One of the more implausible stunts I managed to pull off was back in 2005 when I took a brand-new Bentley Flying Spur to the Nardo test track to find its true top speed. Bentley had said 195mph for the 552bhp, 2.5-tonne monster, but I knew it was always conservative with such claims. Could it go faster? Could it, whisper it, do 200mph?
So what I should have done is just gone round the track as fast as I could go and see what number came up on the GPS. But that was far too easy and insufficiently Bentley. So when I headed up onto the track it was with four people on board, air conditioning on, front and rear seat coolers refrigerating our nether regions and the two in the back pretending to read newspapers. With an all-up weight of nearly three tonnes, the fact that above 150mph the Nardo bowl turns into one endless tyre-scrubbing, speed-sapping corner and a 36.5deg C ambient temperature, could it possibly do 200mph? It could, and also 201, 202 and all the way up to 208mph, too. And even then it only stop accelerating because I hit the rev-limiter in top gear.
It seems not so much faintly implausible as utterly ludicrous that such performance is now available to anyone with the price of a new Ford Fiesta in their pockets. But that’s the way it is: early, high-mileage but still clean-and-tidy Spurs can be bought for around £15,000 – or about £100,000 less than when they were new.
And here’s the thing: back then, the Spur was actually a better car than the Continental GT coupé from which it was derived. When new, the Conti had two problems that degraded its credibility as a super sporting GT: it was far too heavy and didn’t sound nearly distinctive enough. But what were flaws in the GT were attributes in the Spur: that heft gave it the primary ride characteristics you’d want from a large and imposing luxury saloon, even if the secondary ride was never as good as it should have been. And the engine? Its dulled tones were so much less important in such a car; indeed, its quiet voice was a positive bonus.