As this year’s Monterey Car Week approached and I worked to cram as many interviews and events as possible into my already tight schedule, one question remained unanswered: “What car should I take?” Last year, I picked a Porsche 718 Cayman T for the long drive from Los Angeles. I thought a small, light, and pretty efficient sports car would be the move, given the nearly 1,000-mile trip. Looking back, I was wrong.
Although it was fun through the coast’s twisty roads, it was cramped and, thanks to a manual transmission, a hassle after back-to-back days in slow-moving traffic. I told myself I’d do things differently next year, so I did. I contacted Bentley as my first choice, a slight overcorrection. But since the carmaker announced it would stop building its W12 early next year, this was one of few remaining chances to bond with the engine that defined the brand for two decades.
A few days before I was due north, a sleek, dark Windsor Blue Continental GTC Speed appeared in my driveway, and I couldn’t wait to get to know it.
|Engine||Twin-Turbocharged 6.0-Liter W12|
|Output||650 Horsepower / 664 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH||3.6 Seconds|
|Base Price||$320,025 (Including $2,275 Destination Fee)|
Despite the many miles I’ve been lucky enough to cover in Bentleys, I approached the GTC apprehensively. The Flying Spur and Continental GT, two cars I’ve tested extensively, set such a high bar for how well a big luxury car could drive that I seriously doubted the GTC, given its soft-top roof, heftier curb weight, and reduced chassis rigidity. It was up to the GTC to win me over. With that in mind, I pointed its nose north and began the long drive.
Even though I set off before the sun crested the San Gabriel mountains near my home, I was already late and due in Monterey by lunchtime. As the morning commuters slept and I approached LA County’s upper edge, I had to formally pick a route north, of which three exist. The stunning Pacific Coast Highway, the scenic Route 101, or the painfully dull but quick I5. Given the time crunch, I chose I5.
Although a neverending highway isn’t ideal for getting familiar with an engine, Bentley’s W12 showcases its best here. Thanks to 6.0 liters of displacement and two turbochargers, it now produces 650 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque. Flat out during an overtake, it surges forward like an unstoppable force as you ride a wave of low-end torque. Its quick-shifting dual-clutch auto keeps the revs low while the speed climbs rapidly.
Given its quiet engine note and cabin, it’s easy to assume the GTC Speed is just another big plus cruiser, but it’s far from it. Like the Flying Spur and Continental GT, mainly because they share the same platform, engine, and transmission, the GTC proves that not even 5,388 pounds can stop its W12 from showcasing how much of a powerhouse it truly is.
It may hustle like a lightweight, but the GTC isn’t free from quirks. For one, it isn’t quite as comfortable or refined as its siblings, with slight road imperfections generating vibrations throughout the cabin. Its suspension feels firmer, likely to compensate for the GTC’s loss of rigidity, while its soft top doesn’t isolate the cabin as well as expected at higher speeds.
Five hours into the drive and approaching the Monterey peninsula, traffic began to slow, and the GTC came into its own. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything with the top down and the cool ocean air filling the dark blue and tan leather cabin. In case you’ve never been to Car Week, there are three things you can expect: thousands of ultra-rare cars littered like daily beaters, round-the-clock events, and neverending slow-moving traffic.
The GTC became more charming as I slowly approached our rented house on Pacific Grove. Thanks to its rear-axle steering system, it was a breeze to maneuver through the peninsula’s many twists and hills. Its plush massaging, heated, and cooled seats made me forget that it would take another hour until I reached my temporary home. The cherry on top is its Naim stereo, which may cost $9,150 but is the best system in any car at any price.
Thursday rolled around, and the GTC became my makeshift mobile office as I worked through the week’s various events. Car week is a “choose your own adventure” type of event in which there are no wrong ways to spend it. As a journalist, my days consisted of bouncing from unveil to unveil, taking photos, and covering the latest industry news.
Close by, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca remained busy with back-to-back events ranging from manufacturers showcasing new cars to historic vehicles going wheel to wheel on back-to-back races.
Nearly all events happen within 17-Mile Drive, a gated community with homes, schools, golf courses, and a hotel, to name a few. Unlike previous years, however, event organizers closed off most roads, meaning only emergency personnel could get through. While usually driving a Bentley could grant you an exception, I sat in traffic behind a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL and in front of a McLaren Senna. I wasn’t going anywhere.
By Friday, everyone piles into The Quail, A Motorsport Gathering, an event that has become the epicenter of new car unveils globally in recent years. With the recent demise of big motor shows like Geneva, many carmakers have decided upon this event to reveal their latest creations to the public, many of whom are potential owners given the show’s hefty entry fee.
