In March 1995, Bentley launched its first all-new convertible model since 1967, replacing characterful but also dated Continental Convertible. Called Azure, the new model was based around the Continental R, with a convertible top engineered in conjunction with Pininfarina.
The Italian coachbuilder also played a part in building the Azure, with the roof being fitted to the body and painted in Italy, before being shipped back to the UK – where the mechanicals and final touches were installed.
While the new Azure continued to offer extremely high levels of comfort and luxury, it brought about a return to Bentley’s return to offering serious performance too. Despite the breezeblock aerodynamics and a rather impressive kerb weight of more than 2600kg, the Azure moves along the road with almost unbelievable pace thanks to 385bhp and an almost limitless supply of torque, supplied by the 6.75-litre turbocharged V8.
Ride comfort and effortless performance were this car’s forte, and more than 15 years after the last car was built, it still makes for a fantastic modern day classic cruiser at an affordable price. All of this of course came at a cost, with the Azure costing significantly more than the Continental R when new, making it one of the most expensive cars you could buy at the time.
Which Bentley Azure to buy?
There was only one engine and body style to choose from, and the real differentiator between Azure models is generally down to how each owner specified the car at purchase. There were a myriad of trim, leather seat colour, equipment and paint options, but from 1999 the Azure was also available in Mulliner trim, adding further to the level of customisation that each customer could specify. Mechanical changes were limited to minor developments, with the gearbox, interior and engine remaining largely unchanged during the production period.
One of the most desirable special edition Azure models built was the Platinum Anniversary Azure, of which just ten were built. This model was launched in collaboration with Jack Barclay, to celebrate 70 years of the Berkeley Square Rolls-Royce and Bentley Dealership.
Total sales over nine years of totalled just 1403 units, making the Azure very rare indeed. Avoid cars that have had a multitude of previous owners, as they are more likely to have been treated poorly at some stage. The price difference between a mint example and a neglected car is not as big as some of the potential repair bills.
Performance and specs
1995 Bentley Azure
Engine 6750cc, 16 valve OHV V8 Turbocharged
Power 385bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque 553lb ft @ 2000rpm
Top speed 150mph
0-60mph 6.3 seconds
Fuel consumption 16mpg
Insurance group 20
Gearbox Four-speed automatic
Dimensions and weight
• Parts and spares are available, however labour and maintenance costs can be prohibitive. Joining an owners club is advisable, and will help you find out a bit more about your car and where best to get it serviced. There are lots of specialists out there, and servicing one of these cars requires a knowledgeable mechanic. If you find someone offering to work on your car for half what a reputable specialist charges, do not expect the same level of workmanship.
• Thanks to decades of development the venerable 6.75 V8 is a strong and reliable unit. Turbocharged cars can suffer from head gasket failure, and the damage can range from a simple gasket replacement to far more costly problems that may require a full engine rebuild. Check the engine over thoroughly for evidence of water leaking past the gasket or head bolts. Any sign of this may mean an engine out overhaul.
• Generally head gaskets blow on engines while they are cold, and the tolerances are looser. It is wise to warm the engine up before giving it the full beans. Keep an eye on the dashboard gauges too, as the car running slightly warm can point to underlying cooling issues.
• One of the most common problems with the Azure is with the electrically folding soft top. It is a Mercedes SL 500 design, and while in that application the mechanism is very reliable, modifications to the basic design have made it quite problematic on the Azure.
• The Mercedes design used larger cylinders and rams requiring less hydraulic pressure to activate the top, the newer design utilises smaller, higher-pressure actuators that need to work much harder to move the roof, which can cause failures.
• The hydraulic fluid hoses tend to deteriorate over time and can cause pressure loss, as well as eventual leaks into the cabin. Look very carefully around the main hinge area when a top is partially lowered for any signs of hydraulic fluid. New hydraulic hoses and synthetic hydraulic fluid that does not react with the rubber lining is the solution.
• A final problem that can arise with the folding top are the metal cables sewn into the top lining, these help pull the roof into position when down and when they fray and break they can jam the roof and cause additional damage. Generally this occurs in conjunction with leaking from the hydraulic actuators requiring professional repair and restoration.
• Brakes are up generally up to the job of bringing these heavy cars to a stop, however they take a lot of strain, so a thorough check should be carried out to check for any disc warpage or overheating. Some of the last Azures were offered with uprated Alcon racing brakes.
• Suspension bushes can wear out prematurely due to the weight of the car, and can usually be detected with a thorough check under the car by a specialist. Worn shock absorbers will generally make the car wallow about and replacements can be costly.
• Body corrosion should not be a major issue if the car has been looked after, however if it has been left outside for long periods or not cleaned regularly, rot can set in to the wheelarches.
• The GM four-speed gearbox is basic and rugged, providing smooth shifts even under hard acceleration. Any jerkiness is a bad sign, and should be investigated.
1995: Bentley Azure is launched
1996: Best year for sales with 229 cars finding owners
1998: Bentley motor company purchased by VW
1999: Mulliner trim option becomes available allowing further customisation by owner during the building process
2003: Final Bentley Azure rolls off the production line with 1403 cars produced
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.bdcl.org - Bentley Drivers Club
• www.bentleyownersclub.co.uk - Bentley Owners Club and forum
Summary and prices
Most first generation Azures range between £50,000 and £100,000, straddled on either side by a few high-mileage and concourse condition cars. Demand for good cars is high, but most have been looked after and covered minimal miles, so there is actually a reasonable amount of choice.
Bentley has a long history of building some of the very best luxury cars in existence, and the Azure certainly makes a case for itself as one of the best. If you have the means to run one, there is very little (modern Bentleys included) can come close.
Words: John Tallodi