Mulliner - a coachbuilding history like no other
“Bentley Mulliner has one purpose - to provide our customers with the Bentley that they want, not the Bentley we want to sell them,” says Derek Davies, brand director, Bentley Mulliner. “Many of our customers are used to a certain level of service from other car companies, but without fail they are amazed by what we can do to meet their needs. Other carmakers may claim to offer thousands of choices but Bentley Mulliner’s option list is genuinely infinite – we will do whatever it takes to provide the bespoke car. Put simply, no two Bentley Mulliner cars are the same because no two customers are the same.”
That extraordinary level of service has been part of the Bentley Mulliner package for decades. The Mulliner name has been synonymous with the finest coachbuilding traditions for nearly 250 years, when it built horse-drawn coaches for the Royal Mail. In the automotive era it turned its attentions to producing some of the finest and most famous bodies for many legendary Bentley cars.
In fact, 2004 marks the 80th anniversary of HJ Mulliner’s first work for the company, when the firm produced a Mulliner Bentley for the 1924 London Olympia Show. Its most famous creation, however, was the R-Type Continental of 1952, the fastest four-seat sports car of its era, and the inspiration for today’s Continental GT. Indeed, of all the Bentleys in the company’s history, it is safe to say that the R-Type Continental stands alongside the original 3-litre and Speed Six as the most important and influential of all cars to wear the winged ‘B’. Their blend of power and grace, allied with an unrivalled status as the luxury sporting saloons of choice, made them the iconic Bentleys of the 1920s, ’30s and ’50s.
Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars bought Mulliner in 1959, merging it with the Park Ward concern to form its own coachbuilding division, called Mulliner Park Ward in 1961, and it is this company from which today’s Bentley Mulliner is directly descended. The company remained in London, building the likes of the Phantom V1 and Rolls-Royce Corniche, before moving to Crewe in 1993. In 2002, in recognition of the ever-increasing importance of coachbuilding to Bentley, the rapidly expanding organisation was renamed Bentley Mulliner and charged with answering the ever more varied and challenging demands of the 21st century Bentley customer. It’s an approach that seems to be working: last year saw Bentley Mulliner increase its turnover by 105 per cent and 60 per cent of all Arnages ordered came with some form of Mulliner personalisation.
Bentley Mulliner currently employs around 130 world-class experts including
coachbuilders, trimmers, cabinet makers, electronics specialists and fitters. All work in a dedicated workshop within Bentley’s Crewe factory that includes its own wood and trim shops, as well as steel fabrication and tool making areas. A limited number of features can be installed in the main factory as cars pass through the standard production process, but usually, once a Mulliner car’s basic structure has been assembled, it passes over to the Mulliner workshop for completion. The time taken to create a Mulliner Bentley clearly depends on the extent of the customer’s wish list. An Arnage Limousine with a high level of unique cabinetry and technological infrastructure could easily take upwards of 6000 man-hours to complete. By contrast, a mass produced limousine from a mainstream manufacturer might be built by robots in less than one hundredth of the time.
That said, Bentley Mulliner is just as comfortable with less extensive commissions - many owners simply want a few small touches to personalise their car, and to put their own signature on it. The popularity of this almost infinitely flexible approach is proven by the fact that half of all Bentley Arnages benefit from some degree of Mulliner attention.
The Bentley Mulliner Arnage Limousine is just the latest in a long line of remarkable cars crafted by the world’s most respected coachbuilder. In an era of automation and ‘just-in-time’ production lines, the car is an ideal reminder that the rare combination of luxury, technology and craftsmanship can still be found in one bespoke package.Published 19 December 2004