The Quail presents a unique opportunity for smaller carmakers like Czinger, Pininfarina, and Hennessey to showcase their cars to a significant audience. This feat would be almost impossible anywhere else besides an online unveil. From an enthusiast’s perspective, it presents a unique opportunity to chat with industry giants. Where else will you see Horacio Pagani, Christian von Koenigsegg, and Alois Ruf walking around?
I awoke to news of a storm brewing back home on Saturday morning. At this point, Hillary was a category 2 hurricane expected to barrel straight through Southern California on Sunday afternoon, the date of my planned return. I had to decide whether to pilot a $384,485 Bentley into a storm or wait it out. Thankfully, that could wait.
Saturday is what I call my “wandering around” day. Although there are still plenty of events and unveils, it’s also the day with the most free events happening simultaneously. Gatherings like Exotics on Broadway bring out huge crowds, especially younger enthusiasts, often not present at the pricier lawn events. It’s where car week feels the most like car week. It is a moment in which everyone, regardless of income, gets together to appreciate rare cars.
By nightfall, it was time to attend Bentley’s massive party. Hosted in a 17-Mile Drive mansion, it was one of the swankiest events of the week, filled to the brim with brand loyalists eager to celebrate the week. I, however, was thinking about Hillary. It had only worsened as it approached Los Angeles, and I was sure the Bentley and I would be stuck north. As the night wrapped up, I spent it with friends, hoping to make it home the next day.
By Sunday, many folks head home. Most free events have concluded, and owners begin to stuff their priceless rides into awaiting transport trucks. However, Sunday is simultaneously the day of perhaps the most important event of the week, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The Concours is over 71 years old and sees some of the most significant and prized cars compete in various categories, with most awards going to pre-war pristinely kept or restored examples. If Quail is where the best from the new school presents, the Concours is where you see automotive history in motion.
As I snapped photos of the classics and the new metal at the concept lawn, my phone buzzed. It was a text from my wife simply reading, “It’s now or never; the storm will catch you.”
I sprinted out of the Concours, passing by endless linen suits, sundresses, and enormous hats walking in. Given the road closures, the GTC waited for me in a lot a few miles out. Having missed the shuttle by mere seconds, I had to wait for another, with weather updates making me fear the worst. Ten minutes later, I fired the W12 and set off homebound.
There would be no top-down cruising today. I hustled the big Bentley through the twisting roads as quickly as possible, with my GPS alerting me that I’d get home precisely when the storm was expected to touchdown. Although it was now a tropical storm, officials still expected landslides, road closures, and endless crashes.
I made one final stop for fuel before joining the highway, and as I sat in the gas station with the GTC’s burbly W12 idling, I had to decide: “Would tackling a storm in a $384,485 Bentley be a good idea?” There was only one way to find out.
I confidently pushed south, with the GTC comfortably sitting at triple-digit speeds. As I worked my way down, the sky shifted, with its light blue tint covered by enormous gray clouds. Although the water hadn’t yet begun to fall, I could hear and feel the winds starting to whoosh around the car. Although I’d previously critiqued the GTC’s weight gain, I was glad I was in something so substantial, as it remained firmly planted on the road.
The clouds began to release their rainy wrath two hours into the drive. I didn’t think it would’ve gotten so bad early into the journey, but it had. And while my anxiety crept in, the Bentley remained totally unphased. My phone rang with news of severe flooding in Palm Springs, as it received the most rain in 84 years.
The carnage was evident when I joined I5 just outside Bakersfield. With each mile I counted, more cars stopped on the side of the road, most of whom had spun out moments earlier. I slowed my pace drastically and pushed forward in the all-wheel drive Bentley. More miles, more crashed cars. The roads were littered with bits of broken vehicles and fallen rocks as I approached the mountain passes north of LA.
I could feel the water sloshing on either side of the car as the heavy bently pushed it aside and rolled along the flooded highway. This car was incredible, completely unphased, even when others struggled. It never so much as twitched during the five-hour trek.
I made it home as the brunt of the storm hit my neighborhood. I parked the GTC safely in the covered backyard and sprinted towards the front door. The San Gabriel mountains that had marked the beginning of my trip were now invisible, surrounded by a thick cloud layer.
As I watched the storm pass in my living room, I couldn’t help but admire the GTC’s versatility. It had tackled an open highway, a week in traffic, twisty roads, hills, and even a storm with grace. Sure, it may not be as capable or surefooted as the GT or the Flying Spur, but its retractable roof adds an extra layer to the driving experience.
With my busiest week of the year concluded, I had not even an ounce of regret in choosing the Bentley. It is the ideal car week ride, and while a V8-equipped GTC would’ve done just fine. I’ll miss the W12’s character, grunt, and tremendous power. While electric Bentleys will be faster, quieter, and generally better luxury machines, cars like this GTC Speed will be sorely missed.