If you like historical twists and turns, you’re bound to appreciate this one. We’re at the Bentley factory in England with Nigel Lofkin, our genial Bentley Customer Host. He’s recounting the afternoon of December 29th 1940 when a German plane bombed Crewe - the very factory we’re standing in. “My Mother still has the scar on her leg she got from running away”. Fast forward to 1st January, 2003 and the Germans are back having completed the purchase of Bentley under Volkswagen.
Nigel has worked at Crewe since 1980, starting out as an apprentice in the trim shop working his way up to become a Corporate VIP host. He wears a suit nowadays but his former workmates still stop for a chat and a laugh as we walk around. Although he bears the hallmarks of a man trained to communicate a message, deep down he passionately loves Bentley - his Bentley – and could go misty-eyed given half the chance. Very slowly the corporate visit to see the Bentley Mulsanne being made is glacially going off message into a personal story. We even meet one man that’s been at Crewe over 40 years. It’s engaging and refreshing at the same time.
Good luck finding something similar at Mercedes. The Crewe factory is located in the countryside about 35 miles south of Manchester. It’s here they produce the Continental GT, Flying Spur and the flagship Mulsanne. We even get a close look at the new Bentayga SUV. If you like big SUV’s, you’ll doubtless love it. We’re told around 11,020 Bentleys are manufactured annually and you can add a further 3,000 or so when the Bentayga starts production. Volkswagen have committed £840 million over 2 years for the 80 acre site with new engineering and R&D facilities but it’s the Mulsanne we’re here to see and starting at £269,950 (before VRT and VAT) in Ireland it’s still a lot of money. To give us a taste of how the Chinese and Americans live (it’s Bentley’s biggest market), we’re given VIP badges and ushered into CW1 House, a separate, salon-type showroom where the current or future owners can pick and choose his or her colour, trim and configure their new car. After an hour of cossetting, we’re beginning to think too much money isn’t so bad for you.
During the day we visit different parts of the factory like the body-in white assembly area, the trim and wood shop where 17 sheets of wood are needed for each car and we learn that it takes over 500 hours to build one Mulsanne (versus 200 for the Continental GT). Unrecognisable facts from within the global motor industry emerge: 90 hours alone are spent crafting the bodywork, 16-17 bull hides are used for the leather, 22 hours are devoted to final inspection, each door cap is made from a solid piece of wood: resulting in 5 new Mulsanne cars rolling off the production line every day. Ever wondered why a Mulsanne costs so much? That’s why.
Even the Mulsanne’s 6,752cc Twin-Turbo V8 with 530bhp and 1100Nm/ 752lb.f engine is pure Bentley theatre, dating back to the 1950s and not the Volkswagen derivative as used in the Continental GT. We learn secret things as well. The Bentley badge has 9 wings on one side 10 on the other to outsmart counterfeiters (we’re annoyed we didn’t spot that one before). All of which rubbishes the notion that Bentley is just a posh Volkswagen nowadays. Not in Crewe and nowhere from where we’ve seen. Indeed, Volkswagen has taken particular care not to besmirch the Bentley brand by cleverly cultivating a good working culture at Crewe. So then, back to the Mulsanne. Should you buy one? It’s honestly such a lovely thing and frankly if you’re thinking about it you’ve probably made up your own mind long before now, without needing anyone’s opinion - including ours. But if you do – and apart for us hating you enormously (no, genuinely we do) - you must, absolutely come to Crewe. It’s such an important part of the Bentley Journey. You never know, if you’re lucky enough Nigel might show you around.