Bentley Eight...worth its weight in gold?
Think of most Bentley models from over the last 50 years and the chances are you’ll be envisioning a magnificently fine vehicle which truly befits the marque. Luxury in spades, all the mod-cons – and a suitably healthy price tag to match. Supreme motoring of the kind Bentley offers doesn’t come cheap… or does it?
Step forward the Eight. Regarded as the marque’s ‘entry level’ offering, the model – built over an eight-year period between 1984 and 1992 – was designed to make Bentley ownership relatively affordable to more enthusiasts than simply those with deep pockets. With Bentley’s fortunes in the doldrums in the early part of the 1980s, the Eight arrived in the middle part of the decade as Vickers plc, which had merged with Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd (Bentley’s parent) in 1980, attempted to inject this ailing, yet celebrated, British brand with fresh impetus.
Originally launched for under £50,000 (a psychologically significant price point for potential owners), the Eight was Bentley’s basic model designed to attract more customers and consequently bolster sales… and finances. In essence, the Eight was a ‘cut price’ ticket to a luxury club.
Cosmetically, the four-door saloon was essentially distinguished by its chrome wire-mesh radiator grille (instead of the usual vertical slats). Inside, the Eight offered subtly fewer ‘toys’ and trimmings than, say, the (roughly) £60,000 Mulsanne on which it was based, although this relative lack of top-line equipment and refinements certainly did not mean a lack of overall quality. It was still a luxurious vehicle – indeed, it was hard for the casual onlooker to detect exactly where the engineers had cut costs when compared to the Mulsanne.
The 6.75-litre V8 machine, capable of around 120mph, was launched with steel wheels, simple dashboard, cost-effective cloth upholstery, basic walnut trim, pile (rather than lambswool) carpets, rear-seat stowage netting (not pockets) and an absence of rear quarter mirrors. Yet – perhaps most significantly – the Eight boasted Bentley’s uprated firmer suspension (which wasn’t even available on the Mulsanne at this point) which afforded excellent handling.
Later minor revisions included fuel injection and anti-lock brakes, automatic ride-height adjustment, heated door mirrors and headlamp power washer, leather upholstery and power memory seats, upgraded centre console and in-car entertainment system, and additional interior lighting while the front fog lights were removed. Finally, in the last year of production, the existing three-speed automatic transmission gave way to a four-speed ’box while a small number of cars also boasted Turbo-style sports seats.
The implementation of tauter suspension was, incidentally, a nod to the new, younger type of buyer who may have been tempted by a more ‘sporty’ drive. It was hoped, too, the Eight’s wire-mesh grille would hark back to Bentley’s storied motorsport heritage. And customers liked what they saw: some 1,736 Eights were produced during the lifespan of the model which was ultimately offered for sale beyond the UK to the wider European and US markets.
Without doubt, the Eight played its own key role in the revival of Bentley’s fortunes during this period. And the Eights are still popular today, with just over 20 currently owned by BDC Members both in Britain and overseas (in Australia, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland). Our records show that the oldest model in the Club is Jeremy Charles-Jones’ 1984 version, while the youngest are the 1992 cars of David How and Julian Brown.
Greg May (New South Wales Region) Model Year – 1986
It was love at first sight when I spotted an advertisement for the Eight in the Australian Financial Review in 1986. I had already viewed the Silver Spirit at the Sydney Motor Show and was not convinced that it was quite as attractive as the Silver Shadow II which it replaced.
However, the Eight, sporting a mesh grill and quad headlamps looked just the ticket for the younger man, which I was at that time! MY EIGHT Greg May (New South Wales Region) Model Year – 1986 My father inherited my uncle’s Silver Cloud III, which I first drove at the tender age of 18 and of which I am now the keeper. This led me to develop an interest in owning a more modern example; the Turbo R took my interest and I ended up buying a 1989 UK import.
However, I still had this obsession with the Eight and was following the market here in Australia. Very few came up for sale. I looked at a number but they were not in good shape. I was interested in a 1986 magnolia example but missed out on buying it in 2013. However, when it came up for sale some two years later, I jumped onto it. As I recall, 98,000 miles on the clock. An import from the UK, supplied by Hanwells to the Australian buyer. It had the usual UK underbody rust issues, no log books, owner’s manual, jack or tools… luckily they left the seats! Having learnt a good deal from my previous purchase, I asked my mechanics to look at the car before purchasing.
We drove it and agreed that it had a sound engine and gearbox, although lots of small things did not function, such as warning lights, speed control, window switches. These things did not bother me too much as they were fixable. However, my mechanic advised me not to drive the car, and certainly not to drive it quickly around corners, until we had replaced the rear trailing arm, which was about to drop the spring. The colour of the car also appealed as it was quite unusual to see a magnolia Bentley of this era. The paint was generally good, although in time I needed to deal with some minor rust issues. I also noticed some water on the carpet of the driver’s floor, and the seller said he had just washed the car and it must have got wet. It turned out to be the dreaded air-conditioning evaporator tray, which had cracked. Apparently, this is not an unfamiliar fault – the trays are plastic and crack as the body twists.
Other issues which needed attention over time were just the usual renewal of the front shock absorbers, accumulators, rear gas springs and brake pump seals. This car is an SU HIF type carburetted model and I have had ongoing issues with sinking floats, which have now been resolved by the fitment of the new unsinkable units.
I probably use this car more often than any of my others. It is relaxing and fun to drive. I changed the steering wheel to the more stylish wooden Nardi design which was fitted to some Corniches and which gives much better feel. And I like the feel of a carburetted car and the sound of the twin exhausts. I consider myself both mad and fortunate to own, or should I say maintain, this car, and I have great respect for its design and build quality.Bringing it back to top running order has been very satisfying.
I consider the S Series to be the highpoint of achievement in the separate-chassis cars and the SZ series (which includes the Eight) to be probably the best modern Bentleys ever made. They are well designed, robust, reliable, understressed, easily repairable, fun to drive and still look surprisingly modern. And the Eight is understated but brilliant – and this particular model is much rarer than the other Bentleys of its time.