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Bennet: Bentley Continental

Roßfeldt: From the dawn of the century ...

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.

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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...

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