Bentley Continental R - Project 116 (1996)

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200kg lighter, an engine fettled by Cosworth, a bespoke interior and a custom paint finish; Carlo Talamo's bespoke Project 116 was his take on a modern-day Bentley Blower  

The One Billion Lira Bespoke Commission

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A unique and fascinating proposition, Carlo Talamo’s bespoke specification Continental R was a masterpiece of collaboration between Italian style and renowned British engineering. Delving into the story behind Project 116 affords a rare understanding of the ideation process, development and creation of the car. Such was the thought and cohesion of design from start to finish, Bentley decided a number of key bespoke options would subsequently enter production, one of which is still used today.

In 1997, the car featured on the cover of Autocar reviewed then as the ‘Ultimate Modern Blower Bentley’. This was Carlo’s ambition. Having decided that whilst he was successful, he would never be able to afford an original Bentley Blower; Project 116 was commissioned as a modern-day interpretation. This was no small task. Having paid the equivalent of £500,000 today to buy the standard car, he then spent the same again on modifications. In 1997, Project 116 cost one billion Italian Lira.

Amongst the many modifications was a quite considerable weight loss program. The car shed some 200kg over a standard car through the removal of the rear seats, no In Car Entertainment, lighter sports seats and an XJ220 fuel tank amongst other savings. A half roll cage was added in for harness mounts and added rigidity.

Cosworth was tasked with reworking the engine too. Hotter camshafts, a bigger Garrett turbo, gas-flowed heads as well as the new ram air intake meant P116 was good for 425bhp and a whopping 670lbft at just 2,000rpm. These figures were some 25bhp & 80lbft up over a T. This added torque delivering the intended performance gains between 50-115mph. A revised 0-60 of 5.5 seconds meant this was no slouch on the sprint either.

The following words have been written by Marko Makaus, a friend of Carlo Talamo and writer of the recent Bentley book ‘A Century of Elegance and Speed’.

To understand this remarkable car, one has to know something about its first owner.

The heir to an ancient, noble and broke Roman family, Carlo Talamo Atenolfi moved to Milan in the 1980s with little money and a boundless passion for motorcycles and cars. Blessed with an uncommon creative talent, he went to Varese and managed to persuade Claudio Castiglioni (head of Cagiva and later the driving force behind the rebirth of MV Agusta) to give him the contract for the importation of Harley Davidsons, in a period when the Milwaukee motorcycle factory was at an all-time low.

With great commitment and talent, along with a little luck, Talamo succeeded first in riding and boosting the wave of the Harley Davidson revival, and then repeating the feat with Triumph.

He made advances to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars just as they were starting to revolutionise their sales network, developing new markets and dealing with younger and more informal businessmen. He was perhaps the ideal candidate: under 40, with a keen mind and an extravagant lifestyle. He was famous for always wearing Superga canvas tennis shoes without socks, winter and summer.

He was something of a shock for Rolls-Royce’s traditional management and clientele, but they learned to appreciate his unique qualities, and in any case, Carlo proved capable of attracting numerous new clients. He called his firm Gialloquaranta (which translates as “Yellowforty”) simply because he had treated himself to a special yellow Bentley Corniche Drop Head Coupé for his 40th birthday.

His Continental was perhaps one of the most shocking Bentleys ever built, after Captain R.G. McLeod’s shortened models. Speaking at the time, Carlo said the car was so far from the standard specification that it had cost him twice the normal price.

My subsequent experience in the commercial department of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and my study of the chassis specifications suggested that things went slightly differently: TCX53170 had in fact been configured as a normal Continental with left-hand drive for a German client. The order was cancelled, and the car was reprised and reconfigured according to Talamo’s specifications: the fact that he “saved” an order that had already been scheduled for production probably earned him a significant discount on the list price.

For sure there were considerable modifications to both interior and exterior, while the engine had been built by Cosworth with significantly improved performance due to (at least) 425 bhp.

I had the privilege to know him and to share his enthusiasm for the motor cars produced in Crewe. I often went to his HQ for a chat and we had long discussions about this car. Despite my career in automotive marketing, with Rolls-Royce and Bentley, I then had a very conservative point of view and was appalled by this car when I first saw it.

Instead, he had a very sharp vision and focus of the future. He explained to me that this car represented his vision of the blend between the spartan and sporty racing Cricklewood Bentleys and what the future younger customers would want. Hence more power and a toned-down interior with a roll cage, the brushed aluminium bonnet and the race roundels. A feature he was very proud of was the air intakes, in place of the inside headlamps, something he had copied from the faster Giulias of the Italian Police!

His vision was right, and a number of the modifications “invented” by Carlo were later adopted on production models: it is a fact that the Continental T was developed from this very car, as the boosted engine, the bouchonnée fascia and the quilted upholstery testify. This last feature is still used by Bentley Motors for their more sporty models.

This would not surprise those who knew him, as this was exactly what made him incredibly successful with Harley-Davidson, where his ideas and concept bikes were used by the factory to change forever their image and conquer younger buyers.

Were he alive today, he would point to the current “HotWheels” Bentley and Rolls-Royce products saying: “I told you!”

When I asked him why he specified right-hand steering, he told me that this was the car of his life, but sometime in the future it was going to be sold, and only a Brit would understand it…

Are you the one he was thinking about?

Marko Makaus

In 1997, Carlo Talamo evolved the relatively docile Continental R into his interpretation of the legendary ‘Blower’. Eccentricities and historic references at the core of the decision-making process, he achieved this with such success that several of his specific requests have since become options in the Bentley range.

Back in the UK for the first time since its inception, Project 116 presents a unique opportunity to acquire a true, modern sporting Bentley. So much more than a bespoke paint job, the unrepeatable ‘billion Lira’ Continental marked a highpoint for bespoke Bentley’s. Available to view at our showrooms just outside London immediately.

Carlo Talamo's Bentley Continental R

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