The next morning, Bentley flew us on a private charter to Pula, a small town on the Istrian Peninsula, a fertile coastal region trying to market itself as the “next Tuscany.” At dinner the previous night, a Bentley executive said that the company had chosen Croatia because it’s “quite a fashionable destination, great roads, a lot of history.” Another called it “a rare undiscovered spot on the European map.” A shuttle bus took us to our extremely luxurious hotel whose construction had been funded by the Croatian tobacco industry. We had two hours to pretend we were on holiday before the evening’s program began.
This took place in a pavilion that Bentley had erected for a month of promotional events. Wave after wave of automotive and “lifestyle” journalists would descend upon Croatia to marvel at the gleaming silver Continental GT that sat in the middle of the room, its grille shining like the king’s chainmail. There were artful renderings of the GTC on the walls and banners billowing overhead. Bentley provided us with notebooks in case we’d forgotten ours.
Bentley chairman and CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer appeared, looking trim and serious in an expensive suit, like a Bond villain. He called the GTC “a striking contemporary design combined with unparalleled performance.” This car was “more muscular” than previous one, he said. We sat in comfortable wicker chairs, wearing our business casual suit jackets and drinking complimentary champagne as a mustachioed man described the GTC’s “cool-touch metals,” “deep-pile carpets,” and “slimline cobra-head front seats.” He showed us the car’s removable veneered sunglasses case.
The GTC, he said, is “the stiffest convertible in the world.” This “minimizes scuttle shake.” Its W-12 twin turbo engine has up to 567 horsepower. The car boasts 516 ft-lbs of torque, 21-inch wheels that have four-wheel drive at all times, “extremely agile, sharp, crisp turning,” and “track width increase for increased stability and grip.” It can go up to 195 mph, zero to 100 in 10.9 seconds, gets 11 mpg city and 19 mpg highway, and costs just under $213,000, base.
The next morning, we got to drive it.
On these junkets, the writers drive in pairs, alternating legs of the journey. I had the privilege of teaming up with Tim Spell, automotive editor of the Houston Chronicle, who’s been doing this for a long time. Tim drove with Team Camel in a race across South America, and once spent a week taking a Mercedes Diesel from Kazakhstan to Western China. He has nothing to prove. Tiam told me not to worry about the GTC. These are touring cars, he said, designed to go on long drives with sweeping turns and lots of beautiful scenery. “It’s a very confidence-inspiring vehicle,” he said.
It was as though I’d taken a Quantum Leap into someone else’s life. - Neal Pollack
He taught me certain rules of the game: “Never drive above your head,” don’t pass a local in a city, and don’t hotdog it past another journalist. These are “A-list” drivers, he said, and they don’t take kindly to a speeding match. He said this as he drove through towns and vineyards, taking turns with the skill and grace of a Formula One driver. He used the “clutchless manual” function, which involves manipulating mounted paddle shifters on either side of the steering column. But he encouraged me to just keep the car in automatic the whole time.
After a quick stop for toast points spread with local truffles, I got my turn. I drove through olive groves, and accelerated across a bridge that spanned a winding canal. The scenery appeared subtle until I approached the coast, curving along cliffs adjacent to a vista of glistening Adriatic bays. The car was grace and brilliance itself, water flowing into a luxury bathtub. It made subtle adjustments, and even the tightest turns felt basic. Acceleration and braking happened almost automatically. The magnificent Istrian scenery flowered in front of me. “I drive the same roads all the time, and I like it that way,” Tim said. “But every once in a while, I see someplace and think, ‘this is special.’”
We put the top up to go through a tunnel. The car, unbidden, lowered its windows slightly. Sometimes it does this to let itself breathe. This thing was unbelievable.