The clearest evidence of an era-ending extinction event coming to pass was witnessing a very famous lineage hitting the evolutionary buffers. However, it's not been made abundantly clear whether the current Mulsanne will actually turn out to be the last big Bentley saloon. Production may have simply been paused as auto manufacturers gradually transition to EV production. For the time being though, the future of big Bentley saloons seems to be in jeopardy.
We need only Look back to the 1929 Bentley Speed Six to see the origins of the Mulsanne's DNA. Both the Speed Six and its latter-day descendants offer the pinnacle of automotive opulence and comfort. These cars were designed to appeal to those who enjoy sitting in the driver's seat, facing a steering wheel opposed to a veneered picnic table.
In these days of dubious energy security and an increasing culture of 'anti-everything' environmentalism, something else has also been consigned to history. This something was a key component of the Bentley brand since the 1950s. Of course, this is the staid 6.75 V8 engine.
First used by Bentley (in 6.3 litre capacity) the V8 first appeared under the bonnet of the 1959 S2. Many believe that the Rolls-Royce-designed V8 was originally an American design that was adopted and indeed adapted by Rolls-Royce. It wasn’t. Unlike the contemporary Rover V8 (originally a Buick design) the 6.75 V8 was a home-grown unit designed and indeed used by Rolls-Royce.
The engine became very significant in the Bentley fold because (in turbo form) it transformed the brand from its near moribund state to a highly successful marque in its own right. This was when the 6.75 turbo V8 was fitted to the original Mulsanne Turbo back in 1981, making for instant success. For the first time in a very long time, a Bentley motor car had the engine it deserved. This led to the eventual development of the incredible Bentley Turbo-R, a model that represented a significant turning point for the modern Bentley brand.
With the introduction of the Green Label Arnage in 1998, there was an attempt to replace the venerable 6.75 Turbo with a smaller 4.5-litre Cosworth-tuned BMW V8. Such was the outcry amidst disgruntled buyers that the 6.75 was swiftly reintroduced having been re-engineered to meet emissions standards.
Ironically, it was the 6.75 engine that finally brought about the demise of the Mulsanne. The engine that had played king-maker also played king-breaker. Bentley engineers realised that even if they found a way to sufficiently modify the old 6.75 to meet new emissions legislation, development costs were prohibitive. Even completely adapting the Mulsanne to accommodate a different engine was also deemed risky. In the end, both car and engine were phased out in tandem.
When I first drove a Bentley Mulsanne in 2010, I wasn't particularly wowed. Frankly, the run-out Arnage models seemed the better cars. Firstly, the Arnage was smaller and therefore much more manageable. By the time they were phased out, they'd enjoyed years of fine-tuning. In a nutshell, the Arnage was at its peak whereas the earliest Mulsannes were a work in progress. And, that's precisely how it felt out on the road. It lacked the Arnage's refinement by having a strangely unforgiving ride quality.
The Mulsanne also seemed to lack the visual elegance of the old Arnage. To me it looked decidedly unwieldy, like a podgy individual rocking up at a fatty farm. It also took a while to get used to those huge single headlamps which gave the car 'face' a sort of stunned gaze!
But beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. The new Mulsanne look gradually grew on me. Eventually, I began to see hints of Rover P5 in the chromed front end. The styling represented traditional British design which has been carried forward into a new era of hand-built cars. A series of upgrades, refinements and improvements soon brought the new Mulsanne up to Bentley's exacting standards.
Mulsanne's huge proportions meant that it was definitely a car built for sheer comfort as opposed to speed. If it was speed you craved, there was always the much leaner sibling in the form of the W12-powered Bentley Flying Spur. What mattered when driving a Mulsanne is not speed or statistics but moreover how the experience makes you feel. The unique manner in which the car embodies a sense of occasion. Open the door and behold an exquisite interior absolutely unmatched by any other motor manufacturer.
Inside and out, everything has been masterfully created, not by soulless robots but by serried ranks of top craftspeople with skills honed by generations. I've been lucky enough to have done the "Crewe Experience" several times and met some of these amazing people personally. Some sit at their sewing machines, others ponder their next steps with pencils thoughtfully tucked behind their ears. Expert hands transform ancient timbers into impeccably matched veneers. There are people whose job it is JUST to stitch the leather-clad steering wheels. Only certain individuals possess the necessary skills required to hand-paint coach lines to Bentley standards, using special horse hair brushes to carry out their painstaking task.
There's no denying the absolute sumptuousness of a Bentley interior. Having arrived at your destination on a freezing cold winter's evening, it's rather difficult to open the door and exit the tastefully lit and beautifully heated environment that has literally been tailored to your own specific preferences. This exacting level of controllability is achieved by the Mulsanne's clever climate system which can be independently set by each individual occupant. I must confess that whenever I drive a Bentley, I do so in my socks, my toes buried into the soft lambswool rugs. Yes, it's definitely a case of unashamed decadence!
Compared with other luxury brands, you'll find no stone unturned in Bentley's relentless quest for absolute perfection. No matter how hard you try, you’ll find no hidden pockets of corner-cutting or low-grade plastics. For me, this is what a Crewe-built Bentley has always been about. It's about meticulous attention to detail even in areas where it cannot always be seen.
The Mulsanne was never the most bone-shatteringly powerful Bentley. But having said that, when it went on sale in 2015, the Mulsanne Speed had more torque than any other car. It's absolutely astonishing how fast one of these cars can be driven even with the rev-counter reading less than 2000-rpm.
There's no doubt that the Bentley Mulsanne is a truly astonishing motor car. Today's price tags (for early examples) look like something of a bargain. However, it's worth bearing in mind that running costs will likely be a pretty hefty consideration. Big bills will inevitably be a constant spectre. Sadly, this is simply what it costs to own one of the greatest cars ever built. Such privileges were seldom designed to be frugal or ubiquitous, it's just part of the Bentley ethos.
Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring.