This engine and car combination is such a hard act to follow because by objective judgment neither is particularly good these days, so you can’t just make it objectively better because of the enormous risk of simultaneously making it subjectively worse. And there’s no doubt which measure counts for more here. And I have no idea when or even if the Mulsanne will be replaced. My guess is that it will because Bentley won’t want to relinquish the territory to Rolls-Royce and, lest we forget, Lagonda. But I expect there will be a hiatus of a number of years and when the new car comes it will be a pure-electric vehicle.
So this is not just the end for the Mulsanne and its amazing old engine, it is in some sense the end of an era for Bentley too. Still 60 years – almost half the time that cars have been in existence – is not a bad innings. And I, for one, am glad I was around to see it.
How does the original Bentley V8 compare?
Read books about the history of Rolls-Royce and Bentley and you might escape with the idea that the new V8 wasn’t such a big deal. The product didn’t change much other than what was required to accommodate the new engine: the S1 just became the S2, its 4.9-litre, six-cylinder motor replaced by a 6.25-litre V8.
No one talked about power or torque, either, for the publicly stated reason that that wouldn’t have been very gallant. Perhaps more likely and in private it was because the company didn’t feel like owning up to the fact that, with only around 200bhp, its brand-new engine had no more power than did those fitted to the last true Bentleys almost 30 years earlier.
I wasn’t bothered by that. I just wanted to know if two engines built 60 years apart could feel related in any meaningful way. And the rather lovely truth is that they do, at least up to a point.
Of course, I expected the S2 scarcely to be able to get out of its own way, but in fact it felt quite sprightly, despite its engine’s age, smaller capacity and absence of turbochargers. By 1959 standards, it would have moved right along. It still has that delicious laziness, and while the thunder is more of a rumble, it feels as appropriate to its 60-year-old surroundings as does the Mulsanne’s motor today. It actually feels a lot younger than the car it’s in, largely because it is. While the engine may have been brand new in 1959, the S2’s design philosophy dates back almost to the war and, frankly, it shows. It would be the mid-1960s before Rolls-Royce and Bentley embraced the modern era with the monocoque Shadow and T-series. The S2 remains an interesting curio, but the engine is better than the car to which it is fitted. In the Mulsanne, they are perfectly matched. Both will be missed.