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Once the preserve of aristocrats and mill owners, landed gentry and self-made industrialists, Bentleys have been a sign of success and good taste since the intrepid Bentley Boys of the 1920s and ’30s.
But what goes up must come down, and now a fistful of the firm’s most notable models have fallen in value to the point that they are within the grasp of the unwashed masses.
But which one should you go for? Here, we round up eight (relatively) affordable ways to get your Bentley fix as the marque celebrates its 100th birthday.
1. Bentley Continental GT
Like the much-maligned Burberry baseball cap, the Continental GT is a great luxury product that was quickly co-opted by a generation of footballers and nightclub promoters, in the process attracting the attention of the less salubrious people who wanted to be them.
Ignoring the wideboy image that seems to have followed it since its earliest days, the Continental is actually a fantastic car and one that is now available for the same price as an entry-level family saloon.
Get past the League Two football club car park connotations and you’ll find a highly accomplished grand tourer with supercar-baiting performance from its advanced 6-litre twin-turbocharged 552bhp W12.
Despite its size, the Continental GT covers the 0-60mph dash in just 4.8 secs and can hit a top speed of 197mph – and you’ll have a good chance of keeping it on the road owing to a Torsen-derived permanent four-wheel-drive system. Its one Achilles’ heel is the electronics, which are notoriously temperamental and can hide a phalanx of gremlins.
In many ways, the car was a victim of its own success. At its launch the GT cost half the price of the Continental R, which helped drive strong sales. High production numbers have made it feel less special or exclusive than Bentley’s coachbuilt models – as did its popularity with certain demographics.
But what was once a black eye is now a feather in its cap, as the market swells with reasonable secondhand examples starting from a little more than £15,000. As more enthusiasts buy into the Continental GT dream, its image is sure to change.
- Concours £40-55,000
- Good £20-25,000
- Fair £15-20,000
- Project £9-15,000
2. Bentley T-series
Mechanically identical, Bentley’s T-series and the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow represented a step-change for both manufacturers in 1965, being the first models from either firm to stray from coachbuilt bodies on separate chassis to monocoque construction.
Beneath the bodywork, both were powered by the Rolls-Royce/Bentley 6230cc V8, enlarged to 6750cc in 1971, with Citroën-derived hydraulic braking and suspension that provided unparalleled levels of refinement.
The Bentley has aged better. Where the Rolls has an air of cut-price ostentatiousness that borders on caricature, the Bentley is more restrained, with a slender grille, slightly lower bonnet line and gentler front end.
The 1977-’80 T2 is arguably the one to go for; it’s less common than the T1 (558 to 1703) and far rarer than the Silver Shadow II. It also benefits from rack-and-pinion steering, air-conditioning and fuel injection – though the more modern bumpers sit less comfortably than the earlier chrome, for some tastes.
- Concours £20-40,000
- Good £15-20,000
- Fair £10-15,000
- Project £8-10,000
3. Bentley S-series
If it’s an early Crewe Bentley you have got in mind, your £30,000 budget will stretch to the last of the separate-chassis models to leave the factory: the sublime S1.
Based on the redesigned Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and entering production in 1955, little separated the cars beyond badging and the shape of the grille.
The S1 replaced the outgoing R-type saloon (below), offering buyers a longer wheelbase, a larger luggage compartment and an improved ride thanks to electrically-operated rear dampers.
The stately body was made from pressed steel, supplemented by aluminium for the boot, doors and bonnet. Power came from Bentley’s ageing 4887cc in-line ‘six’, as used in the Continental, mated to a smooth three-speed automatic gearbox.
It’s also worth considering the S1’s successor, the S2, which boasted Bentley and Rolls-Royce’s 6.2-litre V8, as well as a more effective air-conditioning unit. The sharp-looking S3, meanwhile, added quad headlamps and a lowered bonnet line, plus better power steering.
- Concours £46-60k
- Good £25-35k
- Fair £20-22k
- Project £10-18k
4. Bentley R-type
Bridging the gap between the hugely successful MkVI and the more advanced S-series, the R-type was the second new Bentley of the post-war era and the final model to be offered with a manual gearbox.
Despite the years separating the R-type from its earlier sibling, there is little to distinguish the pair besides the addition of a slightly ungainly boot, which was shared with the Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn and all but doubled the model’s luggage capacity.
Under the skin the R-type was very much a known quantity, sharing its big-bore 4566cc in-line ‘six’ with MkVIs built after 1951, while suspension was by coil springs at the front and semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear.
More than 2300 R-types were sold between 1952 and 1955, with the lion’s share Standard Steel saloons rather than the more exotic offerings from the likes of James Young, HJ Mulliner and Park Ward. That means there are plenty of affordable examples on the market.
