How many times have you heard the word ‘venerable’ applied to the venerable old 6.75-litre Crewe-built V8? Well, at least once, and that’s just what it is. Do you recall back in 1998, Bentley's then owner Vickers tried to kill off this L-Series engine, saying ‘it won’t pass future emissions regulations’? Yet, after VW wrestled control at Crewe and hastily resurrected it, here we are about to review it once again, nigh on two decades later.
Praise Jehovah we are, for it’s a peachy thing. How many other engines can thunder out 530bhp at just 4000rpm, while rumbling off 811lb ft of twist at a leisurely 1750 revolutions of the crank? And this, don’t forget, is a single-cam pushrod engine, first built in 1959. It’s had a few upgrades since then of course, such as cylinder deactivation to boost efficiency, and two Mitsubishi turbos plumbed in to pep up performance.
What a performance it delivers. Fire it up and those eight big pistons pound a measured idle. When you snick ‘D’ for the eight-speed ZF auto and mash the beautiful cast-alloy throttle pedal, it causes the long bonnet to rise like the nose of a 747 rotating for take-off. As it does so, the Speed builds momentum at an unseemly rate, and the V8's thrum becomes vivid enough that you can almost count off each deliciously bassy combustion pulse.
Mind you, there’s no need to thrash an engine with this much torque. It will happily pull up a hill in sixth from 1000rpm, and the instant you lift and cruise, silence erupts. I recall some press conference chat about specially developed noise-absorbent Dunlop tyres, new hydraulic subframe mounts and adaptive engine mounts; I hadn’t expected them to be this effective, though. At 70mph there's barely any noise of any kind. Add another 100mph to that along a deserted strip of Autobahn, and only wind noise from the mirrors disturbs the calm. It's a remarkable achievement.
What of the ride? Well, that’s astonishing, too. Stick the air-springs into Comfort mode, or the jack-of-all-trades Bentley mode, and the mighty Speed floats over the ground like Margot Fonteyn. Sport mode tightens it up, to a point, but you must always respect the forces at play.
Act the dimwit and corner like it's a hot-hatch, and the epic body lean will scare you silly. But work with it, and you can strike up a beautiful rhythm along a gently flowing B-road. Suddenly the steering that felt cumbersome at slow speed comes into focus, letting you sweep the Speed along with alacrity. When the disbelief of what you are doing with two-and-three-quarter tonnes subsides, you may even brave a cheeky self-congratulatory smile.
Fancy unwinding instead? Then indulge yourself. Switch on the seat massager and play Satie's Gymnopédies Number One through the amazing 20-speaker, 20-channel, 2200 watt Naim stereo – the world’s most powerful OEM automotive system, apparently – and celebrate your life. If you happen to be in the rear, maybe kick back and enjoy a movie on one of the two 10.2in tablets, which rise gracefully from the back of the front seats.