Sadly, the era of Bentley's current iconic flagship is coming to an end.
The Bentley Mulsanne first arrived in 1980 as a flagship model, epitomizing the elegance, style, and luxury of the British brand. It also offered a more understated and sporty alternative to the showy Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit it was based upon. While the Mulsanne isn't a sports car, it's named after the 3.7-mile long straight at the fabled Circuit de la Sarthe track where Bentley secured five 24 Hours of Le Mans race wins between 1924 and 1930. The Mulsanne's initial production run was for 12 years, ending in 1992 and replaced by the Brooklands model.
Its second run, which started in 2010, is coming to an end this year, so we thought we would take a look back at the history of the Mulsanne and some of the special models and editions it spawned. The common denominator through the Mulsanne's history and special editions is a 6.7-liter V8 engine, hand-built production, precision engineering, and exquisite interiors and finishes.
The Mulsanne started a renaissance for the Bentley name, spawning several derivatives. The first important one was the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo, which employed a Garrett AiResearch turbocharger to boost the 6.7-liter engine and almost double its base power. Bentley didn't officially release the power specs, but the number that filtered through due to export regulations is over 300 hp. The Mulsanne Turbo was a great car, but the next incarnation dropped the Mulsanne name, with the Bentley Turbo R becoming an icon of its era. It gained an extra 30 hp and a significant tweak in the suspension to create a car that exhibits gentlemanly grace, but the kind of pace that left many unwitting sports cars of the time looking like they were standing still.
The Mulsanne returned in 2010 after its debut at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. It retook its place as Bentley's flagship model in the form of a fast, highly customizable luxury sedan. It also held the distinction of being the first flagship car to be independently designed by Bentley in almost 80 years as, since 1930, most Bentley models shared platforms with Rolls-Royce vehicles. Under the hood, the 2010 Mulsanne arrived with a lighter and heavily reworked twin-turbo version of the 6.75-liter Bentley L Series V8 engine, now serving up 505 horsepower at 4,200 rpm and a brutal yet smooth 752 lb-ft of torque at just 1,750 rpm.
Customers immediately had a choice of 114 exterior colors, 21 carpet colors, nine wood veneers, 24 interior leather hides, and the rear compartment could be configured to accommodate either 2 or 3 passengers. The first car off the production line was sold at the Gooding & Company Pebble Beach auction for $500,000 but, from a dealer, the new Mulsanne started at $297,000.
As the name suggests, the Mulsanne Mulliner Driving Specification model is a more sporting and prestigious version of the flagship car aimed at drivers over rear-seat passengers. Bentley describes it as a "carefully curated collection of additions designed by the Mulliner team to add a more dynamic edge to your Mulsanne." That consists of both exterior and interior flourishes as well as an update to the Drive Dynamics Control system to include a Sport setting that aims to enhance grip, body control, and steering accuracy without compromising ride comfort. It also retains the 184 mph top speed of the Mulsanne.
The Driving Specification model also reprises an interior feature from the past in the form of diamond-quilted and perforated seats. Other interior flourishes include drilled pedals and a 'baseball-style' cross-stitched gear lever. On the outside, the Driving Specification includes two-part, 21-inch wheels and the latest 'Flying B' vents on the wings.
If you answer the question: "Do you want your car to be incredibly luxurious or incredibly fast?" with a resounding "Yes!", then the Mulsanne Speed is for you. It debuted with 530 hp and a tarmac-chewing 811 lb-ft of torque from the modified twin-turbo V8 engine. Inside the exquisitely finished cabin, carbon-fiber trim complements the yards of quilted, perforated, and hand-stitched leather that your passengers can enjoy as you lay down almost enough power to spin the wheels in the tires. It does weigh over 6,000 lbs, so the 0-60 mph time is "only" 4.7 seconds.
Bentley took a page out of the Bugatti playbook by using the Mulsanne Speed to pay homage to a legendary car of the past. The Mulsanne Speed "Blue Train" Edition celebrates the 85th anniversary of a 1930 Bentley Speed Six coupe that famously outran the Calais-Mediterranee Express, also known as the "Blue Train," from Cannes to Calais in France. The feat didn't get filed away as legendary for just beating the train to Calais, though. The Bentley Speed Six arrived back in London 4 minutes before the Blue Train reached its final destination in France.
The special edition features are all aesthetic in homage of the original car, including the stitching, and there's a stunning rendering of the 1930 Bentley Speed Six in the burr walnut passenger-side wood veneer. Only four were built and sold, and, in old-school grand touring style, one came with a picnic set trimmed with identical Burnt Oak and Camel hide two-tone leather as the interior of the car. Another came with Robbe & Berking silver cutlery, Haviland Limoges porcelain, Linley crystal champagne flutes, and an Angora picnic rug. The price was around $380,000.
Bentley celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019, and like all great automakers, it built a special edition to commemorate the occasion. Being Bentley, though, the luxury automaker went a step further than most by including a piece of W.O. Bentley's personal 8-Liter model car inside.
When Bentley re-acquired Walter Owen Bentley's personal car, the straight-six engine was rebuilt, and its 76-year-old crankshaft replaced. Bentley then took the crankshaft and sliced into 100 individual pieces, so each of the 100 Mulsanne W.O. Edition cars can have one set in the rear armrest. Pulling the armrest down also reveals an illuminated cocktail cabinet and bottle cooler for the rear passengers. The interior is also cut from Heritage Hide to reflect the "patina of vintage cars," and four different types of wood. Other notable interior features include Fireglow lambswool rugs and glass tumblers from the factory. On the outside, customers could choose whatever paint they wished, but not ticking an option got the 1930s-appropriate Onyx paintwork.
Putting the era of the Mulliner to rest is the Mulsanne 6.75 Edition. Once they are all built, that's the end of both the Mulliner and the 6.75-liter V8 engine that was introduced in 1959 and heavily reworked in 2010. The engine is a casualty of emissions regulation, and no replacement is planned. The third-generation Flying Spur will become the Bentley flagship and electrification is in Bentley's future as the Flying Spur will have a hybrid powertrain in 2023.
The Mulsanne 6.75 Edition isn't a bad way to go out and features chrome-trimmed headlights and taillights, as well as a dark tint on the Flying B logo, the grille, and exhaust outlets. Inside, the 6.75 edition has exclusive embroidery on the seats, and the ventilation controls have a design that looks like the engine oil cap to remind the driver of the engine. There's also a cutaway of the powerplant on the face of the clock and gauges on the center console, and the 6.75 Edition logo is projected onto the ground by the welcome lights. As for the price, it's a case of "If you have to ask, then you can't afford it."