Inside Bentley’s Ultra Exclusive Mulliner Custom Shop
When a regular Bentley just isn’t unique enough, Bentley Mulliner is here to make custom dream cars a reality.
Tucked neatly into the rolling green countryside of Crewe, an English town outside of Manchester, lies the headquarters of Bentley’s operation. Like most automakers, it’s where design and innovation meets large-scale production.
Unlike most other car brands, Bentley’s 103-year history underpins nearly every aspect of their modern operations, with performance and luxury paramount to their philosophy since the beginning. Within this massive operation lies Mulliner, the shop within a factory responsible for Bentley’s tippy-top of the line offerings.
Bentley’s original foray into making cars in the 1920s was limited mostly to frames and engines. Customers then taking this car skeleton to a coachmaker where the body and interior was built specifically to their personal specifications.
That philosophy informs the Mulliner outfit, a place that exists outside of the mass production of Bentley’s surgically precise production line where human hands and robot arms work together to assemble “run of the mill” Continentals and Bentaygas.
Most customers are happy to choose from the seemingly endless options offered in Bentley’s lineup, but this is one of the highest-end brands in the world and with that comes customers who need higher levels of customization than a regular Bentley can offer. That’s where Mulliner comes in.
Bentley’s Mulliner operation breaks down into three categories: Collections, Coachbuilt and Classic.
Mulliner Collections takes Bentley’s lineup of coupes, sedans and SUVs and punches them out to the next level. For instance, the latest Continental GT Mulliner takes everything about the awesome Continental GT and turns it up to 11.
Millennia-old wood, extraordinarily soft leather, carbon fiber, crystal—you name it and Bentley is using it to outfit their ultra-luxurious Mulliner offerings. That includes unique, personalization options like family crests in headrest or on door splash lights and unique color schemes for both the interior and exterior of the car.
If Mulliner Collection offerings aren’t enough to pump up a standard Bentley to the desired level of unique customization, the next move is to Coachbuilt. During my visit to Mulliner, the credo seemed to be “if you can dream it (and pay for it) they can do it.”
This is where Mulliner absolutely shines in my eyes. Expert craftsmen, ingrained in the Bentley history, will work with Coachbuilt customers to design the car of their dreams. Sourcing one-of-a-kind materials, designing on a 3D level and manufacturing one-off cars is what Coachbuilt is all about.
It’s not easy to give examples of a Coachbuilt Bentley because they all belong to private collectors but the most stunning example of the Coachbuilt experience is the Bentley Bacalar.
The Bacalar is an astonishing rocketship of a car that doesn’t typically get attention, likely because there are only a dozen of them in existence with a handful of those residing in the Mulliner shop during my time there. And it’s roofless. Not a convertible. There simply is no roof. Meaning this car doesn’t come outside unless the weather, like the car, is perfect. That essence of niche perfection is what Coachbuilt is all about.
It’s easy to think that anyone with the taste and bank account to commission a Bacalar or other Coachbuilt Mulliner would automatically do so but I was surprised to find out that these customers also gravitate toward Mulliner’s Classic segment. Mulliner Classic cars are insanely faithful reproductions of cars from way back in Bentley’s legendary history.
There is no better example of a Mulliner Classic car than the Blower. Looking every bit of a jalopy, the original Blower of the late 1920s was central to Bentley’s racing pedigree. That is to say, it’s full of oddball design cues that are a hallmark of a car originally slapped together almost a century ago by mechanics and drivers who set out to make a car that could win at Le Mans but might not even finish the race.
Inside the Mulliner shop, I perused a dozen of these reproductions in various stages of completion. One waiting for an iron radiator, on order from a local father and son who churn out a single unit every couple of weeks. Another awaiting the installation of an exact replica supercharger, a signature element of the original Blower and an essential component in giving this Classic its 240 horsepower. All of them being sold to Mulliner’s loyal customers for well into seven figures.
That number is jaw-dropping for the sticker price of a car that requires the driver to manually send fuel to the engine via a wooden pump on the dashboard or to monitor oil levels by looking at the oil flowing through a glass vial next to the steering wheel.
I actually didn’t understand the appeal until Mike Sayer – the man who recently revamped Bentley’s own private collection of heritage cars and one of the few people who know how to drive the Blower Zero – took me for a ride. Goggles on, wind blowing, Mike flawlessly moved through the Blower’s gearbox as we rode over Crewe’s narrow bridges and I understood, as I imagine all of Mulliner’s customers do, owning and driving one of these isn’t just about adding a jewel to a collection.
Whether it’s a car from Mulliner’s Collection, Coachbuilt or Classic, it’s about actually being a part of automotive history and Bentley’s continuing legend.