On 10 July 2019, the carmaker Bentley celebrated its Centenary. From the very first prototype created in a London mews to the phenomenally powerful and exquisitely crafted cars driven across the world today, Bentley has transformed the face of motoring. Birthdays tend to catalyse a certain sense of nostalgia, or at the very least some introspection. One looks back at the journey so far, proudly with any luck, dissecting those major moments that all corroborated to produce the you in the now. When Bentley reached this laudable milestone this year, the brand chose not to peer over its shoulder, but rather to look forward and observe the future. The movement of people around the world is at a pivotal moment in time. We are on the cusp of an enormous paradigm shift, one that might just relegate the combustion engine to the dusty annals of history, and so with this leap to electric and autonomy, Bentley conceived a futuristic concept car that would test the limits of engineering, reality, and imagination. W.O. Bentley founded Bentley Motors in order to “build a fast car, a good car, the best in its class”. That desire has remained at the heart of Bentley’s vision ever since - and is now manifested in the frankly jaw-dropping EXP 100 GT.
What's truly amazing about the EXP 100 GT is that despite it looking like some kind of silky, shape-shifting vehicle hewn from some as yet undiscovered space metal, it actually represents what Grand Tourers could look like in 2035. Yes, that's only 16 years away. It would have been easy for Bentley's design team and over 4,000 highly skilled men and women at the factory in Crewe in the north-west of England to let their collective imagination run riot and create a simulacrum of futurism, but everything about the EXP 100 GT comes with an engineering roadmap. It's the car of your dreams, but also of your reality, inspired by the elements of travel – the light above you, the air around you and the earth beneath you, each enhanced or augmented to stimulate your senses and improve the wellbeing of everyone who travels in it.
With our interest piqued by the EXP 100 GT, The Rake travelled up to Crewe to get under the skin of this beautiful car, but also to understand better Bentley's vision for the future of automobiles. All the luxury car marques create concept cars but none have quite gone to the steps Bentley has in terms of actualising the pathways to reality. It's not enough to dream - one must also actually create - which is why we spent invaluable time with four members of Bentley's creative design team: John Paul Gregory, Head of Exterior Design; Brett Boydell, Head of Interior Design - Studio 2; Cathy Bass, Designer Colour and Trim; and David Leary, Design Manager UX. Between them they articulated a future in which driving (or not driving) is a life-improving experience. The electric drivetrain itself might be a benign assault on the senses compared to the hard-to-kill combustion engine, so Bentley have subverted the heart of the car. In the EXP 100 GT, the 'engine' is literally everywhere at all times.
We interviewed each one to really understand the genesis of the design language that flows throughout the svelte 5.8m-long EXP 100 GT. Take the interior for example: it seamlessly fuses sustainable materials with technology. It incorporates new directions being explored by Bentley, including the use of light in creating a wellness-enriching environment and Adaptable Biometric Seating that adds to the feeling of wellbeing. The EXP 100 GT also uses air curation to bring in fragrances from the natural world while keeping city pollution out. Intelligent technology is also designed to disappear from view when you want a more mindful experience. To develop sustainable practices for every part of the concept car’s production, the design team collaborated with a range of like-minded businesses. From reclaimed riverwood to lighter batteries, the results point the way to a future that reduces our impact on the natural world.
In an unpredictable world, one thing is for certain – change for the better only comes when those brave enough to dare step off the ledge and take the leap. If the EXP 100 GT is anything to go by, Bentley has bravery in spades. The next 100 years will see them usher in a body of work that you or I can't, at this very moment, quite fathom, but my god, we'll come along for the ride.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for each of the aforementioned interviews with members of the design team, which were filmed in Crewe on the occasion of the centenary. You'll discover amazing insights into the design process for the EXP 100 GT and experience firsthand Bentley's vision for the future.