Wednesday, 3 March 2010

One for the estate?

A Bentley with a difference; Touring's delightful take on the Continental.

This week sees the start of the largest and most prestigious European Motor Show, somewhat strangely held in Geneva - part of Europe's least car-friendly country. There's a lot to see, but there are two cars which really interest me. More on the second to come later. For now though, I'm going to concentrate upon the efforts of a small Italian company called Carrozeria Touring.

The name's familiar? Well, it should be. Touring are a styling house, known for the quietly elegant Sunbeam Venezia, the jaw-dropping Jensen Interceptor, and the shape that launched Aston into the big time; the DB4. They haven't lost their touch, either, if their latest idea is anything to go by.

Someone there must be very like me. I've always had a lot of time for sensible sports cars - things that go and handle but can take the family and the shopping. True GTs, in other words. And the bets of the affordable ones has always been Reliant's Scimitar GT/E - a four seat, comfortable, plush GT car with such a huge estate rear you could use it to go shopping, or to the south of France. And Touring have re-created this brilliant idea of a sports estate, using the most sporting car from my favourite marque as their base.

Bentley estates have never been what you could call common - the only ones I can really think of off the top are the Jankel Val d'Isere and it's Provence sister, both based on the Turbo R. But there's now a third, thanks to Touring. The Bentley Continental GT/E. That name's mine, by the way - I can't read what they've written in ornate script on the plates of the show car.

What they've done is take a GTC - for the stiffer floorpan - and rewored everything aft of the A pillar. And what it looks most like it a smoother and more stylish version of the Scirocco, combined with the aforementioned Reliant. It even has split fold rear seats, for added practicality. Given the lightning performance of the original, I'd not expect anything but an autobahnstormer in the unlikely event I'd get my hands on one of these - certainly 60 should be despatched in around 5 seconds or so, and 180+mph at the top end.

If the interior's unchanged, this car has joined my top ten dream cars. It's pretty, lovely inside, sensible, practical, and best of all, it's British. OK, styled by Italians, but so was the Interceptor. As the Elgar starts to become audible and the Union Flag falls behind me, I can well and truly describe this as potentially the best of British.

But it's half a million quid. Did I not mention that? The estimated price of about $800,000 works out at just over £530,000, which by my standards is stupid money. If memory serves the base car's about £120k, so marketing this at a hundred and fifty would be fair - there's the mods to cover, and the design fees. Touring seem to have realised they've been overambitious with the price - which is why they've announced that the Conti estate will be restricted to just twenty cars, split between standard and Speed models depending upon interest. This means I'll probably never see one.

But you never know. Bentley's boys may think it great - they did after all have a hand in making sure the quality was up to scratch. The VW Group director of engineering certainly likes it, as does RR designer Ian Cameron. And I hope and pray they they make it a factory model.

Sam has since discovered that the car will be called Flying Star - but as he feels this is pretentious he will not be editing the above article to correct this.

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