Gentlemanly Pursuits

On Test-Driving (and Witnessing the Unfortunate Wreckage of) The 2011 Bentley Series

Joshua David Stein reinvents himself as a country squire—and takes $680,500 worth of elite British cars for a spin in the Connecticut snow.
Photo: Courtesy of the Author

I shall call my 2011 Bentley GT...Ermelita.

I’ve never made a habit of morning tea at the St. Regis Hotel. I prefer mine black and sipped in the solitude of my drawing room, as the sun rises over the snow blanketed fields of my country manor. But I had word that it should be worth the trip down into the city. So here I sat, nipping at corned beef hash and sipping Earl Grey at a table full of journalists and good-looking women from a town called Crewe, in the northwest of England. Crewe is the home of Bentley Motor Cars, and outside the ladies from Crewe had parked their motor coaches. A fine fleet they were, indeed: a 2011 Mulsanne, a big boat of a baby blue car rarely seen on these shores; a limited-edition Continental GT; and the new 2011 Continental GT Speed Convertible. Passersby stopped to stare, and from our table laden with tea and pastries we stared at the starers staring.

A snow had fallen o’er the night. Under the relentless traffic of commerce, the once virginal stuff had turned slick and mushy. It lay gray and dangerous on the streets. Peril beckoned around every corner and every livery cab was a yellow menace. Nevertheless, the women from Crewe guided us into our vehicles for the day gaily, with neither waiver nor worry. “We’re going to Connecticut!” they said with gusto.

I eased myself into the Continental GTC Speed, with a chassis so low to the ground as to make the illustrious Mr. Flo Rida proud. There was no key to insert and turn. [Insertion is so vulgar, I’m told.] Instead, a small button said Start, and so I did. The 600hp engine grumbled to life, as if awakened after long hibernation and ready to rage. I eased into traffic, thinking, “He who crosses me had better show respect, for no insult will I brook in so elegant a vehicle.” Perhaps, I pondered, this is what love feels like, a mixture of pride, terror, and aggression.

Soon we were northbound on the Henry Hudson Parkway, the potholes giving way to gradually better kempt roads. Color Me Badd played sweetly on the stereo, and I couldn’t find NPR anywhere.

A delightful musical diversion. After all, one can't listen to Debussy all the time.

Office buildings turned to great monolithic projects and then into barren trees laden with snow. These eventually turned into clapboard houses, white on white on white. A few painted ladies there were, too, bursts of color in an otherwise monochrome winter tableaux. We stopped at a French patisserie in a shopping center in Connecticut for croissants. As one does. I changed mounts, surrendering the agile power of the Continental GTC Speed for the steadier bulk of the Continental GT, though with 575hp and the ability to reach 60mph in 4.6 seconds, it was less workhorse than thoroughbred. Sadly, this was to be the last time I saw my old transport intact.

As we wended our way through Ridgefield country, a caravan of luxury in total valued at $680,500, the roads became ever more perilous. One would think, one thought, these high property values would translate into a fleet of snow plows, ready at the first intimation of snowfall. But one would be wrong. The roads proved too much for one young journalist, driving the car that was once mine. She, a Ms. Kate W____ of Worth Magazine, swerved to avoid a UPS truck by the side of the road, spun out, and crashed the $205,600 vehicle into both the back of the truck and a snow bank. The car’s rear end was smashed up real pretty, though Ms. Kate W____ of Worth Magazine and passenger Lucas W____ of The Daily Beast were unscathed.  I should have thought it better to put the car down on the spot, a single bullet to the bonnet. There’s nothing sadder than a wrecked Bentley limping along. But the ladies from Crewe showed compassion over the vehicle and had it towed back to the city. The ladies from Crewe, ever cheery, kept calm and carried on, but I wondered what roiling sea of despair was concealed behind their genial English humour and stiff, though well-sticked, upper lips.

Photo: Courtesy of the Author

Not every journalist should drive a Bentley. #aristocracyrules!

On we continued at an ever more docile pace to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant, for an afternoon snack. It was torture, this, and the car—with a top speed of 197mph—was nearly as impatient as I was, to be tooling around like a commonplace Buick, driven by the village priest at lowly speeds.

What they say about horses isn't true for Bentleys. I, for one, immensely enjoyed the 2011 Mulsanne, midway through the day.

We arrived to the Stone Barns, set amidst rolling hills. The croissants heavy in my stomach, still did I persist in eating Hudson Valley Chicken and Beet Salad. And as I stood up, for a postprandial cigar, and moved to the window, I saw the snowy fields beyond the gate. My thoughts turned toward home and I clambered into my Bentley for the last time.

Photo: Courtesy of the Author

A return to concrete jungles, where dreams are made.

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