Handmade Elegance – 1981 Bentley Corniche

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By Martin Wall

Let’s imagine, for just a moment, it’s 1981, Bucks Fizz have won the Eurovision Song Contest (if you don’t know who Bucks Fizz are, ask your parents), the first London Marathon was held, Indiana Jones – Raiders of the lost Ark was released and 30 million people sat down to watch an incredibly beautiful Princess Diana marry the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles- The Prince of Wales.

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Whilst the rest of us common folk were rolling around in cars like the Ford Fiesta or even Sierra, the Austin Metro, or the Vauxhall Astra or even Vauxhall Cavalier. Despite the fine everyday commuters these cars happened to be, they were not particularly special. They didn’t really have the wow factor. Your average Lord or Lady would expect a little more refinement for their trip to and from their stables to check on their championship winning horse. It’s all about image and a display of wealth, I mean you wouldn’t want to pull up at the Royal Banquet in a Vauxhall Astra, or rock up to the Polo match in a… well… Polo?

It’s apt we mention a Royal Banquet, as the Bentley Corniche is just the type of car that a monarch was likely to have owned at some point. Based on the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, the two-door coupe and convertible models had been on the streets under the Rolls Royce banner for some years, but the platform was not adopted by Bentley until 1971.

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Coach built by masters of their craft, Mulliner Park Ward, the Bentley Corniche was a sight to behold and even more special to own. Luxurious doesn’t come close, just the size of the vehicle and the space inside with every surface covered by expensive leather, high end wood veneer and finished with the finest carpets and trinkets – being inside the Corniche is like being inside a royal palace. All of this luxury and these expensive materials does come at a disadvantage in terms of weight, making the Corniche a substantial old beast, however, don’t think it’s a slouch. Fitted with the tried and tested 6,750cc Rolls Royce V8, it was able to drum up enough grunt to rival some sports cars of the time with a respectable 0-60 time of 12 seconds and a top speed of 118mph. More than enough to get you to the ball on time.

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Speed though, isn’t what the Bentley Corniche is about, if you were around in 1981 and you wanted to go fast, you would probably have been considering the latest two-seater sports car offering from the likes of the fanatical German engineers at Porsche or, if you fancied something even more exotic, the best that the stylish designers at Ferarri had to offer. In a car like the Bentley Corniche the idea is to be seen, not be seen to be going fast. It’s about savouring the occasion and enjoying the moment. Every time you take her out for a spin and grace onlookers with her presence, it’s an occasion. The style and grandeur of that long bonnet, the luxuriously comfortable leather armchairs and the silky-smooth Rolls Royce powerhouse under the bonnet would make you feel special on even the darkest of days.

Made in coupe and convertible trim in exceptionally low numbers – 63 and 77 respectively – they are also incredibly rare, which only adds to the special feeling of driving it, owning it, or even just seeing one out in the wild. True, the hard work was already done for Bentley in this case as they were building upon a tried and tested platform already in use and supply by Rolls Royce, but the fact they kept the Bentley-badged Corniche numbers low just adds to the exclusivity. And with cars like this, exclusivity is what people wanted.

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As well we all know, Bentley and Rolls Royce thankfully still exist today and they both celebrate a willingness to offer the unique, the bespoke and the truly special. These cars are still hand made by skilled craftspeople that care more about the fit and finish than the speed at which they can get the job done. Automated factory production lines are commonplace for most manufacturers today and in theory, in a lot of scenarios, fed with the right tools, the average car factory robot can produce a consistent output without ever getting complacent, tired, or taking their eye of the prize. Hand in hand with this more modern style of production, however, can be the lack of soul or distinctive exclusivity one should feel from high end automobiles lovingly shaped and crafted painstakingly by hand.

It is this soul that can escape some modern vehicles and that’s why this classic Bentley makes so much sense in our eyes. Sure, anyone with a large enough bank account can purchase a new model Bentley, and a wonderful motor vehicle they would have on their hands we’re sure. But, not everyone can purchase a very rare classic Bentley that can offer such elegance. There simply isn’t that many left.

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This car has been in the same family for the last twenty-two years, and has been loved and cherished throughout, a fact made evident by its condition. Unfortunately, a loss of storage forces the family to say goodbye to their wonderfully kept Bentley Corniche, which is a terrible shame for them, but look at it this way; their need to move the Bentley on to pastures new provides the rest of us the rare opportunity to own this elegant piece of automotive history. If you’re in the market for a car that is truly, truly special, this Bentley Corniche is most definitely it.

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