Situations involving sheer recklessness and abject stupidity aside, there can sometimes be a curious sense of pride that builds in the aftermath of receiving a speeding ticket. This was not one of those occasions.
We had recently begun a slow-speed tour of Grand Canyon National Park, ducking in and out of the many majestic vistas that combine to make this one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The slow-speed tour, it turned out, wasn’t quite slow enough.
As we rounded a corner, I took the 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible – a car capable of travelling at 325 km/h, it’s worth noting – up to a lofty 28 mph (45 km/h) before seeing the all-too-familiar flashing lights approach in the rear-view mirror. Busted.
The park ranger was pleasant enough. He explained that I had been driving in excess of the speed limit. He noted that the speed limit was a mere 15 mph. I expressed my surprise and it was genuine. I then thought it was a real possibility that I would receive the slowest speeding ticket in automotive journalism history – a real possibility given that I had, after all, nearly doubled the speed limit.
The ticket did not come to pass. After a lengthy stay by the side of the road, the park ranger released us on our own recognizance and recommended that we slow down in order to better enjoy the view. Good advice: From any vantage point, the Grand Canyon is magical; being behind the wheel of a finely crafted automobile merely adds to the experience.
The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, a classification that verges on understatement. Even a car as pronounced as the Bentley, which is a large car indeed, doesn’t have the scale to compete head-to-head.
The entire flotilla of Continentals, all eight of them, was parked in a semi-circle in front of the spectacularly kitschy El Tovar Hotel, a rustic lodge on the South Rim that opened in 1905 and doesn’t appear to have changed much since. Here, on an early morning with a distinct chill in the air, I had the opportunity to study the visual cues of the car before the cold dug in deep and sent me off in search of warmer activities.
The shape of the Bentley is that of the classic grand touring coupe/convertible. The hood is so elongated, it might seem like overkill to the casual observer. But there are 12 cylinders, two turbochargers and six full litres of displacement under that hood, so this wasn’t some flight of fancy to emerge from the design studio in Crewe, England; rather, this was driven by the engineers, who are housed one department over.
The hood leads to the passenger cabin, which again adheres to tradition by presenting a classic 2+2 shape. An aside to other car reviewers: Of course, there’s not enough legroom for adults in the back seat – there’s not enough legroom because the 2+2 form has never offered enough legroom. This is self-evident in the same way that convertibles don’t have fixed roofs.
Speaking of that convertible, there are further nods to tradition: The roof is a soft-top, power-operated it must be said, but it’s not some overly wrought foldable hardtop that splits and contorts itself before vanishing from sight. Rather, it’s a four-layer hand-stitched fabric top that slips seamlessly under a tonneau cover when the weather permits.
For the record, the weather did permit. Erring aggressively on the side of caution, all the cars were fitted with snow tires; in each trunk, there were tire chains in custom bags bearing the winged Bentley logo. As we left Phoenix en route to that great fissure some 3-1/2 hours north via Payson, Sedona and Flagstaff, the temperature hovered around 22 degrees Celsius.
If there were a concern on the tire front, it would be that the winter rubber would melt under the Arizona sun.
But, as it turns out, the tires proved more durable than that; versatile enough to provide added confidence while surveying the snow along the side of the road as elevations increased and durable enough to withstand high-speed blasts on the open stretches of historic Route 66.
There are times when a car such as the Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible is more than just a punctuation mark on the proceedings – the run across the Arizona desert towards Las Vegas represented one of those times.
The town of Williams proved to be the start line; this hamlet, founded by sheepherders in 1874, eventually became a stop on the transcontinental railroad and, even further down the line, a haven for brothels, casinos and opium dens. We picked up the Mother Road there and made a beeline west.
This part of Arizona is where the homages to Route 66 resonate most strongly and the towns that were bypassed by newer thoroughfares were given a lifeline. One such town, Seligman, is home to the Roadkill Cafe, a place where deer, squirrel and snake are on the menu. Years ago, this homey diner allowed patrons to bring in bespoke entrees scooped up from the side of the road until the Department of Health and Human Services stopped by for a visit.
Leaving the cafe, we headed northwest towards Peach Springs, the virtual ghost town that, legend has it, inspired Radiator Springs in the animated film Cars. Some 25 miles off the beaten track since the opening of I-40 in 1978, the town has a motel, a grocery store, a gas station and a population of just 600. Driving through Peach Springs takes all of 40 seconds.
The stretch from Peach Springs to Kingman along Route 66 is not widely used any more because it adds 10 minutes to what might be considered a tedious enough drive. Tedious is in the mind of the beholder, though, especially when driving a car capable of nearly tripling the posted speed limit. Such was our pace during this leg of the journey, we blasted right past the Hackberry General Store, one of the last remnants of a mining town that fell into disrepair in 1919.
The first and last time I’d stopped in Hackberry was in 1999; despite its modest size, the general store is a memorable location right next to the road, fronted by classic fuel pumps and adorned with all manner of 20th-century, Route 66-style paraphernalia.
It’s worth the visit and we could’ve stopped: The massive brake discs on the Bentley are capable of hauling this substantial car down from speed in a hurry. But this moment had more to do with momentum – the sun was out, the roof was down, the winter tires were holding fast and we were getting our kicks, as Nat King Cole so famously advised, some 66 years ago.
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