Bentley GT Speed Convertible, top down on the mountain top: Motoramic Drives
When you’re hitting the Squaw Valley slopes with one of the world’s best extreme skiers, it helps to bring an extreme car.
Chris Davenport, meet the Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible. You two actually have a lot in common. Power, style, uncanny grip and control. Did we mention the speed?
Davenport’s risk-taking resume includes pioneering, never-before-attempted descents on runs from Alaska’s Denali to Colorado. He’s skied the perilous East Face of the Matterhorn, plunged off 100-foot cliffs, been swept up in avalanches and survived. He won the 24 hours of Aspen endurance race in ‘98, speeding with U.S. men’s teammate Tyler Williams at up to 97 mph down the mountain, getting crucial leg massages on the lift up, and blasting down again — for 24 hours, covering 77 laps and more than 251,000 feet of vertical distance to top all competitors.
Bentley, for its part, has topped its over-the-top self with the $238,700 GT Speed Convertible. The world’s fastest four-seat droptop sprints to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, clocks 100 mph in 9.8 seconds and peaks at 202 mph. To flout physics so rudely in a 5,500-pound British dreadnought takes serious motivation. Specifically, a twin-turbocharged, 6.0-liter W12 engine with 616 horsepower. That engine, as gearheads know, is essentially two Volkswagen V-6’s conjoined into one 12-cylinder, deep-lunged monster. Just as crucially, the Speed adopts the silken eight-speed automatic transmission that saves both fuel and time in 500-hp, V-8 versions of the Continental coupe and convertible.
Like Bugatti and Lamborghini, Bentley has blossomed under the financial and engineering wing of its VW/Audi owners. After a few rough years for all ultra-luxury brands, Bentley sales are booming again, up 23 percent in America last year. China is actually poised to pass America as Bentley’s biggest market in 2013, a position that will only be bolstered if Bentley – as seems certain – forges ahead with plans to introduce an SUV.
With the thermometer reading a balmy 61 degrees when I depart from San Francisco, skis in hand, my first move is to drop the Bentley’s cloth top and crank up the optional, $7,300 Naim audiophile system. Destination: Squaw Valley, Calif., site of the 1960 Winter Olympics.
Performance aside, the Bentley is all about handcrafted details, the kind that make people shell out a quarter-million dollars for a burly car whose back seat can barely fit two boarding-school kids: The body’s elegant, complex slabs of aluminum, formed by air pressure in a process called superforming; the unblemished hides sourced from Bavarian bulls; the royal scepter of a shifter, capped with knurled metal. Made-from-scratch, mirror-matched wood veneers are part of the 200 labor hours required to produce each car. Don’t forget Bentley’s signature diamond-quilted leather, or the nifty organ-pull vent closures.