So this Bentley owner is getting out of his car and he gets sideswiped, ripping the door clean off its hinges. The police show up and he starts yelling about the damage, and the cop says, “Sir, your left arm is torn off!” The Bentley owner looks down and says, “Oh my God, where’s my Rolex?”
The British love to tell jokes at the expense of Bentley owners. You’ve heard them all before — often with Porsche or BMW drivers as the substitute American punchline. Brits tend to assume that Bentleys are little more than expensive status symbols, and that’s not entirely untrue.
For example, consider the first-generation Bentley Continental GT. When it was released in 2003, it carried a price tag of $149,990 — or over $215k in 2021 dollars. If you go to the Bentley website today, however, they don’t even list prices. If Sir wishes to purchase a Bentley, Sir will enquire as to the price. (There’s a joke in there, too, but it’s a bit crude for publication.)
However, what brings the first-generation Continental GT to our attention is that it has become an astonishing bargain among pedigreed performance cars. Like most exotics and upper-crust vehicles, Bentleys tend to show up with low mileage and good-to-impeccable provenance. What they don’t do is pull a lot of high bids, at least not for the normal run of the factory.
The Continental GT was released for the 2003 model year, and its first generation concluded in 2011. This was among the first Bentleys designed and produced after Volkswagen bought the company in 1998. The Continental GT rides on the same platform as the mostly overlooked VW Phaeton and the Audi A8 range.
Unlike higher-end Bentleys, the Continental GT was mostly a production-line vehicle. Inside, it offers Bentley-class luxury, even if it’s not coachbuilt like the more-expensive models. You’ll find hand-fitted hardwood trim and fine leather, exactly as you’d expect, although some of the pieces can be identified as VW/Audi-sourced.
With the oldest of the first generation now at 18 years, common problems have mainly been found in the electrical system. This is not uncommon for VW products of that generation. Another problem area is the adjustable air-ride suspension system. Over time and with the Continental’s heavy body, those components just wear out. For the Bentley owner on a budget, finding an independent shop for service is of paramount importance.
The Continental GT was produced in much larger numbers than more-rarefied Bentleys. It uses a production 12-cylinder engine common to its platform cousins, a 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12.
This unusual configuration has the cylinders arranged in four banks of three cylinders each; it can be thought of as the ultimate evolution of VW’s “VR6,” with two of these narrow-angle V6 engines united around a common crankshaft. The Bentley W12 was good for 552 horsepower, and its 479 foot-pounds of torque is available starting at 1,600 rpm. The Continental GT carries a ZF 6-speed Tiptronic transmission and Torsen limited-slip all-wheel-drive as standard equipment.
Even moving a hefty 5,250-pound curb weight, the Continental GT driveline delivers a 0–60 mph performance of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 198 mph. If that’s not enough, Bentley added a Speed edition in 2008 with 600 hp and 553 ft-lb, and a Supersports edition in 2009 with 621 hp and 590 ft-lb.
Let’s cut to the chase. If you’ve wanted a Bentley but figured you couldn’t afford either the ticket or the ride, that’s no longer true. You can take your pick of first-generation Continental GT models for less than $50,000. In some cases, a lot less.
In March 2020, a condition 2- Continental GT with 32,000 miles on the clock changed hands at just $24,684, courtesy of H&H Auctioneers (SCM# 6929486). In May of that year, a delightful #2-condition GT in a classic green-over-tan color scheme showing 52,900 miles was sold online by Barrett-Jackson for just $32,500 (SCM# 6932366).
The story this year is similar, with a dozen first-generation Continental GTs having crossed the block at Bring a Trailer. The fat part of this bell curve is in the $40,000–$50,000 range.
The 2005–11 Mulliner and 2006–11 GTC convertible editions tend to trade a bit higher, but not always.
Appreciation not included
There’s just one thing that seems to be missing from the Continental GT value equation: upside. With few exceptions, these cars are still depreciating, so next year’s deals may well be better than today’s. But when you can drive a used Bentley for the same monthly payment as the average new car, who cares?
With low-miles examples everywhere, you can safely ignore the model year, for the most part. That’s good news for up-and-coming realtors or anyone looking for some Kardashian-grade glamour in their life. The Bentley Continental GT is a great way to look like you made it, even if you’re still faking it. ♦