This was going to be one helluva junket. The plan was to join seven other hacks – one Brit, four Yanks and a couple of Strines – driving Bentleys from the UK to Geneva in time for Europe’s season-opening motor show. We’d go in pairs and swap seats regularly so everyone had a decent stint in each of four recently launched Crewe models – a Bentayga Speed, a Continental GT V8 Coupé, a GT Convertible and a Flying Spur saloon. Sounded a great plan.
Our starting point would be Leeds Castle in Kent, and we’d go there on the Friday evening – well before the show’s Tuesday official opening – to get to know other members of our party over dinner before heading 750 miles across Europe. There was to be a chateau stopover on Saturday, then a dash over the Alps to a lakeside hotel on Sunday – perfect timing for Geneva’s Monday pre-opening show events.
Years ago, Geneva was a leisurely affair for the scribbler: drive across, return after a couple of days with a full notebook, spend the rest of the week writing your stories for print. Easy. But these days, it’s a cut-throat competition. Video crews are everywhere (from six-person, seen-it-all pros to jostling individuals with iPhones) and the competition to post instant info is desperate. Beating your opposition to a story by 10 minutes is a big win. For traditional ‘inkies’ (like me), the challenge is to avoid being trampled by platoons of entitled influencers spouting nonsense into a black hole.
Under such circumstances, it may strike you that taking two carefree days and three luxurious nights getting to the Swiss city was a bit over the top. Perhaps it was. But Bentley likes to do things in style. They sell the sizzle to sell the sausage. They reckon showing these media types the life that goes with Bentley ownership helps them understand the cars, and they’re right.
As you know, the Geneva motor show never happened. The terrifying rise of the coronavirus in China and Italy induced the hapless Swiss organisers to call the show off at three days’ notice. It was a debacle but it had to be done. Back in Blighty, eight expectant hacks had already packed their bags for a Bentley trip. Six had flown in from foreign parts. Even so, a normal car manufacturer would undoubtedly have expressed regret, cited insurmountable obstacles and sent them home.
Not Bentley. Its tiny events team, fronted by a bloke called Mike Sayer – whose name, for me, will always appear in lights – took the view that they’d already organised test cars, marshalled chauffeurs, made arrangements. The chosen scribblers were willing and the idea of showing them a Bentley life was still valid. Why not do a journey of London-Geneva length in the (then) virus-free UK, taking in some Bentley-appropriate stops en route and finishing at the company’s Crewe HQ? In the meantime, other willing Bentley hands could recall the Geneva trucks and unload their contents at Crewe by the time our party arrived. We’d meet Bentley’s bosses and see the exhibits, principally design director Stefan Sielaff’s arresting, ultra-low-volume Bacalar concept.
Eight out of eight of us signed up, knowing nothing but trusting our hosts. The Friday-evening dinner (after a tour of Leeds Castle’s splendours, which go back to 1119) was friendly and delicious. The only fragment of info about our route was that one proposed stopover had been Gleneagles – because it started with the ‘G’ of Geneva. But every room there was occupied.