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Car of the Month
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Car of the Month - May 2005
Bentley Azure, 1997, #SCBZK15C5 VCX61111
Cabriolet by Mulliner Park Ward
A certain devaluation of meaning and impact of the term 'Classic'
regrettably has resulted from overuse and sometimes misuse of that word.
It is entirely apt though to state the Bentley Azure
as a classic in its own lifetime. The convertible derivative based of the
Bentley Continental R enjoys enormous popularity
– its elegant lines, ultra-high performance and superb handling
characteristics were applauded when the model was launched and the praise
remained undiminished over the following decade.
The Italian designer Pininfarina played a vital role in the transition of
making the Azure more than simply the drophead version of the the Bentley
Continental R; to give it an identity of its own. When the convertible was
unveiled at the 1995 Geneva Salon it was the first entirely new
convertible since some 30 years. Back in 1967 the
Bentley T 2-door convertible had been introduces (up-graded in 1971 to
Bentley Corniche, from 1982 onward offered as
Bentley Continental). Cooperation with Pininfarina
wasn’t limited to providing the design of the new model; the company
participated in its construction, too. The bodies were sent to Italy where
the hood mechanism was fitted by Pininfarina and paintwork applied before
being returned to Crewe. Mulliner Park Ward then completed each car by
mounting on mechanical units, trimming and finishing.
As regards technical specification the Azure benefited because just then
the „basic model“ Continental R was subject to improvements for the 1996
model year (announced in June 1995). New cylinder heads, and throttle body
in combination with low-loss intake system, liquid–cooled turbocharger and
new generation ZYTEK engine control unit did result in performance
increase by some 8 per cent and fuel consumption being lowered by some 7
per cent. On the other hand the Continental R at some later stage did
benefit from the Azure’s front seats with their integral seatbelts
becoming adopted thus adding comfort and easing access to rear seats.
No critic then? Well, the management’s decision to discontinue this model
from 2002 wasn't entirely appropriate. The new Bentley
Continental GT made its debut in 2002 and did
give a clear view, of course, about the marque's future. It was announced
that within due time a convertible variant would follow as well as a
4-door version; the latter one is available on the market since April 2005
in the form of the Bentley Continental Flying Spur.
The period between the end of production of the Azure and a future
convertible however left a considerable gap. That has been filled recently
as an interim with the Bentley Arnage Drophead Coupé – whose model
designation doesn’t fully comply comply with the fact, that indeed more
genes from the Azure are to be found...