The Bentley Continental GT Buying Guide
The Bentley Continental GT was the first in a new wave of modern Bentleys and it remains a desirable used buy today.
VW’s acquisition of Bentley in 1998 may have had some of the British marque’s enthusiasts concerned that this quintessentially English manufacturer would lose some of its unique character in the process, but old-world sentimentality aside, big changes were needed if the brand was to survive into the new century.
Launch of the Bentley Continental GT under VW ownership in 2003
That big change came with the launch of the Bentley Continental GT in 2003, the first model to be produced under VW ownership. It was designed from the outset to be a mass-produced car and it featured the W12 engine and all-wheel drive running gear from the recently launched VW Phaeton. With the aid of two turbochargers the Continental GT offered the kind of effortless performance that harked back to the days when Bentley produced similar grand touring sports cars for the discerning few.
The difference this time was a German level of reliability and far higher production numbers, although the Conti GT was still built in Crewe. A mechanically identical four-door Flying Spur, picture below right, arrived in 2005, (which is not covered in this guide) and a convertible GTC was introduced in 2006 (which is).
Numerous small improvements were carried out throughout production but the major changes happened in 2007 with the introduction of the 600bhp GT and GTC Speed variants. An even more focused Supersports version was made available in 2009 which raised performance to new heights. A comprehensive facelift was carried out in 2011 but these essentially new models are outside the scope of this guide.
The continuous development effort put into the Continental GT gives the later models an edge in refinement and overall capability but there are great bargains to be had if you can find a well-maintained early car.
Engine of the Bentley Continental GT
Based on the Phaeton W12 unit which in turn was developed from two VR6 engines, the Continental added two turbochargers into the mix which resulted in a powerful and largely reliable engine. Regular oil services help ensure that it keeps running smoothly and fresh oil also extends the life of the turbochargers, blue smoke can spell a pending turbo failure.
Sparkplugs are expensive and a pain to access so check that they have been replaced every 4-years.
Cars with very low mileage should be approached with caution as most specialists tend to agree that there are more issues with infrequently used cars than with ones that have been used and serviced regularly.
Coil packs tend to fail on occasion, and a small number of head gasket failures have also been reported. A damaged or corroded radiator core can contribute to the head gasket issue so check that all is in order as the head gasket repair is an expensive engine out job.
A recall was issued on cars built up until mid-March 2008 to rectify an issue where the fuel filter could corrode resulting in the possibility of fuel leaking out.
The 6-speed ZF automatic gearbox is a sturdy unit despite the level of torque on offer and issues can usually be traced down to faulty electrical connectors. If the car has a jerky down change or exhibits a delay between gear changes then have a specialist take a closer look.
Suspension and brakes
All Continentals have air suspension with adjustable dampers, post-2008 models feature slight revisions to some of the suspension components but all should be relatively trouble-free maintenance wise. Worn rubber bushes can make themselves known by knocking noises when traversing bumps.
Brakes discs are massive steel units on most models and should not require any special attention, replacement discs can be pricey but nothing like what a set of the optional carbon-ceramics will cost if they are damaged.
A recall on all cars built up until early 2008 was carried out to resolve a potential issue of loss of brake pressure due to a faulty engine clip and brake pipe.
There was a second recall issued on cars fitted with the carbon-ceramic brakes where the screws holding the rear rotors could work lose on the rear axle. One worth checking up on.
The electronic parking brake unit tends to give problems and replacements are available from the agents for a price. Tyre pressure sensors have a 5-year lifespan due to their integrated batteries running flat so check that they are functioning correctly.
Bentley Continental GT – Bodywork
The steel bodywork should be rust free although the flat front end is a magnet for small stones. GTC models have a complex roof mechanism that doesn’t seem to have any inherent issues. If the fabric hood is damaged or the hydraulics or ECU are malfunctioning prepare for some big bills though.
Bentley Continental GT – Interior
The Continental GT was packed with electronics and issues tend to be down to corroded switches or damaged wiring.
Evidence of damp in the footwells could mean issues with the electronics in the future as a lot of the wiring is routed through this area. Electric seat controls can malfunction too so check that they all work correctly.
The interior is superbly built and should be in good condition, even on high mileage cars. The vast choice of personalisation available to owners means that colour matching can be tricky if panels need repairing.
2003: 552bhp twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W12 Bentley Continental GT introduced
2006: Convertible GTC model introduced
2007: 600bhp GT and GTC Speed arrive to complement standard model
2009: 621bhp GT and GTC Supersports model with no rear seat and carbon fibre trim introduced
2011: Drastically updated and facelifted Continental GT replaces first generation model
What To Buy
The sheer number of cars built means that prices start at temptingly low levels, settle for the cheapest you can find and you may end up paying for it later. Don’t be put of high-milers as the inherent reliability and mechanical solidity of these models means that well-used and well-maintained cars are sometimes preferable to garage queens that may require a fortune to get right.
All versions featured four-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic gearbox, the most desirable first-generation cars are the racy, stripped out Supersports models which did without rear seats. If you intend to use your Continental as a grand tourer then the less compromised 2009-on Speed models may be a better bet.
Convertible GTCs usually command a premium over the coupes and offer similar levels of performance, keep an eye out for the optional Mulliner Driving Package as this added a number of desirable extras such as diamond quilted seats and unique alloys.
Well-built and a pleasure to drive, the Continental GT is a great modern classic, the lowish pricing is a double-edged sword as some cars may not have been maintained to the desired levels. Take your time and pick a good one, there are plenty out there.
Top speed 190mph
6.0-litre W12 Speed
Top speed 200mph
6.0-litre W12 Supersports
Top speed 206mph
Text John Tallodi Photos Bentley Motors Ltd., Autosalon Valencia
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