The intricacies of why you pay so much for a Bentley
Designer describes the thinking and craftsmanship that goes into a Continental GT
Côtes de Genève is an intricate scratch pattern created by a rose engine lathe on a luxury watch movement. While it has a decorative property, it is also about practicality because it features the tiniest of overlaps in order to catch dust and prevent it getting into the movement itself.
What does this have to do with cars? It’s a finish loved by Bentley’s head of interior design, Darren Day, and it’s available in the latest Continental GT.
I met Day at the Bentley head office in Crewe, England recently — interestingly, the day before some think is the true anniversary of Bentley, January 10. It was on that day in 1919 that WO Bentley started the company, but there were early issues and he let it go dormant until July 1919 when he restarted it and, the rest, as they say, is history.
I asked Day, if he could put something into the first Bentley he was involved in, the Continental T that is available today, what would it be? The answer: a Côtes de Genève finish. Even today, it took some doing. Day found a machinist working in a barn in Wales and it took six months of going back and forward until the machinist got the finish right.
It’s this attention to detail that sets luxury automobiles apart and it’s what you invariably have to pay a high price for. Day describes the latest GT as the “antidote to technology”. There’s plenty of tech of course, but it’s the classic detail that will count for many an owner.
He explained that there was a four-year lead-up to the new Continental. The first year was creating a concept, then the second year was all about designing. Year three was about tooling for production and the final year was maturation and vehicle launch.
Tech comes into it all about six months into the first year. At that point, there were discussions with other Volkswagen Group colleagues about hardware. The hardware has to be decided early on and then they have to stick with it, but software changes can be made right up to launch date.
That was probably true of the gearbox. After I accepted the initial invitation to the launch of the new Continental, the launch was postponed. British journalists driving an early model found issues with the gearbox and engineers had to come up with another solution, which I’m pleased to say they did.
One of the highlights in the new Continental for Day is the revolving infotainment screen. A major part of the brief was that it has to age well. He told us that his dream is that at Pebble Beach in 2050, Mercedes and Rolls-Royce models will all have blank screens sitting there that don’t work anymore, but the dials of the new GT will still work and the wood will have aged perfectly.
He was referring to the fact that the infotainment screen can be rotated away to reveal either a wooden finish or a third option containing three intricate dials displaying the outside temperature, a compass and a lap timer.
Then there's the knurling. For the uninitiated, this is the fine pattern in the metal on trim, knobs and dials. Day says the brief was simple: “Let’s not do it cheap. Let’s make it the best in the world, like diamonds or cut glass.” On the GT it took a whole year to get it right, and there are different types of knurling depending on whether you can see an item or not.
Look even closer and you will find thin bronze rings on some of the dials and switchgear. These pay homage to WO Bentley who began his career as a railway engineer and used bronze for bearings.
Then look at the stitching for the quilting effect in the upholstery and trim. The diamonds in the pattern are big on one side and smaller on another, to provide the illusion of more space. Each diamond pattern requires 712 stitches!
There are plenty of other elements too, such as how the interior lines in the front doors mirror the power lines of the haunches on the exterior and how the lettering on the buttons is measured precisely to ensure symmetry while the buttons themselves are grouped together for better ergonomics.
You can’t help but wonder if owners actually know the thought and detail that goes into the design strategy. Some will of course and that's one of the reasons why they buy a Bentley, but there are those who just want the badge and the prestige and in a way that’s a little sad.
There was one other thing that had to be discussed, a sort of elephant in the room if you like. In 2018, Day told us that it is impossible to make a good-looking SUV. He was keen to clarify that statement, saying instead that you can make a good-looking SUV, but it might be too long, rubbish off-road and not practical.
There you have it, but as we see more and more SUVs being launched, it’s a topic that is likely to create some lively debate.