At the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003, Bentley’s then-CEO Dr Franz-Josef Paefgen was asked whether or not he might consider building a souped-up, stripped-out version of the then recently launched Continental GT. “No. It isn’t that sort of car,” came the decisive answer.

But its success changed Bentley’s mind pretty quickly (more than 80,000 Continental GTs have now been sold), because four years later the carmaker was unveiling a more powerful version called the GT Speed. It followed this up with the even more extreme Supersports and an ultra-performance limited edition GT3-R. But of these three souped-up takes on the original Continental, the GT Speed offered the best combination of luxury and increased sporting character. 

Launched last weekend in Sicily, Bentley’s third-generation GT Speed is being billed as “the most dynamic road car in Bentley’s 101-year history”. It’s available as a coupe (from £209,900) or convertible (from £230,900), and is powered by an uprated version of Bentley’s six-litre W12 that produces 650bhp and delivers a stomach-wrenching 900Nm of torque. This means a standstill to 60mph time of just 3.5 seconds, and a top speed of 208mph.

Available as a coupe or convertible, the new GT Speed can be fully personalised through a choice of 15 main and 11 secondary hide colours
Available as a coupe or convertible, the new GT Speed can be personalised through 15 main and 11 secondary hide colours

Outward signs of the new Speed are a dark-tinted front grille and radiator matrix, deeper sports sills, chrome Speed badges and special-pattern, 22in-diameter wheels. There are also seven roof-colour options for the convertible (including tweed look) and eight options for the lining. The interior, meanwhile, has two-tone leather and Alcantara seats with diamond-quilted upholstery and embroidered Speed headrests as standard.

As with any Bentley, the GT Speed can also be fully personalised – in this case, through a choice of 15 main and 11 secondary hide colours, a centre console finished in engine-turned aluminium and a range of seven veneers (four of which are no-cost options). The car is also fitted with Bentley’s rotating display instrument panel, which offers the options of a touchscreen display, a trio of analogue dials or a blank veneer.

The interior features two-tone leather and Alcantara seats with diamond-quilted upholstery and embroidered Speed headrests
The interior features two-tone leather and Alcantara seats with diamond-quilted upholstery and embroidered Speed headrests
New exterior features include special-pattern 22in-diameter wheels
New exterior features include special-pattern 22in-diameter wheels

But it’s the engineering changes beneath the skin that make the GT Speed more rewarding to drive than the car on which it is based. Most significant is the active rear-wheel steering that enhances the car’s agility during sudden changes of direction. There’s also a race-car-inspired electronic limited-slip differential and, at the front, the biggest disc brakes ever seen on a production car: they measure 420mm in diameter and are grabbed by calipers equipped with no fewer than 10 pistons.

To prove the worth of the car’s high-tech engineering, part of the launch drive included being invited to blast the car around Sicily’s Comiso aerodrome. The site previously served as an air base for the Luftwaffe, USAF and RAF during the second world war, and, during the 1980s, as the largest Nato site in southern Europe. Abandoned for the past two decades, the base is now just a vast and sprawling collection of derelict buildings connected by a network of cracked roads.

The GT Speed Verdant being put through its paces in Sicily
The GT Speed Verdant being put through its paces in Sicily

Driving around Comiso at a suitably enthusiastic pace felt akin to being inside a video game, not least since the car seemed capable of negotiating it at implausible speed. However, the dereliction of the place served as a reminder that the current era of shamelessly brawny, thrillingly fast, angrily growling petrol-engined supercars is rapidly coming to a close in the move towards electrification.

So if you’re still up for a last hurrah in luxurious comfort, make your move. The GT Speed won’t be around forever – but at least you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren that they don’t make them like they used to.

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