Ex-Geneva Salon, special pre-production 'Works' 1996 Bentley Continental T Coachwork by Mulliner-Park Ward Chassis no. SCBCZB20COTCX53136
Two key facts tell you a lot of what you need to know about the Bentley Continental T. With 590lb ft of torque it was, at its launch in 1996, the world's most powerful production car. And together with the Continental R that gave rise to it, this was the first Bentley since the 1950s Continental series not to share a body with the equivalent Rolls-Royce.
Titanic power and bespoke engineering characterize the Continental T the most expensive, most powerful and downright baddest Bentley around until VW's takeover and the arrival seven years later of the Continental GT.
But this is a far more specialist machine, and one that had a protracted gestation. It traces its roots back to Project 90 of 1984, a two-door coupé concept that Bentley commissioned from John Heffernan and Ken Greenley at Worthing-based International Automotive Design. Although enthusiastically received at the Geneva Motor Show that year, it was another six years before it made it into production, arriving in 1991 as the Continental R.
Although this was a rapid and powerful car, a few customers wanted even more from their Bentleys: more sportiness, more ability. So at the 1996 Geneva Motor Show, Bentley gave it to them in the guise of the Continental T, known to insiders as 'Project 117'. The modifications were radical. Four inches had been taken out of the wheelbase, the front and rear arches had been blistered, the cockpit now featured a turned aluminium dash and separate starter button and the engine had been 'enhanced'.
The 6.75-litre V8 already featured a Garrett AirResearch turbocharger, but various tweaks and updates (including to the Zytek EMS3 digital engine management) saw the Continental R's power outputs of 325bhp and 450lb ft of torque swell by 81bhp and 140lb ft. It may have still used the same GM sourced four-speed automatic gearbox, but by any measure the Continental T was a fearsomely powerful machine.
Naturally it was much faster, able to close in on 170mph when the standard model could topped out at 145mph, but aerodynamics of 0.465Cd were roughly equivalent to a barn door and held both cars back when it came to hitting high speeds. But that wasn't really what the T was about. It was intended to be a more athletic Bentley and with modified shocks and torsion bars that went hand in hand with the independent suspension's adaptive ride control, it hit that mark perfectly.
Obviously the T is no Lotus-rivalling flyweight that nips and snaps along a good road. Instead it flows gracefully along, using its considerable weight to smother the roughest sections and its considerable torque to reel in the straighter sections. The steering was a touch vague, and the ventilated ABS disc brakes do need a good shove, but the Continental T is Bentley at its idiosyncratic best.
It was radically different in appearance, too. The shortened glass area emphasized the long tail, making the T appear squat and purposeful even when standing still. Inside, slim pillars resulted in a light and airy cabin, further brightened on this example by the tan leather.
Chassis '53136' is the most collectible Continental T of all: the actual Geneva Show car which launched the model to the public. Richard Charlesworth, Bentley's affable Director of Royal and VIP Relations and Head of The Bentley Heritage Collection, has kindly searched the firms archives to confirm this car's history. It comes with pages of works documentation headed '53136- Unique Parts List & Status- P11- Geneva Show Car' which list seemingly endless special features.
After its Geneva debut we believe (this was Peter Baumberger's recollection as he was there) that '53136' served as an official 'chase' car on that year's Mille Miglia retrospective before delivery to British Motors in Monte Carlo, from where it was acquired directly by Peter shortly thereafter.
Since then it has been maintained to his usual standards and today, with just 62,915km covered, its appearance is impeccable. Finished in Ascot Green with matching main trim and "two shades of soft tan hide" (quoting the factory records), this historic Bentley also features the engine turned dashboard, push button starter and five spoke alloys complete with red centre badges that denote this as the most sporting Bentley of its time.
Only 322 were made up to end of production in 2002, although that number was bolstered by 23 Mulliner and five Le Mans limited edition cars.
The Baumberger Collection Continental T is offered with Swiss registration (cancelled) and a full complement of owners handbooks in their rigid slipcase.