It’s hard to believe now, but until Rolls Royce launched the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo in 1982 Bentleys were nothing more than re-badged Rolls Royces and accounted for an insignificant 5 per cent of Rolls Royce sales.
But the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo changed all that and put Bentley on the road to success with the first ’Blower’ Bentley in half a century. So as it’s thirty years ago this week since the Mulsanne Turbo arrived, we thought we ought to mark the occasion with a quick look back.
Rolls Royce launched the Mulsanne in 1980, a re-badged Silver Spirit with the traditional 6¾ litre V8, a pattern of badge-engineering that had become common since Rolls Royce acquired Bentley. But plans were afoot to give Bentley its own identity, and the idea of turbocharging the venerable V8 was hatched.
A single Garrett AiResearch was fitted which transformed the (even then) ancient V8 by increasing power and torque by 50 per cent. Although Rolls Royce were never willing in those days to give power and torque figures, the Mulsanne Turbo was said to deliver 300bhp and 450lb/ft of torque, enough to propel the 2-ton Bentley to 60mph in 7 seconds and on to 135mph (which was as much as the tyres could manage), quicker than the Daimler Double Six, the Aston Martin Lagonda and Ferrari’s 365GT4.
Interestingly, although the 3-speed GM slush-box was beefed up to cope with the bigger demands the extra performance placed on it – and the driveshafts and CV joints were strengthened - the Mulsanne Turbo kept the same suspension as the non-Turbo car, which was probably a mistake (and was rectified when the Mulsanne Turbo morphed in to the Turbo R a few years later) and meant the Mulsanne Turbo was more impressive in a straight line than it was in the bends.
Rolls Royce didn’t let the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo shout its performance credentials, instead opting to mark it out from its lesser sibling with just a new set of wheels, a body-coloured radiator surround and a couple of ‘Turbo’ badges. Anything more would have been vulgar.
The Mulsanne Turbo wasn’t perfect – far from it – but it was the first sign for a generation or more that Bentley could offer something different to a Rolls Royce, even when hampered by the same body shell. And so successful was the Bentley renaissance that Bentley-badged cars were soon accounting for 50 per cent of Rolls Royce output - a ten fold increase – and within a decade were outselling Rolls Royce by two to one.
In 1982 the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo cost a not insignificant £58,000 which, if we use average earnings, is £243k today, slightly more than the spiritual successor of the Mulsanne Turbo – the new Bentley Mulsanne.
But without the original 1982 Mulsanne Turbo the new Bentley Mulsanne would probably not exist. In fact, Bentley may not have existed at all now were it not for the seemingly simple decision to bolt a turbo on to the old V8.
So if you drive a modern Bentley, remember that it was the 1982 Bentley Mulsanne Turbo that made it all possible. And if you pass one of the 519 Mulsanne Turbos Rolls Royce made this week smile nicely, wish it Happy Birthday and say a big thank-you.