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Sky’s the limit for Bentley's Mulliner masters

Long shot: Bentley's Mulliner bespoke service was even able to manufacture a six-seater Mulsanne by stretching it a metre.

Mulliner details curious customisations and its most bespoke Bentleys


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30 Mar 2016

BENTLEY'S line-up of luxurious British-built vehicles is synonymous with an extensive range of customisation options, but for the even more discerning customer, the company's bespoke Mulliner branch says “anything is possible”.

From a minor seatbelt colour alteration to a fully re-engineered Mulsanne with an extra whole metre in its wheelbase, the team of 60 specialists at Bentley's Crewe headquarters in the United Kingdom offers a level of personalisation most other brands can only dream of – but for a price.

Speaking exclusively to GoAuto at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Mulliner bespoke and limited editions product manager Jamie Smith described some of its customer's unique and lavish requests, and the lengths it goes to, to bring an idea or fantasy to life.

Mr Smith recounted one occasion where a customer requested a beloved nail polish colour to be matched but was not willing to part with the bottle.

“The sales manager had a bright idea that a great way to transport nail polish is on a nail,” said Mr Smith.

“He gets his finger nails painted, comes back to the factory, we scan it in with our software off his hand and produced the colour.”

That level of service and “blue sky thinking” is what makes the Mulliner service unique, says Mr Smith.

“What I want to provide to customers is the 'made by me' experience. For a lot of our customers, buying a Bentley is a real big deal and they want it to be perfect for them. That's the service I am able to provide.”

One customer provided a tree from his own garden for his car’s wood veneer, and while it has not yet come to fruition, another client asked for one of his own cows to make the ultimate sacrifice.

“It didn't go anywhere but it was an Aberdeen Angus cattle farm and they said 'if I provide the hide, can you put it through the process?'“It hasn't materialised yet but the buying process can be three, four or five years.”

For customers who don't have their own walking upholstery, Mulliner provides only the finest quality leather sourced from specific animals and in specific parts of the world.

“Only bull hides and only from northern Europe,” said Mr Smith. “Because cows get stretch-marks and there are less mosquitoes in Northern Europe, and we tend to use farms that don't use barbed wire so there are less imperfections in the hide.

“Obviously it's an increased cost but you get much more premium leather finish, which is what we at Bentley require.”

But if the more orthodox union of wood and leather are not unique enough for your tastes then Mulliner can offer some finishes not normally associated with cars.

How does a stone dashboard sound? Mulliner can provide a new range of ultra-thin natural stone veneer finishes sourced exclusively from an Indian mine for a truly unusual decorative finish.

“The connotations of stone aren't necessarily luxury, but they are when you understand the process that the stone is taken through a highly complex engineering process involved in peeling a 0.7mm thin sliver of stone from a rock, and mounting it on an aluminium substrate to a Bentley standard.”

Mother of pearl and exotic wood finishes, including bespoke wood marquetry, are also on offer.

The meticulous art takes an image supplied by the customer and recreates it using nothing but slivers of wood laid in at different angles for a result with surprising depth and detail.

“Customers want a part of their life in their car, so personalisation is a great opportunity to do that. Say you loved your dog or you just built your own house – why not put it on the fascia.”

The iconic 'Flying-B' bonnet ornament can be gold-plated, but for a more modern or contemporary look Mulliner is now offering engraving and a process called Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD) for a stealthier look.

“It zaps materials on to the brightware and turns them dark. It's an expensive process but it's so cool.

“The gold flying-B is one that we get quite a lot, but if you want to personalise your flying-B we can engrave that, which harks back to the early days of Bentley when the chassis number used to be engraved there.”

Mr Smith has not yet been asked to create a solid gold Flying-B but explained that he would embrace the challenge with typical Mulliner mantra.

“What I've never done but I'd love to is a solid gold one. I think that would be great. I'd love to give that challenge to my engineers,” he said.

But all of this luxury and exclusivity comes at a cost, so just how much do you have to outlay to build a one-off Bentley?Getting your car rolling on a set of wheels with a unique finish will cost “less than 10,000 pounds” – about $19,000. A gold or PVD bonnet ornament is about $4000. Want embroidered leather and your own words on the treadplates? That will be “under 5000” ($9,500). Bespoke hide and matching carpets come in at about the equivalent of about $38,000.

But on the Mulliner scale those are relatively affordable prices and while Mr Smith was not prepared to reveal any specific customer details, he did say that on one occasion the starting price of the car had been doubled. Even if the vehicle had been Bentley's most affordable Flying Spur, the end price would have topped $750,000.

“A customer can come to me and say 'I just don’t like the colour of my seatbelt’. It goes all the way from that, right up to the one-metre stretch limousine. You can land anywhere on that scale and it’s about grasping that customer and measuring what kind of interaction they want.

“If it's known to us, it’s a lot cheaper, but if you ask for something that no one has asked for before that's when we need to invest in some skill in the factory, or some machinery, and that's when you start to add things up.

“You can take it to seven figures (pounds) if you want to coach-build a car, but it's about having the skills to read the customer.”

For the ultimate in accessory bling you can option the Breitling Mulliner Tourbillon clock which is crafted from solid gold with a mother of pearl or ebony face and diamond hour marks. The posh watch will add another $250,000 to your bill.

Mr Smith said he is always looking to the future and at what the company can offer to new customers in a bid to keep the Mulliner reputation ahead of the competition, including some very unusual leather upholstery alternatives.

“We haven't done a car yet, but we've had a gear lever made in stingray leather and it is beautiful. It almost shimmers.”

And if a fish gear selector does not appeal then what about fruit leather?“There is a company that's started using pineapples to make a leather alternative. I’ve no idea if it would work but they say it's automobile grade, so these are the sort of things I have to keep an eye out for.”

While the Mulliner team can arrange an almost infinite range of vehicle modifications and extra equipment, most of its work focuses on providing bespoke colour and material combinations for customers who simply cannot settle on one of the 120 'standard' paint tones and numerous interior combinations in the Bentley catalogue.

But quality takes time and in addition to the extra cash required for the Mulliner treatment, customers have to be patient. The process to colour-match, test, develop and manufacture a non-standard hide interior takes 16 weeks, for example.

You might be surprised to learn that of all the custom leather colours Mulliner is asked to provide, pink is the most common, and the vibrant colour is not an uncommon request for the exterior either, that is, if the two standard pink paint tones will not do.

The company's colour matching service allows customers to have virtually any surface of their Bentley coloured to match a sample, and previously provided samples have included a blender and a Hawaiian shirt.

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