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A brief history of the Bentley Continental GT

  1. Bentley this week unleashed onto the road its Continental GT3-R, the raciest road-going version of its big two-door GT with 572bhp of Great British fury on tap.

    Which got us thinking about the long journey the Continental GT has taken from launch in 2003 to present, a decade-and-a-bit in which it has become firmly established as the Premiership’s automotive weapon of choice, and made Bentley a stack-load of cash along the way.

    From W12s to V8s, from speed records on ice to the Nurburgring, and many, many special editions, here’s our potted, leathery history of the venerable Continental GT.

  2. Continental GT 2003

    We begin in 2003, when Bentley - under sole VW ownership after several years of wrangling with BMW - rebooted its long-standing Continental brand with the GT. The Continental GT was the brand’s first luxury car from a mass production line, and packed the most powerful engine Bentley had ever stuffed in a road car; a 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 producing a massive 560bhp and 479lb ft of torque. Mighty potent by the standards of the day, but there was more to come. Much more…

  3. Continental GT update to Mulliner Driving Specification 2004-2005

    In 2004 Bentley updated the Continental GT to Mulliner Driving Specification, through the addition of much lavishness. Said lavishness included a voice activated in-car telephone and a whole bunch of new interior trim options, including magnolia hides as well as plush carpets and seatbelts to match. You also got 20-inch sports wheels with bespoke Advan Sport Tyres.

  4. Continental Flying Spur 2005

    Bentley launched the Flying Spur at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show. It was essentially a Continental GT equipped with an extra set of doors, allowing your chauffeur to drive you in complete relaxation to the training ground, or off-the-grid business deals in the Middle East…

    The Flying Spur went toe-to-toe in the long-wheelbase end of the market with BMW’s 7-Series and the Mercedes S-Class. Even so, it proved popular: Flying Spur production increased from 1,000 units in 2003 to 9,200 units by 2006.

  5. Continental GT Diamond Series 2006

    Effectively a limited run of 400 units with the Mulliner Driving Specification as standard, the Diamond Series was created to commemorate the Crewe factory’s 60th anniversary. It received carbon brakes, 20-inch wheels and an additional choice of three exclusive body colours; Moroccan Blue, Anthracite and Meteor.

  6. Continental GTC 2006

    The GTC was the first convertible version of the Continental GT. It was identical to the GT in every way… apart from the replacement of metal roof by fabric soft-top. The down side of having a million miles of sky to look at as you drove was a top speed to a mere 189.5mph. Owners seemed not to care a jot.

  7. Continental GT Speed update 2007

    Bentley introduced the GT Speed in 2008 with the Mulliner Driving Specification, less weight and more power. The Conti lost 35kg and gained 42bhp along with another 74lb ft of torque. Those desiring a slightly quicker, even pricier Conti were delighted. Those expecting a flyweight Porsche 911 GT3 rival were a little disappointed.

  8. Bentley GTZ 2008

    The lovechild of Bentley and Zagato’s big night out. Though mechanically identical to a normal GT Speed, it featured Zagato’s ever-divisive hand-sculpted bodywork, with a swooping bubble roof and rear end.

    Not to everyone tastes maybe, but the Milan design company was still wheeling out its GTZ as late as 2012, albeit with a slightly different rear-wheel cover.

  9. Continental GTC Speed update to Mulliner Driving Specification 2009

    The Bentley GTC Speed update included a new grille and many more options for the interior. The Conti got a bunch of new tech, too, with adaptive radar based cruise control and optional carbon ceramic brakes.

  10. Continental Supersports 2009

    Bentley announced a limited production run of the Supersports Continental in 2009. Compared to the standard Conti, the Supersports gained more visual meanness, with big hood vents and blacked out grilles and accents.

    It was the first flexi-fuel Bentley, capable of running of any combination of petrol and E85 ethanol. Whatever you fed it, the W12 engine produced yet more power: a whopping 621bhp and 590lb ft of torque.

    The Supersports also gained the VW Group’s ‘Tiptronic’ automatic gearbox, offering 50 per cent faster shift times than its predecessor. With a carbon ceramic brakes and Pirelli high-performance tyres, the Conti was finally becoming an out-and-out sports car rather than a luxe GT.

  11. Continental GT Romero Britto Edition 2009

    Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto created this squiggly designed, one-off Continental GT in 2009 for his “Come to my World” exhibition in Berlin. Bentley’s design team contributed to the styling, with Britto claiming his aim was to ‘put a smile on people’s faces’. Fortunately this paintjob didn’t become an option on production Contis.

