Something For The Weekend – Bentley turbos

| 2 Nov 2012

Big and powerful saloons may be 10 a penny today, but in 1982 when Bentley launched the Mulsanne Turbo they were less common.

It was exactly what the firm needed at the time, though. The Bentley’s direct cousin, the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, was outstripping it 20 to one in sales. Rolls-Royce chief executive David Plastow knew something had to be done and that something came in the form of a turbo.

A Garret AiResearch TO4 turbo, to be exact. The long-serving 6.75-litre V8 needed little modification to handle the 50% increase in power, with changes being limited to uprated valves, valve springs and pistons. The result was 298bhp and a sprightly 0-60mph time of around 7 secs.

Little changed in the handling department and the Mulsanne Turbo had to be limited to 135mph due to its high-profile tyres. Those, combined with the softly sprung suspension meant that it – and its 2.5-tons of mass – could quickly turn into a handful when cornered quickly. But to do this would be to miss the point of the car – quick and calm progress was its raison d’etre and it did that like nothing else.  

The launch of the Turbo R (the R standing for Roadholding) solved much of the car’s wayward handling problems. It came fitted with the Mulsanne’s optional ‘suspension pack’, had low-profile tyres (that brought an end to the speed limiter) and more power.

Magazines love to harp on about cut-price Bentleys – don’t believe it. These cars may be relatively cheap to buy, but they are not cheap to run. The engine is a durable piece of kit, but if it breaks (corrosion and head-gasket failures are not unknown) the bills will be huge. With this in mind, a full service history is an absolute must.

Other worries include the brakes and suspension, neglect or lack of use can spell trouble for both. The turbo should be strong, but check for excess oil around the unit.

The Bentley’s aluminium bonnet, bootlid and doorskins, plus galvanised steel moncoque should banish corrosion problems. Although, it’s still worth checking for signs of accident damage and filler.

A browse of the classifieds confirms quite how rare a Mulsanne Turbo is, with our search only revealing two currently on sale. This white example may not be to everyone’s taste, but at a mere £8695, it is cheap. The interior looks grubby, but the car comes with lots of paperwork and a year’s MoT.

Or, for a little over double the price, you could have this. A special edition Turbo S, this car is number 29 of the 60 (not 75 as the vendor claims) 408bhp cars. It’s covered only 49,001 miles and should, as a younger example, be in excellent condition.

Anyone thinking about taking the plunge with Bentley ownership can find useful advice at the Bentley Drivers Club or the Rolls Royce Enthusiasts’ Club.

Finally, for £26,950 you could opt for this Turbo RT. Its silver exterior and blue leather interior are far more in keeping with the marque and it comes with 400bhp and a mesh grille that hints at it.

It’s hard to think of a car that blends the same level of comfort with brutish performance in quite the way a turbocharged Bentley does. As with any second-hand car, buying is a leap of faith, but with a Bentley the potential to fall from a greater height is ever present.

If a safety net exists, it exists in the form of our free and downloadable buyers guide.