Continental GT W12
I’d gone in thinking blue. Three hours later I’m still undecided: should it be Verdant or Light Grey Satin? I’m quite proud of myself for having whittled it down to two shades from the 150 painted sculptural shapes on the table in front of me.
Of course, 50 per cent could be thrown out with ease: anything that said ‘my facial colour scheme is steel grey over deep mahogany accessorised with a bright white signature aperture’.
California is not Crewe. But this corner of Crewe is hardly Crewe either. I’m in the Commissioning Suite (tr: speccing room) at Bentley Motors Ltd, agreeing what Top Gear’s new Conti GT should look like. This isn’t it, by the way – the white GTC is only here as a guide. And I’m agreeing, not deciding, because with me I have a north star of taste. Brett Boydell is head of interior design. And today, my guiding light across the choppy waters of coral pink paint and sea-green leather.
You can spec your Conti GT online, of course, but come to Crewe and you get a far, far richer experience: there are drawers full of leathers, shelves of materials and textures, scurrying assistants, veneers of wood, examples of intricate stitching, smells and ambience and a man to assist. After 30 minutes the table between us is a confection of possibilities.
Before I came I’d had to do an online questionnaire to give the team an idea of who I was, what I liked. They presented me ready-made poster cars when I got there, and a couple looked really good. But where’s the fun in nodding at one and going ‘yep, that’ll do’, when you could have the full experience yourself, perhaps cause another man to visually sag at the mere mention of the words “could I just see it against the Kingfisher Blue again?”
What takes the time is paintwork and hide. I quickly arrive at green and grey, and narrow it down to particular shades pretty speedily, too. There is, as far as I can work out, bugger all in it between Verdant and Light Emerald, both are more BRG than actual BRG (that’s British Racing Green, which contains hints of sage and yellow to my eye).
I cause a man to visually sag with the words 'could I just see it against the Kingfisher Blue again?'
But what about wheels? Should the trim be chrome or black? Should the lower air dam contrast that or not? And this is where things start to slow down. I want to see every option with every other option, then see the first option again and compare it against every other option. Boydell’s job now is to provide gentle nudges and subtle hints, drop the occasional ‘ooh sir, suits you’ into conversation. Ego suitably fluffed, I take pride in my obvious good taste and head inwards.
Where things get way, way more convoluted. Eleven different leathers doesn’t sound too much, but they can be split five different ways with other hides as a contrast. We’re over 600 possibilities already. Then there are the veneers (single or dual), the stitching, seat piping, finishes, lighting, textures. And we haven’t even got to whether I want the big stereo and rotating display or not yet (of course I do). We rattle through those yes/no items in a few minutes, and then stand back to consider.
I’m not sure. I’m about to press go on a Damson interior. It looks astonishing, beautiful, but can I step into the office tomorrow and announce to my colleagues that the new Bentley will have a purple cabin? I cannot. I’m about to tone it all down, go dark brown, when Brett mentions Cricket Ball. I’ve seen it on the configurator and am very unconvinced. The swatch they have is more convincing and then he points to the GTC parked under the studio lighting. It’s rich, deep, tactile, off-spun cricket ball. It looks good with both green and grey paint, so off we go and price everything up.
Of course it’s horrendous. A base W12 is £159,900, and in my head a £200k cut-off sounded about rig… no, it sounded ridiculous. Anyway, the satin paint alone is a £22,965 option. Yowsers. I’d sort of got my heart set on it, because I was going to stop the matte looking too murderous with chrome exterior details. It’s a cracking combo, but it’s also fantastically expensive.
Brett explains this is because matte paint can’t come down the production line, but has to be hand-sprayed several times over in a separate facility, using very clever paint with no lacquer top coat. Also, if it gets chipped or damaged it’s impossible to correct. To get it back up to Bentley standards the whole car – not just the panel, will need to be resprayed. Want it matte? Safer to apply a temporary wrap afterwards.
End result? £200,345 of Verdant green with a red interior, chrome detailing and even some wood inside. Have to say it’s more traditional than I expected when I went in, and I won’t know for sure what I think until I not only have the car, but have lived with it for a few weeks. But I wouldn’t have missed out on the commissioning process. Not for the range of choice, but for learning about the colours and materials, why certain palettes do or don’t match others, feeling that I was in an expert’s hands.
Bentley doesn’t yet do an immersive 3D walkaround of your car, but I’m not sure it would help – it’s the textures and smells that stayed with me afterwards, and it’s those that I’m most looking forward to experiencing rather than the mood lighting and infotainment when the car arrives. But first it has to get built. And just like the spec, I’m only going to have myself to blame if anything goes wrong. Because I’m going to help build it.