British bulldogApr 9th, 2020
Captaining the grandest of grand tourers
Do you like playing automotive dress-up? Our cars are as much a part of our "outfits" as our shirts or pants, and much of the fun that comes from driving different cars comes from trying on different sets of clothes – and watching the reactions of people when you go by them.
You can imagine, then, the reaction you might get driving around in a Bentley Brooklands, a 3,000-kg, 530-hp, 770-lb-ft four-seater rolling on 20-inch tires with a body even longer than the monstrous Azure convertible on which it’s based. When new, it was $375,000 before options, and looked every inch the custom-tailored Savile Row suit and top hat; for under $130k now, there isn’t a better way to make, well, that specific kind of impression on the road.
People, upon seeing this British thunder wagon rolling on Toronto streets, mostly seem kind of confused: you can tell some want to heap it with disdain, for being such a waste of space, for being so big on the outside but so small on the inside. But they don’t – they smile and nod in appreciation for something so obviously from another era, and from a completely different social strata.
The Brooklands is a time machine of a car – big, heavy, old-school, hand-made, and almost wilfully backwards. You will fall instantly for its chopped-down roof, its pizza-sized brakes, its rumbling twin-turbocharged V8 exhaust. Its presence is absolutely enormous – leaving young, old, classy and not, all slack-jawed. For a Bentley, a brand epitomizing taste and class, it’s a just bit crass, with its enormous multi-piece alloy wheels, side vents, and hot-rod roofline and sound – but that’s what makes it so special.
Aside from ultra-limited specials made for aristocrats and potentates, the Brooklands is the ultimate and most exclusive Bentley of the modern era – only 550 total were made. As the last Bentley produced before Volkswagen group took full control of Bentley, its interior is redolent of a different time – big and blocky in design, completely in contrast to the sleekly modern (if still wood-and-leather bedecked) interiors of the cars that came after it.
Sitting inside, staring out the cut-down side glass at the world outside (the roof has no central pillars, in an old-world style), the mind reels with the time, the resources, the sheer effort that must have gone into making this thing. 17 cows had to give their lives to upholster the seats, the door panels, the roof and even sections of the trunk with their hides; hundreds of hours would have been spent hand-stitching each of those panels together, to get just the right texture.
The depth of the black on the gauge faces must have taken layers upon layers of paint, applied over the course of days, lovingly and time-consumingly baked to perfection. The solid metal knobs, the chromed pull-stops for the air vents, the millwork around the shifter, the Breitling dashboard clock – it’s all just insane. In rational terms, it’s an insane waste of time, resources, money, when something so much simpler (and, to be perfectly honest), so much more ergonomically correct, would have done. The floor-hinged metal pedals feel antiquated, there are two separate power mirror controls, on separate sides of the console, the huge steering wheel doesn’t telescope. You adapt to the Brooklands, it doesn’t adapt to you.
Of course, for people who love cars, the very force of the Brooklands’ personality is also its prime attraction. It is a car that knows what it is, that is eminently comfortable with the fact that it’s a three-ton, two-door, four-seat hot rod. James Bond, you know, drove a Bentley in the original Ian Fleming books, and not an Aston Martin – a Bentley that he’d souped up with a more powerful engine, tighter suspension and sleeker body like this Brooklands.
Since 2009, when this car was made – the final year of its production – Bentley has built other cars, of course. A Continental GT is faster, with the added security of all-wheel-drive. A Flying Spur has more room and a 200-plus-mph top speed. Despite their girth, all are lighter and more nimble than the Brooklands, with more modern technology. They’re better cars in every possible way.
But they’re not nearly so cool. You know why? Driving a newer Bentley, you feel like you’re driving a really great car, really well made with really great performance and luxury. Driving the Brooklands, you’re driving a time machine, a portal into another era – when rich people crossed countries behind the wheels of their fast cars with flagrant disregard for speed limits and fuel prices; when craftsmanship meant hand-made and hand-finished; where luxury equated to weight and presence, not technology and modernity; where grand touring was truly, epically, grand.
It is often said that they don’t make cars like they used to. This may be true – but in 2009, Bentley still did.