'The most magnificent thing of all, it turns out, is a Bentley Mulsanne Speed'
Porter finds himself moved (extremely rapidly) by a very British saloon
What’s your idea of magnificence? The duomo of Florence Cathedral illuminated above the ochre sprawl of the city at dusk? A bull elephant slowly cresting a treeless ridge in the warm evening sun of Tsavo East? You might think of these things as magnificent, but are they as magnificent as the most magnificent thing of all, which is, it turns out, the 2019 Bentley Mulsanne Speed?
The Bentley’s magnificence begins with its door handles, which are less a means of entry, more a cool, steely harbinger of what lies ahead. Top spec 7-series and A8s have door handles shared with other, cheaper models. Each door on the new Range Rover features a pop-out handle someone of a certain income might recognise from the Evoque they bought for the nanny. Or the mistress. Either way, it’s the same thing. The Mulsanne has no such imperfect bloodline. Its handles, rendered in real metal and carefully textured too, as if finished off by a tiny army of artisan mice in brown store-coats, are bespoke and magnificent. Each handle provides a lovely way to discover the next moment of magnificence, which is the weight and action of the door itself swinging smoothly open as if the hinges are not carefully oiled but soaked daily in a pound of butter.
This stoutness is part of what makes the Mulsanne special and also, though it was conceived under German ownership, what makes it feel British. There’s something inherently hefty about this damp island of ours, a weightiness that infests our everyday lives and which you see in everything from Georgian houses to apple crumble and custard. For many of our nearest neighbours, a big breakfast comprises delicate pastries and tiny cups of bitter coffee. Only Britons consider starting the day on the right note with a vast platter of fried meats and eggs, washed down with a cup of tea. From our electrical plugs, beers and rural churches to the very soil on which we stand, constantly moistened by the heavy clouds that linger above our heads, Britain is steeped in the weighty and the dense.
And it’s all condensed into the doors of a Mulsanne. This, however, is not the most impressive piece of body engineering on this car. No, the most impressive thing is something you will never see as a Mulsanne whispers past: the braze. To achieve the smooth sweeping line of the Mulsanne’s rear end as roof meets rear pillar meets rear wing, there had to be a hidden join somewhere and it’s on the softly sculpted D-pillar where the upper and lower panels are slowly and carefully brazed together. And not by robots, oh dear me, no. It’s all done by hand.
Years ago I went to the Bentley factory and saw this in action, a bunch of craftspeople working this metallic union in a relentless, fastidious way that must have haunted their dreams. Eat, sleep, braze, repeat. On and on they went, hours of work until the finish was smoothed to perfection, all for something that would be smothered under layers of thick, velvety paint. If you owned a Mulsanne maybe the braze would give you the warm feeling of knowing it was there. Or maybe your warm feeling would come from driving the thing because, by crikey, this leviathan, this glorious land-whale almost 2ft longer than a Range Rover, can strop along in a way that boggles the mind.
Yes, you had to let your driver go after the deal with the Swiss went south, but the Mulsanne makes driving yourself no hardship. You don’t expect this Bentley to surge towards distant objects as if you’re falling across the landscape, not least because things of this size and weight normally have stained glass windows, but my goodness it can and it does. A road-creasing 811lb ft of torque gives the Mulsanne an absurd ability to arrive at extraordinary speeds without the occupants noticing. You can try to join in by flicking the paddles behind the wheel but you’ll instinctively hold too many revs, at which point the V8 becomes a little gravelly, and after a while you’ll learn that in most situations changing gears yourself is like checking into an expensive country hotel and annoying the staff by trying to help out. Much better to let the car do the work. Sit back, relax, watch the numbers on the digital speedo not so much rise as swell.
It’s that kind of car. It’s special, it’s unique and it is, sadly, no more. The Mulsanne ceased production without replacement in 2020. The last press car was quietly shuffled onto Bentley’s heritage fleet so that it might be borrowed by people like me who’d never driven a Mulsanne before and could belatedly realise that we will never see its kind again. There are other Bentleys, of course. There are other large and delightful saloons. But there are very few cars in this world that could be described as magnificent.