How do you improve an already excellent luxury saloon? Strap a whacking great turbo on to it, of course. We sample a tasty classic...
Boasting an enormous price tag when new – comfortably in excess of £100,000 in 1990 – the Bentley Turbo R is now the luxury bargain of the 21st Century. The best thing is that Turbo Rs make absolute sense as a driving machine too. A generous prod on the accelerator elicits a rush of energy that launches you past lesser vehicles. If you’re in a post-1990 model complete with clever active suspension, you’ll enjoy total composure in the corners, too. Tempted?
1987 Bentley Turbo R
Power (bhp@rpm) 330bhp@4000rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 480lb ft@2250rpm
Top speed 140mph
Gearbox 3-speed auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The first Turbo Rs are now 25 years old, so despite excellent build quality when new, they will rust if neglected. Rear wheelarches are particularly prone to corrosion if the car hasn’t been cared for. Make sure you examine up inside the arch, as well as down at either end of the sill. Water gets in at both ends, but especially the front. The rear valance can also corrode, and it is well hidden behind the rear bumper, so be thorough with your examination. Under the car, front outriggers can rot on higher mileage cars, while the rear spring pans should also be checked closely.
Pre-1987 carburettor-fed examples are less popular because the complex Solex four-choke unit has a poor reputation for reliability. They can also suffer from hot-starting issues, unknown on fuel-injected models. Either motor should cruise beyond 200,000 miles without requiring major attention, provided that proper service intervals
have been respected.
Poor starting, pinking, uneven idling or lack of responsiveness could be anything from a leaking inlet manifold to an engine management fault, the latter more common on post-1994 cars. Take a test drive and keep a close eye on the temperature gauge – steer clear of anything that overheats. Cooling leaks can quickly become serious, so check carefully for drips or weeping hoses anywhere in the system. Minor oil leaks are par for the course on a 50-year-old engine design, but liberal coatings of oil on the underside should find you walking away. Leaking turbo oil feed pipes are another bad sign
– a loss of oil feed will cause the turbo to fail, with potentially catastrophic results, so be on your guard.
Two sturdy GM automatic gearboxes were used through the production span of the Turbo R. The three-speeder used until 1992 is simpler, but the later four-speeder gives better flexibility, acceleration and economy. Both should find all their gears without hesitation. Transmission fluid should always look pink and clean. You might hear a whine from the differential on high-mileage cars, suggesting a hard life. They will go on like this for a while, but clunks or rumbles are a definite no-no.
Suspension-wise, both standard (pre-1990) and active suspension should provide excellent ride quality. A well looked after car shouldn’t feel loose or sloppy, even over a poor surface. When they need replacing, the active dampers are very expensive, so haggle accordingly if this is required. Power steering is standard on all models. Leaks can occur from the pump, the rack and the connecting hoses.
It is unlikely you will find a car where the cabin has been mistreated, but look out for dirty leather, worn carpets and pedal rubbers, and untidy boot linings. All of these symptoms point to a car that hasn’t been treated with sufficient respect. Veneer door cappings and dash sections can fade due to sunlight, so avoid cracked or peeling varnish. Ensure exterior chrome isn’t pitted – the hefty, impact-absorbing bumpers should also be straight and free from scratches.
Turbo Rs are complex machines, so seek expert advice both before and after you buy. Buying one privately can be worth the saving over a specialist dealer’s price, but you will be glad of a reputable trader’s guarantee should things go wrong. Rough examples can have a thirst for cash that’s bigger than their thirst for fuel. Get a good one, however, and it can be astonishing value for money. But be careful – once you’ve acquired a taste for the high life, you may find it hard to settle for anything less.