NEW YORK: Organizers killed the Geneva Auto Show because of coronavirus fears, but had the show run, it would not have made any difference for aspirants to Bentley’s new grand tourer.
The £1.5 million (RM8mil) Bentley Bacalar, which had been set to debut as Bentley’s crown jewel at the annual car show, instead emerged via live video feed on the morning of March 3. Bentley is making only 12 of them, each engineered to their individual owner’s taste. They have already sold out.
But don’t despair. A roomy two-seater with a 650-bhp W12 engine, Bacalar is just the first of what will be a new portfolio of cars sprung from a nascent division at Bentley called Mulliner Coachbuilt.
The new division is a logical move for the company that has said more than 90% of all its vehicles are customised.
It’s joining arch-nemesis Rolls-Royce in strengthening its in-house bespoke division, but they’re not the only ones to capitalise on the luxury market’s appetite for individuality. Aston Martin has a similar in-house bespoke program, called Q by Aston Martin; even Porsche has expanded its longtime Exclusive Manufaktur customisation program based in Zuffenhausen, Germany, to coincide with the launch of the Taycan.
The new Bacalar doubles as a marketing device that hints at the capabilities of the 40 artisans at the Crewe, England-based Mulliner shop. It shows that those workers can conjure delightful automotive elements from raw materials such as local wool, ancient river wood, and even rice-the paint on the Bacalar comes from the ash of rice husks, a sustainable way to achieve a rich metallic finish on the exterior of your sublimely exclusive coach.
The exterior of the all-wheel-drive, eight-speed Bacalar is defined by its wide stance, clamshell rear, and Barchetta, or roofless, body.
It’s a polarising style but one that comes by its design honestly: It shares no construction or panels with any other vehicle at Bentley and instead-with its protruding front nose, tall grille, and wraparound feel-summons the vibe of the EXP 100 GT concept car the company showed last year.
There’s even the open-top feel of the Birkin Blower Bentley of the 1920s-the modern McLaren Elva, Porsche Speedster, and Ferrari Monza cars have this, too.
About the only thing that the Bacalar does share with its Bentley brethren is a door handle, with keyless entry, like the one on the Continental GT.
The interior displays a wraparound cockpit and semi-enclosed luggage compartment behind the seats.
As you might expect, you can also buy a set of luggage designed exclusively by Italian leather-goods maker Schedoni to fit inside the particular dimensions of the car.
The Mulliner connection
Bentley brass, along with leaders at archrival Rolls-Royce, have commented publicly about the vast margins available for hand-crafted, highly bespoke vehicles.
The Mulliner division in particular derives from a long tradition of coachbuilding at Bentley, which uses the institutional memory and skills of a former saddle shop formerly run by the eponymous family and which has existed since the 1500s.
The family rose to prominence in the 1760s for its work building and maintaining carriages for the Royal Mail postal service; in 1923, it created a bespoke two-seat Bentley for the 1923 Olympia Show in London, the first of more than 240 bespoke automobiles Mulliner created for Bentley during that decade.
The two houses went on to create such famous cars as the 1952 R-Type Continental and formally merged in 1959. Now, Mulliner builds Bentley’s most exclusive vehicles like Bentaygas with picnic baskets inside and Flying Spurs that bear specific family crests and totems.
But the Bacalar takes that concept a step further, whether it’s Beluga-coloured leather seats or British woods or natural yarns for trimming textiles.
You can also request the gear shifter be made in wood or metal or covered in carbon fibre, get leather door straps, request singular piping made by hand in a nearby countryside district, and have a unique-to-you analog clock in the dashboard.
It will all be on high display, too, since the car comes without a top-everyone will be able to see each detail from the piping to the floor mats as the car passes by.