Throttle-Back Thursday: The modern Bentley era began with the 2003 Continental GT

The Bentley Continental GT with its spiritual predecessor, the R Type Continental.

The Bentley EXP 100 GT, unveiled yesterday amid the British automaker’s ongoing 100th birthday celebrations, presents a vision of the future of grand touring that is equal parts enticing and concerning. But as wild as the concept is, it is still an unmistakable product of the modern Bentley era — an era that began in 2003, when the Bentley Continental GT arrived on the scene.

Unapologetically big, surprisingly quick and jaw-droppingly fast, the Continental GT kept just enough of that old-world Crewe-built charm to be immediately recognized as a Bentley. But it balanced that against the advanced all-wheel-drive powertrain and cutting-edge production techniques enabled by Volkswagen Group ownership and investment. We loved it from the moment we first saw it.

The Continental GT would go on to become the most successful model in the marque’s history on a number of fronts (though the Bentayga seems poised to give it a run for its money), spawning numerous W12- and V8-powered coupe and convertible variants and, importantly, bridging Bentley’s hand-built past and its more modern present. It even, somewhat unexpectedly, made for a respectable race car.

This platform was used from 2003 to 2018 (with a substantially updated second-generation car arriving in 2011), which is a solid run in the competitive luxury market; over a decade on, even the earliest of the cars look great on the road. The all-new third-generation car, which launched last year, is poised to keep the legacy going.

No matter where Bentley is headed, the Continental GT was a milestone. Read about our first drive of the car in the excerpt from the August 25, 2003, issue of Autoweek below.

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