A grand tourer, by definition, is a high-performance luxury car that can effortlessly cover vast distances at speed. Unsurprisingly, as a result, many GT manufacturers have adopted technologies that can ease the process of driving a high-performance car for extended periods.
After all, there’s no point spending a small fortune on a luxury GT if it cannot comfortably and quickly get you from A to B. You also don’t want it to embarrass you; tyre-smoking, twitchy exits from junctions are not refined and nor is crabbing sideways up a mildly slippy slope.
Consequently, when Bentley introduced the all-new 552bhp Continental GT in 2003, the company saw fit to equip it with an all-wheel-drive system. This granted the twin-turbocharged, W12-engined coupe imperious traction, allowing the driver to easily deploy its immense power.
More to the point, if they fancied a jaunt from their flat in Islington to their chalet in Chamonix, the luxurious four-seat Bentley would prove more manageable in inclement conditions.
The 198mph-capable Continental GT was also packed with myriad driver aids, including anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. Bentley’s all-wheel-drive and technology-laden twist on the grand tourer concept was not a new one, mind – as it was thoroughly beaten to the punch by British manufacturer Jensen by almost 40 years.
THE LUXURY GT THAT BROKE NEW GROUND
Jensen had a history of building powerful rear-wheel-drive GTs but, as engines grew larger and outputs increased, the cars became more difficult to handle. To help counter this, when developing its new Interceptor, Jensen decided to offer a version called the FF. This car would feature a cutting-edge Ferguson Formula all-wheel-drive system, as well as bespoke styling, and would be aimed at those seeking a safer, more restrained and capable GT.
The four-seat FF, first previewed in 1965, certainly needed the additional traction. Under its bonnet sat a 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 that thumped out a melodious 325bhp and granted a 0-60mph time of a then-blazing 7.7sec. While the modern Continental GT would prove quicker, sprinting from 0-60mph in 4.7sec, many of its traits would be shared with the Jensen.
For example, road tests of the time praised the FF for its ability to put its power down in abysmal conditions – making it easy to handle and trustworthy; when the all-wheel-drive Continental GT arrived, it too was lauded for its impressive all-weather capabilities.
The Bentley’s surefooted nature was further bolstered by then-conventional features such as anti-lock brakes. Once again, though, Jensen had long pipped Bentley to the post – as the FF was the first production car equipped with ABS. The fitment of the Dunlop-sourced system, in conjunction with the Jensen’s AWD set-up, led the company to advertise the FF as ‘being far in advance of any other car on the road.’
A CASE OF BEING TOO FAR AHEAD OF THE CURVE
One major sticking point, however, was the price. An FF cost £5,339 in 1967, whereas a standard Interceptor was £3,742 – almost £1,600 less. To put that into perspective, in today’s money the FF would cost £86,000 and command a staggering premium of almost £26,000 over its lesser sibling.
They were also prone to problems and required specialist care. While many appreciated the FF’s capabilities, the premium was judged unjustifiable by most. This, in conjunction with a weakening economy, led to FF production stopping in 1971 – at which point just 320 had been built.
Fortunately, for Bentley, the wide-ranging appeal of its brand and its GT’s impressive credentials helped make it the far more successful car. The market was also ready and willing and, before the car had even arrived in showrooms, the company had reportedly amassed 3,200 deposits.
There was still one more nod to the FF to come, though. In 2008, Bentley agreed to cut the CO2 emissions of its range by 40 per cent in an effort to reduce its environmental impact. As a result, in 2012, a more efficient V8-engined version of the Continental GT was unveiled – further echoing the fabulous but flawed FF.
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