While the 1960s T-series is the Bentley most people initially think they want, many come to the quick realisation that you can actually buy a Turbo R for far less. The fact it's 20 years younger, offers massively improved performance and decent handling all make it the much more desirable machine too. Even the fuel economy would be slightly better – up from 13mpg to, ooh, 14mpg, say. Besides, being behind the wheel conveys so much feel-good factor that the expense doesn’t seem to matter.
Whether you go for the Mulsanne, Eight, Brooklands, Turbo R, S or RT, there is no shortage of variation within this luxurious theme. The array of models offered by Bentley throughout the 1980s and 1990s was nothing short of bewildering. Look beyond the differing trim and badging, the Turbo R variants all offer unbeatable opulence, comfort, refinement and pace.
Compared to modern day Bentleys like the Continental GT and Flying Spur, a Turbo R feels like it’s from a different age, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Climb on board and the first thing you will most likely notice is the wonderful smell of the old fashioned leather. On the road, the Turbo R is well mannered, and brisk when pushed, not that you’ll really be doing much of that.
For years these squared-off saloons were almost an embarrassment to Bentley, with neglected examples outnumbering good cars and values on the floor. Now, many of those tatty Bentleys have been broken for parts and while there are still some heaps about, the cherished examples represent a higher proportion of the cars left.
Although values are now on the up for good cars, these imposing saloons can still offer astonishing value. But while purchase costs can be on the low side you can’t run one of these cars on a shoestring, so don’t be taken in by those ‘Bentley for Mondeo money’ headlines.
Which one to buy?
There were a lot of different Mulsanne/Turbo derivatives and they drive differently depending on the wheelbase, suspension, fuelling, engine management and more. Generally, the later the car the more reliable and comfortable it is, as earlier editions weren’t so well developed.
Post-1986 cars got fuel injection, which is much more reliable than the earlier Solex carburettor. Because these cars need specialist maintenance and there’s no conversion available, you’re better off avoiding an early car and going for a fuel-injected edition instead. Fuel-injected cars don’t have these problems while they also offer better economy, although this is relative of course.
But while specification is important, condition is even more so as reviving a tired car will always cost plenty. This is why the key is to find a car that’s had plenty of money lavished on it, especially if it’s covered a high mileage. Key components ultimately wear out, with replacements generally costly, so buy a car that’s already had plenty of fresh parts. If you buy a tatty Bentley you’ll always end up seriously out of pocket by the time it’s been put right. An extra few thousand pounds spent at purchase time will invariably save you many thousands more in the long term.
Performance and specs
Engine 6750cc, V8
Power 400bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque 590lb ft @ 2000rpm
Top speed 152mph
Gearbox Four-speed auto
Dimensions and weight
• Corrosion isn’t rare, but major rot is. Walk away from any car with significant corrosion; major repairs just aren’t worth it. Because of their hand-built nature, replacement body panels don’t just slot into place; everything has to be adjusted to fit.
• Start with the rear wheelarches, sills and inner wheelarches, which tend to be hugely expensive to repair. Other corrosion hot spots include the rear valance and rear suspension spring pans.
• Running problems can be caused by all sorts of faults, so ensure the engine idles happily hot or cold, with no pinking under acceleration. However, most faults are surprisingly cheap to fix if you shop around; even a faulty engine management system on a post-1994 car can be fixed inexpensively.
• The V8 is fundamentally strong, but anti-freeze levels must be maintained. Internal corrosion is unlikely, but engines can overheat through broken fan belts or leaking hoses. The pistons will knock on an engine that’s been allowed to overheat while oil leaks are par for the course, but only weeping. Used engines are readily available – at a price.
• Two different GM automatic transmissions were used in these cars. The pre-1992 three-speed unit is strong, but the later four-speeder is smoother and offers better fuel economy. Any jerking on the test drive means large bills are looming. Even if things appear fine, check that the fluid level in the gearbox is up to the mark, that it’s not black and that it doesn’t smell of rotten eggs, pointing to a transmission that’s overheated.
• Significant rumbling or clunking from the back axle or particularly noticeable whining mean a replacement diff is needed, although the units are very tough and it’s very rare to need to resort to replacements.
• All cars have power steering; check for leaks, but the pumps very rarely give any trouble.
• Post-1990 cars got highly effective adaptive damping. Inoperative self-levelling may be seized activation rods at the back of the car; freeing these off will solve the problem, so it’s a cheap fix. However, it could be a faulty ECU or tired rear suspension spheres. If it’s the latter, it’ll feel as though the dampers have seized.
• The hydraulic brakes are effective but the handbrake usually isn’t – it needs regular adjustment. Ensure the brake pressure warning light extinguishes within 20 seconds; if it doesn’t, new spheres are needed. Every 96,000 miles or six years a costly hydraulic service is recommended, done by a specialist. Amateur meddling can lead to a wrecked system through the wrong fluid being put in.
• The later the car, the more gadgetry is fitted – and the more likely there are to be problems. Component prices vary from surprisingly cheap to hair-curlingly pricey, but it’s the labour involved in pinpointing a fault that can prove really costly. So check everything, paying close attention to the air conditioning and the cruise control.
• Cabins are swathed in Wilton, walnut and Connolly, so look for damage through neglect and/or age. Reviving a tired interior will cost thousands.
1980: The Mulsanne supersedes the T-series.
1982: The Mulsanne Turbo appears, in short or long-wheelbase forms.
1984: The Eight goes on sale; it’s a lower-spec, cheaper Mulsanne.
1985: The Turbo R arrives, quickly replacing the Mulsanne Turbo.
1987: All cars get fuel injection and anti-lock brakes.
1988: The Mulsanne becomes the Mulsanne S, with a Turbo R dashboard.
1989: The square headlamps are replaced by two round units on each side.
1990: All cars get electronically controlled suspension (adaptive damping).
1991: There’s now a new GM-sourced four-speed auto.
1992: The Brooklands replaces the Mulsanne S and Eight.
1994: The Turbo S goes on sale; 60 are made.
1995: The Turbo R gets a power hike to 385bhp.
1996: The Turbo R Sport arrives, with standard sat-nav and larger brakes.
1997: The short-wheelbase car dies, leaving the Turbo RL (long-wheelbase) as the standard model. The final derivative is also introduced, the Turbo RT, before the Arnage takes over.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Simply put, these Bentleys represent a huge amount of car for relatively little money. On the flip side, this also means that spending a huge amount of money on restoration is generally not worth the bother, unless you intend on keeping the car for many years.
For an early Mulsanne or Mulsanne Turbo, you’ll need to spend in the region of £8000 for an average condition car, while £15,000-£20,000 will get you one of the very best. Projects are out there for much less, around £3000, but will inevitably cost you a lot more in the long run.
Turbo R models are more desirable, and these range from £10,000-£30,000 depending on condition. It can often take a while for nice cars to find a home, meaning motivated sellers will potentially offer big discounts. It can be worth buying privately, although it is of course the even more important to make the necessary checks if you are doing this.