Driving the Bentley Mulliner Bacalar prototype (in the rain)

By topgear, 09 August 2020

Hello and welcome to what I hope will be a reasonably exclusive perspective of what it’s like to drive the £1.5m Bentley Mulliner Bacalar in miserable rain. 

I don’t expect any of the 12 eventual owners of this limited-edition speedster will be familiar with cowering behind its swept-back screen as a lightly refreshing drizzle dribbles down the back of their neck and soaks into the rich, waxy hides of the Bacalar’s pair of generously quilted seats.

They’ll experience it in lands of eternal sunshine, where rainy days are as likely as their credit card bouncing after a champagne luncheon. 

STORY Ollie Kew

Still, this is what a typical summer’s day looks like in the Bentley’s home country. Puddles are forming on the piano-black centre console of the only Bacalar currently in existence, but we’ll not be precious about it. There is, after all, no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. And an extremely inappropriate vehicle.

You’ve seen this very Bacalar before. The ‘Yellow Flame’ example was the display model for the Geneva show that never happened, back in March 2020. Car 0 of 12 – the factory testing prototype, is in build as you read this. What does that make this then, car -1?

Anyway, to give us a little taster of Bentley’s fastest ever topless car – and what the buyers of this ultra-bespoke roofless speedster will be getting - Bentley elected to press its motor show starlet into action. Sort of. 

The car arrives at the chocolate box-quaint Goodwood Motor Circuit in a burly transporter lorry. Once unloaded, its minder politely requests that I’m not to exceed a paltry 30 kilometres an hour.

Ah. We’ll only be using a fraction of the famed Goodwood track: basically the run down from the Woodcote right-hander, through the chicane, along the start-finish straight and pivoting back on ourselves at turn one, aka Madgwick. 

Hardly a grand tour, but more mileage than some limited edition supercars cover in a decade, so I’ll take it. Was that a thunderclap? A droplet of rainwater collects on the end of my nose. Ahh, the glamour. 

I’m impressed Bentley has signed off letting this car out in inclement conditions, because it’s clearly a tad fragile. I’m politely asked not to switch the Bacalar’s 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 off at any point. The heater system is just for show, and the digital dials are in a demo mode loop, merrily accelerating toward 320km/h back to rest. Happily, the windscreen wipers work just fine. 

Being based on a Continental GTC, the Bacalar is a big, hulking presence, but it’s festooned with new details that give it a less gentlemanly, more supercar-y character. It’s dramatic even in dreary mizzle.

The finer creases on the rear haunches and sheer amount of grille real estate should leave most onlookers in little doubt this is something more special than their dentist’s dog-walker’s daughter’s Conti. Maximum Instagram likes will depend on your individual spec, though.

Bentley’s colour and trim boss Maria Mulder has now all but completed her meetings with the 12 Bacalar buyers. Usually they’d have flown into Bentley HQ for a one-on-one swatch swap, but amidst COVID-19 restrictions, private jets have been parked and the Bacalars have been specced via Zoom calls. So was TopGear.com’s imaginary choice, in fact.

The final choices are a closely guarded secret, but some of the trends have been eye-opening for Mulliner, the revived coachbuilding division within Bentley. Apparently half of owners demanded their Bacalar was resplendent in clear-coated carbonfibre.

All that work to develop world-class new paint hues, and the clients insisted the weave was visible after all. So, Bentley’s had to head back to the drawing board to make sure the carbon weave is an aesthetically gorgeous one.

Folks spending £1.5m on a rare roadster don’t like to be told ‘no’. But because the Bacalar shares important components with the series-production Conti, they’ve had to be restrained, on occasion. One or two asked for a carbonfibre or wooden steering wheel.

Not possible here, because the steering wheel needs a smidge of squidge to tell the driver is squeezing it, in order for the lane-assist safety system to function. Surely if you own the local police department, lane discipline isn’t a worry anyway?

Inside, the touches that sound perhaps a little gauche when you first read about them gel into a very expensive-feeling, attention-to-detail rich capsule of uberlux. I like how a simple change to sharper gearchange paddles and a more sculpted, muscular steering wheel gives the Bacalar a more brutish, sporty character.

I appreciate that the redundant switch for the electric roof, as found in a Conti GTC, has become a miniature plaque denoting this a ‘Bacalar, One of Twelve, By Bentley Mulliner.’ Nice touch. 

The view in the rear view mirror over the buttresses is pure supercar theatre. They’re not really there for aero or safety and while they do free up space for storage behind the seats, the boot’s massive. Those rolling hills are just there because the designers went ‘yeah, why not?’

Though the engine is a tuned version of Bentley’s ‘Speed’ W12 lifted to 668hp, it sounds like it’s developing five times that. The exhaust of the roadster is bassier and angrier. The air around the idling Bacalar seems to throb and pulse with energy. There’s a maritime element to it – that same sense of low-stress burbling power buried several decks beneath you that you find when you board a sea ferry. 

I can’t tell you if the Bacalar is fast, or if it rides comfortably, or how it hangs on in the bends, because if I’d tried to answer those questions Bentley’s minders would’ve set about me with their toolbox. Sorry. One day soon, when Bentley has one that’s set up for driving properly, we’ll be able to investigate more thoroughly. 

For now, may I recommend to owners based in Britain, if you’re out there, perhaps investing in one of the Bentley gift shop’s largest umbrellas. And perhaps a branded towel set, with matching stitching.

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