1980 - 1989
It was a Rolls-Royce in everything but name. But it was a name that gave a flicker of hope to the resurgence of the true spirit of Bentley.
Launched in tandem with the updated 1980 Silver Spirit was the Bentley Mulsanne, named after the corner at Le Mans, at the end of the longest straight on any racetrack in the world. Rolls-Royce had hitherto eschewed all references to Bentley’s racing past; the naming of the Mulsanne was the last roll of the marketing dice.
It was, indeed, the tiniest of flickers - but it soon ignited a search for the kind of power under the bonnet that could deliver to the promise of the badge. With its V8 turbocharged to 300bhp, the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo became the surprise hit of the 1982 Geneva Motor Show. Here was a 2200kg car that reached 60mph in just 7 seconds. With a top speed of 135mph it was the fastest Bentley in history, and faster even than the likes of the Daimler Double Six, the Aston Martin Lagonda and Ferrari’s 365GT4.
An overwhelmingly positive public response led to more differentiation. The 1984 Bentley Eight boasted a chrome wire-mesh grille that recalled the racing Bentleys of the 1920s. The 1985 Bentley Turbo R firmly re-established the Bentley marque, the R designation standing for road holding. Glowing press reports included the following from Motor, “If the best car in the world comes out of Crewe, it wears a Bentley badge, not a Rolls-Royce one.”
By 1989 half of the cars emerging from Crewe were Bentleys. Ten years after the introduction of the Mulsanne Turbo, Bentley would outsell Rolls-Royce two-to-one.