Special Coverage

logoNew York Int’l Auto Show

NEW YORK – Bentley Motors Inc. hand-builds and customizes its ultra-luxury cars to customer specifications that sometimes are incredibly exacting, says Stuart McCullough, Bentley board member-sales and marketing.

He tells Ward’s about one customer’s special request that brought smiles to a lot of British stiff upper lips at the auto company.

“The guy was buying an Arnage and said he wanted the interior trimmed in oak. We said, ‘Fine, we can do that.’ He said, ‘Not just any oak, but oak from my forest.’

“So we went out there, cut the wood, cured it for 18 months and then ultimately used it in his car.”

Bentley customers place all sorts of special orders – from inlaid gold to embossed family crests. The finished product can end up costing $1 million.

McCullough was at the New York International Auto Show here to unveil the Bentley Brooklands, billed as “the world’s most exclusive coupe.”

Over the next three years, Bentley will build just 550 of them at its factory in Crewe, U.K. The first year of production already is sold out.

“It reaffirms our place as the exclusive manufacturer of ultra-luxury cars,” McCullough says.

The Brooklands will feature the most powerful V-8 engine Bentley ever has produced. McCullough calls the car “a rakish, 4-seat grand touring coupe with a British look,” even though its chief designer is a Belgian, Dirk van Braeckel.

Because Bentley customers like to customize their cars, it is possible all 550 Brooklands will be unique.

“We have three criteria when it comes to custom orders,” McCullough says. “It has to be within the realistic realm of imagination. It has to be legal. And you have to be able to pay for it.”

The Brooklands’ base price has not been announced yet, but McCullough says it will cost about the same as the Bentley Azure, which starts at $329,990.

One reason for the Brooklands’ limited run is to cultivate exclusivity. Another reason is the Crewe factory can handcraft only so many cars, McCullough says.

In 2003, Bentley sold 995 vehicles. It has since expanded its lineup to six models. Last year, under Volkswagen AG ownership, Bentley Motors sold 9,200 units, 4,000 of them in North America. It has 140 dealers worldwide.

A Bentley spokesman says the auto maker does not plan to make more than 10,000 vehicles a year. He cites capacity constraints as well as a desire to maintain brand mystique.

Still, he says, “to increase sales 10-fold in four years is phenomenal.”

Much of the sales surge is due to the introduction of the Continental GT coupe, an entry-level Bentley that starts at $169,996.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com