackwall tires and a body-colored radiator grill shell. Very un-Rolls. Then-current Rolls tradition called for the mandatory, 3-speed automatic transmission. However, we know of at least one manual transmission conversion out there that must be quite entertaining.
Choose poorly, turn money into dust
While Bentley Mulsannes are certainly affordable in the sense that many can afford to write the check representing the initial acquisition, few can afford the long-term stewardship, particularly when a dodgy car is involved. Anyone who has followed this column for any length of time understands the general importance of a pre-purchase inspection. In this case, it ranks up there in importance with the part of the bomb disarming and disposal class that teaches the difference between cutting the black wire or the red wire first.
The results of picking a bad car bring to mind the classic scene from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” in which the chief bad guy is faced with a room full of cups that may or may not be the Holy Grail, and the only way to find out is to take a drink from one. Predictably, he chooses the wrong cup. As a result, in true Spielbergian fashion, his eyes bulge out of his head, he shrivels up via stop-motion photography and then turns to dust. The knight guarding the grail room simply remarks: “He chose poorly.” Choose as poorly and you’ll feel like our victim above.
Think of $5,000 brake jobs, and a major service that can total nearly as much. As for trim pieces, switch gear, power window motors, and the like, you simply don’t want to know. Cars with obvious visible needs should be left to auction bottom feeders and bidder’s barflies. The cost of a respray and an interior retrim alone would easily pay for the purchase of an excellent car.
Don’t expect jumps in value
In light of the fact that there is little upside to Mulsanne ownership, the only cars one should ever consider are those with utterly air-tight provenance and full maintenance histories, no stories and blemish-free cosmetics.
Stick to this path, and the joys of Bentley ownership can be manifold. Not the least of which is the prospect of the admiration of valets everywhere from Bali to London—and membership in the Rolls-Royce Owners Club, which is one of the best and most active marque clubs to be found anywhere.
Just don’t expect the value equation to change any time soon. Even though pre-WWII and 1950s coach-built Bentley values have remained strong, due somewhat to the Volkswagen Group’s peerless stewardship of the brand, it’s unlikely that this will trickle down to the Mulsanne.