The 1980 Bentley Mulsanne made big promises with its name alone. You see, “Mulsanne” refers to the incredibly long straight on the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit. Prior to 1990, cars regularly crested 350 km/h (217mph) on this section of the course. Bentley didn’t just arbitrarily choose any old race to name their new model after, though. No, this particular race was dominated by Bentleys at the beginning, with the British carmaker bringing home gold for 5 out of the first 8 races. Never mind that this occurred more than 50 years before the Mulsanne model debuted, that’s an impressive feat!

How Sporty Was It?

So, why was Bentley, famous at this point for their big luxury barges, dredging up that long-gone race history? Well, at the time Bentley was making a concerted effort to distance itself from Rolls-Royce. After a period of simply slapping a Bentley badge on existing Rolls models, the company was ready to establish, once again, its credibility as a maker of performance automobiles.

So, what made the Mulsanne a sporting vehicle? There was no evidence under the bonnet, where the lazy 6.75-litre Rolls-Royce V8 resided.  Let’s see, there was also the GM three-speed transmission and the chassis from the Silver Spirit. Really, the only sporting characteristics in sight were the sports seats. What gives?

Now That’s Better!

The good news is that Bentley didn’t leave their new model alone for long. In 1982, the Mulsanne Turbo debuted, offering a magnificent 50% increase in power. Finally, there was a reason to justify the prestigious name of the Bentley Mulsanne. Over 500 examples of the Turbo would be built through 1985. After that point, the Mulsanne Turbo effectively became the Turbo R.

Then, in 1987, the Mulsanne S was introduced. And, while it lacked a powerful turbo engine, it did offer a stiffer suspension as well as sporty design elements such as alloy wheels and new headlights. The S would become the most popular Mulsanne model, with nearly 1,000 sold through 1992. Between all variations, there were 2,019 Bentley Mulsannes produced, including 128 in long-wheelbase guise as well as two limousines.

Images Copyright of: RM Sotheby’s.

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