Bentley’s roofless Bacalar is a rare, refined $1.9M plaything for perfect days
The average rainfall in Hawaii is a modest 17 inches a year. In the U.K. that rises to 37 inches, while in sun-scorched Dubai the otherwise parched locals have to rely on desalinated sea water to stay refreshed.
Where you are reading this, then, may well influence how you view Bentley’s latest and very exclusive model. The £1.5 million ($1.9M) Bacalar is part of a modern trend for roofless roadsters, limited-edition supercars that include the bonkers McLaren Elva and Aston Martin Speedster, both of which go a step further and ditch the windscreen, too.
Having picked the bugs out of your teeth driving the latter pair, the Bentley sounds and looks far the more civilized beast. The two-seater is also based on the same platform as one of the world’s most luxurious and powerful grand tourers, the Continental GT Convertible Speed. As such, the Bacalar boasts the same chassis, running gear, and long-serving, twin-turbo W-12 engine (albeit enhanced to 650 hp). The Speed costs a relatively modest £200,000 ($275K) with options and comes with a roof, too— so what makes the Bacalar worth the extra spend?
It is, quite simply, a masterclass in muscular artistry. Designed and built in-house by Bentley’s coachbuilding specialists Mulliner, the Bacalar may bear a passing family resemblance to the Continental GT but it is every inch a supermodel destined to strut its stuff in considerably more glamorous parts of the world than England’s Crewe, where it is hand-built.
Just 12 are being made at Bentley headquarters. Apparently the car is named after a Mexican lake which, according to the tourist board, is a national treasure. I say 12, but actually it’s a baker’s dozen—the 13th example is Bacalar Car Zero, the vehicle I’m here to drive in Bedfordshire. This engineering prototype was used for a series of grueling endurance tests, ensuring owners won’t have to make use of the warranty. Hopefully.
That regimen includes thousands of miles in all climates, an aerodynamic workout in a wind tunnel, plus the usual high standard of Bentley workmanship. Because there is no roof—not even an emergency fold-out hood—the +80C and -10C temperature tests (176F and 14F, respectively) were also completed open-cockpit. Since even the world’s wealthiest individuals can’t have one of their people arrange the weather, they’ll at least have to get into the habit of checking the weather forecast before taking a spin.
Before I’m let loose on a racetrack, Omar Sheikh, Mulliner’s project leader on the Bacalar, explains why the car isn’t just a fancy Continental GT for folk with very deep pockets.
“Unlike the GT, the Bacalar is strictly a two-seater, with a space behind for bespoke luggage. It features over 750 new parts, including more than 40 made from carbon fiber. It represents the rarest two-door Bentley of the modern era and spearheads a return to coachbuilding by Mulliner.”
The car shares no body panels with the standard Continental apart from the door handles (containing the keyless entry system). The bodywork is cut from carbon-fiber, aluminum, and 3D-printed materials to allow for razor-sharp, chiseled edges and inlets. Just check out the slit in the bonnet. Taking inspiration from Bentley’s centenary EXP 100 GT show car of 2019, the Bacalar is sinister enough to frighten the bejesus out of anyone who spots such gaping front air intakes approaching in their rear-view mirror.
Though prices start at £1.5 million ($1.9M), customers can blow the budget on a list of extras that go way beyond a dash of chrome and fancy leather stitching. “We sat down with some customers who knew what they wanted within 20 minutes; others took weeks and weeks to trawl through the options list,” says Sheikh.
Among the more unusual are a dashboard veneer cut from 5000-year-old oak, sustainably sourced from a Norfolk bog, or a fascia worked from 200 million-year-old stone sourced in India. Even the paintwork is different. One Bacalar is finished in an extreme metallic called Yellow Flame that mixes ash from rice husks, reducing the chemical input while retaining the sunlight-induced sparkle.
For this first track drive of the Bacalar a helmet is obligatory, which for once is an enjoyable thing, because it’s considerably colder than a winter’s day in Mexico. England in April is sunny but freezing and, even with the seat’s neck-warmer hot air vent on full blast, I’m feeling colder than a leftover enchilada.
From the outside, the wrap-around cockpit may look radically different that of a Continental; inside, however, much of the switchgear is the same. All that aerodynamic work means there is surprisingly little wind to buffet you, especially as you’re tucked down low beneath the windscreen. It’s snug and cozy, but I can’t help thinking an emergency, fold-out tonneau cover might be a sensible addition.
With an extra 26 hp over the top-of-the-range Continental GT Speed, the 6.0-liter Bacalar certainly isn’t wanting for pace. The 0–62mph time of just under four seconds isn’t startling in this day and age, but I doubt that is the point for the 12 Bacalar customers looking for the ultimate in bespoke. The entire run sold out long before the paint dried on the first car anyway.
On track, Bentley’s four-wheel-drive system allows for surefooted thrills, which ensures the car also handles like a far smaller, nimbler machine. Bentley’s tried-and-tested dual-clutch, eight-speed gearbox is fantastically slick through the changes, while the 48-volt Dynamic Ride System, which prevents body roll without making for a harsh ride, further sharpens the handling.
A booming exhaust rumble is ever-present with no roof in the way—push on along faster sections of road and the noise intensity increases. However, it’s not a screaming cacophony of cackles and pops; that simply wouldn’t suit such an exclusive grand tourer. Arrive anywhere in a Bacalar and you will always be front-and-center stage.
The Bacalar is not a badass car for hurtling around a racetrack. It’s more suited to an enthusiastic Sunday afternoon jaunt along the middle corniche to your favorite restaurant on the French Riviera. A helmet obviously doesn’t benefit the driving experience (I removed it for photographs) although you might ask Bentley to throw in a pair of Centenary Aviator Sunglasses, a snip at £720, to compensate for the lack of roof.
Refined, distinctive and very rare, the barchetta-styled Bacalar is set to become an instant collectible that, with a raft of pricey options, could cost buyers in excess of £2 million ($2.75M). If you are lucky enough to see one in the U.K., the day will be remarkable for more than one, W-12-powered reason: Chances are rain won’t be forecast.
2021 Bentley Bacalar
Price: £1.5 million ($1.9M)
Engine: W-12, 5998-cc, twin-turbo gasoline
Power: 650 hp @ 5000–6000 rpm
Torque: 667 lb-ft @ 1500–5000 rpm
Gearbox: eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Curb weight: 2414 kg (est.); 5322 lbs (est.)
0–62 mph: < 3.9 seconds
Top speed: 200+ mph