  12. Continental Supersports Convertible 2010

    The Supersports Convertible differed from the Supersports Coupe in two important ways. As you’ve doubtless guessed, the first was the addition of a fabric roof, while the second was 20-inch wheels 10kg lighter than those of its predecessor.

  13. Continental GT W12 2011

    The beginning of the second generation of Continental GT. MkII got a prettier front end and the continued application of Bentley’s updated eight-speed automatic gearbox. A new era of the Conti GT began, with yet more special editions.

  14. Continental GTC W12 2011

    All the same new improvements as 2011’s Conti coupe, but with Bentley’s trademark soft-top thrown in. Job done.

  15. Supersports Convertible ISR 2011

    The Supersports Convertible ISR, (Ice Speed Record) was a limited 100-unit run commemorating Bentley’s world ice speed record, a 199.83mph run by Finland’s four-time world rally champion Juha Kankkunen. The ISR came with red wheels and stickers, but sadly not your own Finnish rally ace.

  16. Continental GT Speed Coupe 2012

    With 616bhp and 590lb ft from its 6.0-litre W12, the GT Speed pushed the Conti power bar yet higher. It also boasted a lower ride height with an uprated chassis and suspension package. Top speed? 205mph.

  17. Continental GTC V8 2012

    The GTC V8 was the first Bentley Continental to feature a V8 powerplant, a 4.0-litre unit borrowed from the VW Group.

    Though 50 per cent down on cylinders compared to its W12 cousin, this was no shrinking violet: the GTC V8 made 500bhp and 487lb ft of torque. It was clever, too, capable of shutting down four of its cylinders when full power wasn’t needed to effectively become a V4. Official fuel efficiency was improved by 40 per cent from the W12’s 17.1mpg to the V8’s 26.1mpg.

  18. Continental GT V8 2012

    And later in the year, the V8 found its way into the Continental Coupe, too. This was a good thing.

  19. Continental GT3 Concept Racer 2012

    Released in 2012 at the Paris Auto Show, the GT3 Concept Racer nodded towards Bentley’s long-awaited return to motorsport. This car was a concept and never raced competitively, but marked the start of the Continental’s journey to the GT3 race circuit.

  20. Continental GT Speed Convertible 2013

    The GT Speed Convertible in 2013 benefitted from self-leveling suspension and Electronic Stability Control. It also had all of the options of the previous models too so there was no limit on luxury. Brown paint and unimpressed passenger were no-cost options.

  21. Continental GT Le Mans Edition 2013

    Created to commemorate Bentley’s six victories at La Sarthe, the Continental GT Le Mans Edition saw a limited run of 96 cars; 48 coupes and 48 convertibles. Each car had a unique Le Mans numbered plaque, clock, embroidered Le Mans badge in each headrest and tread plates. Oh, and limited edition wheels. Each car was available in six different models named after Bentley’s winning drivers of the 24-hour race.

  22. Continental GT3 2013

    This was Bentley’s return to motorsport: a rear-wheel drive GT car based on the Continental GT V8 Coupe. The GT3 saw 600bhp all sent to the back wheels through a sequential gearbox, and tipped the scales at under 1300kg.

    In its debut season it won at Silverstone in the 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series, Bentley’s first British race win in 84 years. It secured fifth and seventh in class at the Nurburgring 1000km race, too, giving Bentley second spot in the championship.

  23. Continental GT V8 S 2014

    A hopped-up GT V8, available in coupe or convertible variations. That ‘S’ badge added extra power, with 521bhp and 502lb ft of torque on tap. The S also boasted a newly developed front splitter, discrete side sills and a rear diffuser that generated more downforce.

  24. Continental GT Speed 2014

    Nothing less than the fastest Bentley ever, the GT Speed and its 616bhp W12 could hit 203mph. Despite a lower and stiffer chassis, it couldn’t quite match Porsche’s 911 Turbo S for track tidiness

  25. Continental GT3-R 2014

    Billed as the closest road-going Conti to the GT3 race car, the GT3-R is 100kg lighter and has a shorter ratio gearbox. With masses of hardcore performance upgrades, a £237,500 price tag and much added green, the GT3-R stretches the Continental template in a previously unseen direction. Check out our first drive of it here

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