Our Cars: 1988 Bentley Turbo R
27 July 2016: Bentley Turbo R takes to the track
Bentley’s racing heritage is almost as old as the company itself. A Bentley took its first victory at Le Mans in 1924, just five years after the company was founded, and it went on to win every year from 1927 to 1930.
And now, racing is very much in the DNA of the current line-up with a GT championship programme based on a racing version of the Continental GT. But for decades, when the cars were effectively badge-engineered versions of Rolls-Royces, links from road cars to the motorsport successes of the past were tenuous.
The Turbo R, launched three years after the Mulsanne Turbo, began to change perceptions. It was a high-performance luxury express that didn’t feel uncomfortable when faced with a series of challenging corners. I wanted to find out the limits of this relative comfort, so headed to Castle Combe to see how the Turbo R would feel on a race track.
I decided that some duct tape across the headlamps was required, not really for any practical reasons, but more to give it an authentic saloon car championship racer feel. And, surprisingly, it seemed to look the part.
The event at Castle Combe was organised by the Guild of Motoring Writers, with members and guests bringing their own vehicles. The Turbo R might not have been the quickest car on the day, but at 2,395kg it was certainly the heaviest, and perhaps would have looked more at home in a truck race.
Other participants included modern and future classics such as the Lotus Elise, Audi S4 Avant, as well as genuine classic race cars, as I shared the track with a Jaguar D-Type.
Acceleration and speed were never in doubt, after some gentle familiarisation, in a much heavier car than in my last visit to the circuit, holding second gear through Camp Corner and changing up to third through Folly saw the speedometer thrust around to 110mph before braking for the tricky slow right-hander at Quarry.
I carried enough speed through the Old Paddock Bend to threaten the limits of adhesion of the Avon Turbospeeds (reminding myself they cost £324 a corner the last time I needed a set!) before getting close to 100mph again before braking at Tower.
The effect of the turbo can really be felt above 70mph, conditions that are impossible to replicate on public roads. It has a relentless attitude, belligerently urging the car toward the horizon.
Around half way through my first 15-minute stint, the brakes began to feel unhappy about scrubbing off 70mph for these slow corners, so the final few minutes became cool-down laps.
Three spells on the track throughout the day showed the Turbo R can be surprisingly fun when stretching its legs.
The brakes were fine again after cooling down, and although all Rolls-Royce and Bentley models were fitted with ABS from 1987, that was basically the only change to the brakes since the Silver Shadow and T1 were introduced in 1965. The discs are too small for track days, and given the tyre choice optimising wet grip and ride comfort, it was probably a one off.
Photos: Jeff Bloxham