Customers are not limited to the Bentley Mulliner options portfolio. They can order anything they like - as long as it can be built, and it is legal.
Adds Trevor Gay, sales manager for Bentley Mulliner: "We can certainly do more individualising than any other car maker. We have an 80-year history of personalising cars, and a long tradition of employing and teaching craftsman. This heritage of hand craftsmanship has taught us a great deal and bred employees who are true craftsman, able to do extraordinary things with their hands and their imaginations."
The bespoke treatment could include unusual body and trim colours, Trevor Gay cites the most unusual as a clementine orange car with yellow piping and lime green leather upholstery. "But there have been even more extreme suggestions that we declined. At the end of the day, it's our name on the car so we have to have the final say."
Leather is easily the most popular upholstery material for Bentleys, but Bentley Mulliner is happy to consider other hides. Its craftsmen have trimmed cars in buffalo and ostrich skin. "Our aim is to match the customers' needs with the appropriate materials, but in line with our ethical values, we would never countenance the use of endangered or unsustainable materials" says Gay.
Personalised hi fi systems are also common. Some customers order computer game consoles, such as the Sony Play Station.
Gay estimates that Bentley has built cars with about a dozen different types of timber trim, and is always willing to take on a new challenge. "Sometimes customers come to us with a favourite tree in their back garden, and want their wood trim made from this tree. It's not cheap because if it is a new wood we need to do safety tests and durability tests, and also must ensure that it looks good when polished and lacquered. But if we can do it, and the wood is not too rare a species, then we will."
Individual cabin designs are also frequently requested. To show its sheer capability, the Bentley Mulliner team built a very special car for the recent Paris Motor Show. It took four months to develop and build, and involved 10 Mulliner craftsmen. Project leader Phil Copestake, a veteran of bespoke engineering, says it was probably the most challenging job he had ever been given.
"Our design department gave us the drawings, but we had to interpret them, using our experience as craftsmen. This is quite typical." Copestake personally selected seven blocks of North Yorkshire English oak, chosen for their shades and grain and character. These solid blocks were carved and matched with burr veneer to form one of the finest cabins ever seen in a Bentley. The carved solid wood was used in many areas of the cabin, including the door trim and the division rail between the front and rear occupants.
Other features of the Paris Show car were a 22-inch LCD entertainment screen, which drops down into the central partition, a 5.1 Dolby surround system and a rear bridge console with a cedar wood cigar humidor, glass cabinet and pop-up drinks bar containing decanters and tumblers. Instead of cup holders, there are champagne flute holders. There is a refrigerated bottle cooler, and fibre optic spot lighting in the rear compartment. The car also has a privacy rear window - a rear window design with a smaller aperture than the normal Bentley rear windscreen. Eighteen hides were used to trim the front and rear compartments.
A Bentley takes three weeks to trim in 'standard' leather upholstery. A bespoke interior typically takes another one to two weeks.
A handmade bespoke interior, similar to that offered in the Paris show car, takes 16 weeks to design, develop and hand build. "There is six weeks of hand carving alone," says Mr Copestake. Even the lacquering is hand sprayed and hand polished, as it is on all Bentleys.
Another recent commission came from a busy company chairman who approached Bentley Mulliner to create a mobile office. The tiny but powerful 1 GHz on-board PC is one of the smallest in the world, yet offers a 20 G-byte hard disk and 256 M-byte of RAM. It provides full mobile office capability, featuring internet, fax and email on the move. The keyboard is cordless infrared.
Another customer, a motor sport enthusiast, asked Bentley Mulliner to make a road-legal racing Bentley. The result was a unique Bentley based on the Continental T coupe. The front bumper, headlamp surround panels, sill and rear bumper were all restyled to give the car a leaner and lower appearance and sports vents were fitted to the front wings. The car was also redesigned as a two-seater vehicle - the normal Continental T is a four-seater. The result was a high-speed 170mph road racer.
Superstitions can also lead to unusual bespoke treatments. Says Richard Charlesworth, director of special customer commissions: "One of our customers liked to touch wood before doing anything he thought was the least bit risky, such as driving. He asked us to think about this superstition and come up with a solution. We suggested making his Bentley's starter button out of wood. He thought it a brilliant solution."