As a luxurious and even practical early post-war classic it’s difficult to go wrong, though we would steer clear of white examples – unless, of course, you want to hire it out for weddings.
- Concours £58-65,000
- Good £40-47,000
- Fair £25-33,000
- Project £15-24,000
5. Bentley Continental Flying Spur
Like the Continental GT on which it is based, the first-gen Continental Flying Spur (2005-’13) is a product of the German era and shares a great deal of its mechanical components with the VAG group’s short-lived flagship Volkswagen Phaeton saloon, including its 6-litre W12 engine.
Other oily bits are shared with Audi’s own A8 and S8, and some early cars were even built in Dresden. Yet there’s nothing run-of-the-mill about the Flying Spur, which runs the GT close for performance.
Incredibly, it can dispatch the standing quarter-mile in just 13.6 secs and, given enough autobahn, the four-door saloon will reach a scarcely believable top speed of 194mph.
As with the GT, servicing costs can be painful but the shared VAG DNA means consumables are more reasonable than you might think. Workshop manuals and diagnostic tools are available for the more mechanically minded.
- Concours £30-40k
- Good £20-30k
- Fair £15-20k
- Project £10-15k
6. Bentley Mulsanne
That the Mulsanne name brought to mind the competition successes from Bentley’s past was no coincidence; when the big saloon broke cover in 1980, it marked a concerted effort to move away from the air of sedate opulence of the previous generation and towards the driver of a more sporting bent.
While the engine was the same as the outgoing model, and that of the Rolls-Royce version, the suspension was firmer and the interior was finished with more supportive seats – perfect for those who give their man the occasional day off and take the reins themselves.
The Mulsanne stepped further out of Rolls-Royce’s shadow first with the Turbo, which arrived two years later and brought with it serious performance, and later with the Mulsanne S, which lacked a turbocharger but improved roadholding via revised suspension.
The Mulsanne even spawned the entry-level ‘Eight’, some of which came with cloth seats and steel wheels, introducing the dream of Bentley ownership to new buyers.
- Concours £18-20,000
- Good £13-15,000
- Fair £8-10,000
- Project £5-8000
7. Bentley Turbo R
After making its debut in 1982, the Mulsanne Turbo must have really upset the Cotswolds Set. At a swoop, the darling gentlemen’s express from the world of grouse hunting and smoking jackets had been horribly corrupted.
Like the vicar’s daughter stepping out in a miniskirt, the Mulsanne’s silky smooth 6.75-litre V8 now boasted a Garrett turbocharger, boosting peak power by as much as 50%.
Despite its increase in vital statistics, the Mulsanne Turbo didn’t quite drag Bentley out of the dark ages: that responsibility fell to the Turbo R, which took the Mulsanne recipe mainstream thanks to the greater performance and tractability of fuel injection in 1987.
Handling was drastically improved courtesy of beefy anti-roll bars front and rear, a Panhard rod and better damping, with sales success following.
These days the Turbo R represents not only one of the most affordable routes into Bentley ownership, but also one of the greatest value-for-money propositions for those brave enough to take the risk.
Prices start from just £5000, with the best costing little more than a new BMW. For that, you get a machine that has all the presence of a modern Bentley, plus levels of performance and luxury that would shade a good 95% of cars on the road.
- Concours £20-40,000
- Good £15-20,000
- Fair £12-15,000
- Project £5-11,000
8. Bentley Arnage
Following the Brooklands and Turbo R, the Arnage became the pinnacle of Bentley’s four-door line-up in 1998.
The first completely new model since 1980, it shared its place at the top table with the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph, with little separating the two cars beyond engines: the Bentley received BMW’s 4.4-litre M62 V8, twin turbocharged and fettled by Cosworth; the Rolls got the German firm’s M73 V12.
As BMW and Volkswagen wrestled for control of Rolls-Royce and Bentley at the end of the 1990s, an uneasy situation emerged where Volkswagen’s cars were powered by its rival’s engines, leading VW to revert to the venerable single-turbo (later twin-turbo) 6.75-litre V8. These ‘Red Label’ cars were built from 1999 onwards, while those fitted with BMW powerplants were dubbed ‘Green Label’.
In many ways the return of the Rolls-Royce engine was a step backwards; it was big, heavy and thirsty, and upset the handling and braking of the big saloon.
The BMW-engined cars, though carrying slightly less cachet, are more nimble and rewarding to drive quickly, as well as proving more reliable and cheaper to maintain long-term.
- Concours £24-36k
- Good £16-22k
- Fair £12-16k
- Project £9-12k
Images: Tony Baker, James Mann, Autocar