Mulliner can trace its coachbuilding ancestry back to 1760, when it won a contract to build coaches for the Royal Mail in Northampton. By 1900, Henry Jervis Mulliner moved the coachbuilding headquarters to Brook Street, Mayfair, in London, and began to service the growing business for "horseless carriages".
Mulliner's first job for Bentley Motors was in 1924, five years after Bentley was formed, when it bodied a car for the Olympia Show in London. The most famous Mulliner-bodied Bentley was probably the lovely 1952 R-Type Continental, at the time the fastest four-seater sports car in the world and one of the inspirations for Bentley's new Continental GT.
Mulliner was purchased by Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars in 1959, and merged with Park Ward to become Mulliner Park Ward in 1961, moving into new premises in west London. There, it built famous models such as the Rolls-Royce Phantom and two-door Corniche, before moving to Crewe into the old engineering experimental department in 1993. This year, following Bentley Motors' resurrection, Bentley Mulliner has been reborn with a wider brief and a growing workforce - now four times the level it was two years ago.
Bentley Mulliner Options (sometimes designed by the customers)
Customers are encouraged to take an active involvement in personally commissioning their Bentley, and can watch their vehicles being individualised. Says John Killick: "One of our advantages over rivals is that we can involve our customers in a lot of the detail. We prefer really to involve him or her in the personalisation of their car. We also listen to what the customer wants. It's like commissioning a new house and being the architect. We offer guidance and advice, and will also challenge the customer if we feel they are misguided in their choice."
The most popular start point for a commission is fitting items from an extensive portfolio of Bentley Mulliner options. The choice may be as simple as fitting a gear knob hand carved from solid wood, or fitting a chrome radiator shell or hand embroidering the leather upholstery. DVD players, either using screens fitted into the rear headrests or fold down screens fitted into the roof, are also popular requests.
The list of fitted options is regularly supplemented as features gain popularity. "One of Bentley's best American customers recently asked for a special stainless steel fuel filler flap for his car, complete with enamelled Bentley wings" says Killick. "We had never made one before, but happily took on the challenge and made one for his car. We all agreed, however, that this was a feature that had appeal, so it was added to our portfolio of options, and is now proving popular."
Other popular Mulliner options include uprated in car entertainment (ICE) systems, enhanced satellite navigation, a bottle cooler fitted behind the centre rear armrest for champagne or wine, cocktail cabinets, divisions between driver and rear seat passengers, electric rear blinds, folding solid wood tables and curtains for added privacy. All are made, or fitted, by Bentley Mulliner craftsman. The hand carved wooden gear knob takes Mulliner's woodworkers 12 hours to make. "Even a standard hand-stitched leather steering wheel takes 18 hours to create," points out Killick. The curtains, silk on the inside and hardier cotton on the outside, take two weeks to hand make and two days to fit.
The most popular DVD or TV screen size is 6.5 inches fitted into rear headrests, but the 13 inch dropdown screen is increasingly popular. These are usually fitted with cordless infrared headphones.