2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed, at home in the jungle: Motoramic Drives

In 1906 the journalist, politician, and outspoken socialist Upton Sinclair published "The Jungle," a novel set amongst a cadre of Eastern European immigrants toiling in the slaughterhouses of Chicago, a book intended to expose the cruelties and vagaries of Gilded Age industrial capitalism.

However, while documenting the era's treacherous working conditions, unfair labor practices and brutally unregulated commercial economy, Sinclair's masterpiece misfired. Americans, even then a gastro-centric lot, seized not on the novel's presentation of the Sisyphean struggle of labor versus capital, but rather on the grotesque details about how cattle become meat. And as the old saw goes, those who love sausage and obey the law should never watch either being made.

In this, Sinclair's polemical industrial exposé was precisely the inverse of our recent experience visiting the factory in Crewe, England, where Bentley produces its luxurious Continentals and Mulsannes. Here, on a 65-acre complex, in 75 year-old saw-tooth brick buildings, and along a trio of slow-moving, impossibly clean, and preternaturally organized quarter-mile long assembly lines, we watched as many hundreds of dedicated and cheery unionized craftspeople hand-assembled some of the most exquisite and over-engineered vehicles currently on offer.


There were no maggot-filled rivers of purulent blood, no festering mountains of offal or workers plunging unwittingly into superheated rendering vats only to be cooked down into Durham's Pure Leaf Lard. There was, however, a room piled high with bovine byproducts: Hide! But these were no cast-offs from some menial, Midwestern cut-up. They were the seamless skins of Bavarian bulls (bulls, not cows: no stretch marks) reared to maturity in wood-paneled pens, far from the pernicious pricks of barbed wire. Sucked to uniform flatness on the inverse of an air-hockey table, these skins are mapped for their utility by computer scanners, then cut by tiny robotic pizza wheels.

Not bespoke enough for you? There was also a stadium-sized area in which 154 handheld (and 7 robot-manipulated) welding guns attached the hand-hammered panels that constitute these cars' sculptural steel, aluminum, and polycarbonate-composite bodies. There was an immense and peet-reeking shop dedicated to completing the 100 hours of sawing, curing, sanding, layering, lacquering, baking, polishing, and cataloging of the dozens of mirror-matched veneer panels that line every interior. And there was a seemingly infinite series of stations where teams of workers were tasked with following the individualized build sheets that dangled from the mammoth hoods of each vehicle, installing the precise combination of custom wheels, trim, paint, piping, and fetal narwhal horn that Bentley's one-percenters request, and require.