The last Bentley Mulsanne rolled off the production line to modest fanfare at the end of June. It was the end of an era for two icons of the brand at once. First, the model name itself that was first seen on Bentley saloons 40 years ago and spawned the line of vehicles that saved the brand, and secondly, its 6.75-litre powerplant.
When the Mulsanne was launched in 1980, initially, it was little more than a re-badged Rolls Royce Silver Spirit in much the same vein as the Silver Shadow II / T2 that it replaced. Heavily updated interior and exterior styling changes followed with the new model, which was far more square-jawed than its predecessor. Although, beneath the surface, many of the fundamental elements of the previous model remained, along with the emphasis on comfort over performance.
The first major step toward a return to performance and a separate brand identity for Bentley came in 1982 when, in response to increased calls for a sporting variant, a Garrett AiResearch Turbo was fitted to the L series V8 engine, and the Mulsanne Turbo was born.
The 6.75-litre L series engine was at this point more than 20 years old, having been first introduced across Rolls and Bentley models in 1959. As a long-stroke design, it had always produced torque over ultimate power. Although the power had been more than adequate for two decades, with the turbo, the Mulsanne enjoyed an instant 50% increase in power to a rumoured 350bhp: rumoured due to Bentley’s insistence that published outputs were vulgar. It made cars with a sufficiency of power, thank you very much.
The combination of forced induction and large displacement was an immediately potent combination. The vast torque produced by the engine made for effortless pace at low rpm, giving huge performance for a luxury car that weighed around two-and-a-half tons. From that day onwards, the engine was never replaced by Bentley but instead evolved incrementally by its engineers over time. Fuel injection, electronic engine management systems and even a second turbo were added over the next 38 years, in a process that gave its final iteration 150% more power, 40% better fuel economy and 99.5% lower emissions than its earliest variant.
From the launch in 1982, to the last example in June 2020, the Mulsanne model name and its variants set the bar for performance saloons throughout that time. At 40 years old, the early examples, both turbocharged and non-turbocharged, are firmly accepted as classic cars across the world, with the more modern incarnations sure to follow in their footsteps.
Have you ever experienced the silent speed of one of these saloons? Let us know your memories of it in the comments below.