Sometimes after only hearing a few words you’re fully committed to the experience. And, so it was with me, after hearing “Bentley” and “Scotland” uttered in the same sentence. My enthusiasm only grew with additional information: Driving the full range of 2016 Continental GTs around Glasgow’s famed Loch Lomond and the Scottish countryside to the north and the west. I was halfway packed before even hearing the final morsel—attending the invitational Concours of Elegance at the Queen’s Edinburgh home, Palace of Holyroodhouse.
It will surprise no one that Bentley Does Things Right: flawless trip planning and execution; new Bentley flagships—Mulsannes for our shuttles hither and yon; historic inn Cameron House on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond as our drive staging area, which also served as a waypoint for those who chose to participate in the pre-Concours rally; wonderful gastronomic meals; and, lest we forget, an evening whisky tasting experience.
But as this is Haute Auto and not Haute Lodging, Haute Imbibing or Haute Cuisine, we must focus first on transportational topics. And what a moving experience it was.
As is their wont, European automakers often “refresh” the designs of their cars every few years, focusing more on the evolutionary the revolutionary in making the regular update. The 2016 model year finds Bentley refreshing the Continental GTS, while remaining true to its heritage, the 1952-1965 Continental. It’s been more than 60 years since the first Continental was created and much has changed.
To be sure, the Bentleys of today share some of the technological advances created, by other “family” members (corporate cousins include Bugatti, Lamborghini, Audi and even Ducati), but they definitely are their own brand. The 2016 Continental GT differs somewhat from previous models in a few ways, such as: the fenders have crisper lines; there is a “Flying B” vent emblem embedded in each front fender; the trim at the rear of the car gives a more aggressive look; new exterior paint colors are offered; unique wheel designs are available; the interior options include a tighter, more beautiful, diamond-shaped stitching pattern on the leather; interior illumination is by LEDs; there’s a more sporty steering wheel design; there’s on-board WiFi now. Numerous other refinements have been accomplished, both large and small.
But this story isn’t just about the details on the new Continental GTs, it’s also about driving them in Scotland. With right-hand steering. On the left side of the road. And, obviously, I lived to tell the tale. There’s a running gag in Steve Martin’s film, L.A. Story, where his love interest (played by his then-wife Victoria Tennant), a British woman who recently moved to Los Angeles, regularly took off driving on the left (wrong) side of the road. Depending upon what you are used to, that’s easier to do than one might think. Let’s just leave it at that.
Our first day started outside Glasgow, at our terrific hotel, Cameron House, on Loch Lomond. (I didn’t remember know how to say “quaint elegance” in Scottish, but when I looked it up, I saw a photo of our hotel.) To add to the beauty, about two dozen of the pristine cars which would be in the Edinburgh Concours of Elegance two days hence were staged on the lawn for an impromptu car show. With vintage Bugattis, Rolls-Royces and, of course, Bentleys, it was a lovely way to experience these running salutes to history as they might have been seen over the past 100-plus years. It was wonderful to both to see these gifts from the past, but also watch the onboard mechanics (often the owners) tinker, adjust and tweak each beast so that it could roll on for another day, some leaving a smokey trail and an oily stripe as calling cards.
After a hearty breakfast, off we went, each group of two journalists assigned to one of the several Continental GTs waiting on the drive, polished to a fine shine and ready to go. We all headed to the north and west toward our lunch stop. After a mid-morning break for a coffee and a car swap, we continued on to our terrific meal at the Michelin-starred restaurant and the hotel and spa at the Isle of Eriska, off of Loch Creran. It was great to see the shiny, new Bentleys on the gravel drive in front of an historic, castle-like property.
Well-fed and rested (though, of course, no one was tired from—or of—driving a new Bentley), we headed back toward our Glasgow retreat, where, after yet another mid-run coffee stop and car swap, a fine dinner and a whisky tasting awaited. Having experienced tight country roads, open field straightaways and cruises through several villages, towns and even small cities, we had a great variety of experiences with our cars, each of which performed flawlessly at speeds ranging from the sublime to the I-am-an-American-citizen-and-I-demand-to- see-the-ambassador quick.
Our final day involved a very scenic, low-altitude helicopter flight to Edinburgh and a pre-opening visit to the Concours of Elegance. An invitational event, it included a wide range of spectacular cars from many different countries (including the United States). One of my favorites was the 1929 “Blower” Bentley, now owned by the company, a car able to hit 126 miles per hour. No wonder these cars won several of the storied Le Mans races back then. I have to say, though, that drivers of yesteryear must have been far younger and more flexible than I, given the challenge I had entering and exiting the car without doing damage (to it or to myself ).
So let’s finish up with a bit more about these wonderful vehicles. Right-hand steering wheel “misplacement” aside, the car is a joy to experience, especially as the engine has gobs of power. The four motor choices are the V8, V8 S, Speed and the W12, and they produce a range of 487 to 626 horse-power and 487 to 605 pounds of torque, motivating a vehicle which weighs in at about 2.5 tons amazingly quickly, with zero to 60 times ranging from the lower to mid-four second range. Thanks to a full-time, all-wheel-drive system, power really does meet the pavement in a hurry. With base prices ranging from $198,500 (for the GT V8 hardtop) to $263,400 (for the GT Speed Convertible), there’s something for everyone (if everyone loves cars, and has some serious coin to spend on his or her ride).
The 2016 Bentley Continental GT continues the modern run of GTs which commenced in 2003, starting out beautifully and powerfully, and achieving greater performance, luxury and looks over the past dozen-plus years. A surprisingly great car for the serious driver, as well as a luxurious vehicle for those looking for elegance, safety, dependability and comfort, the range of Continental GTs provides a full spectrum of terrific choices.