A certain corner in London’s Mayfair district is particularly dense with Bentley 6 1/2 litre engine coaches. And we are talking about a district that sums as the most expensive area on a Monopoly game chart. Not that real life is any different. The location in question is Grosvenor Square 50, a residing of Woolf Barnato. He and his fellow racing friends from the so-called Bentley Boys squad and the address is a well-known social scene. Mind you, these are the 1930’s. So sticking a number 50 on a Continental GT and heading out to OneLife Rally with it, seemed like a proper thing to do. Today we celebrate intercontinental voyage in style, opulence and charisma.
Le Mans 24
A diamond legacy enabled Barnato to not only own several bespoke Bentleys at the time but race them at LeMans by winning the race three times in a row. Such was the driving enthusiasm that on an occasion he raced against the famous Blue Train from Cannes back to London. And won. Nowadays, crossing continents gives way to a new league of gentlemen. Featuring high-end cars, OneLife Rally assembled an array of fifteen vehicles to negotiate the enigmatic roads of South-East Europe. In a grand one week drive. As we feature part of the group, slowly, day by day, we discover the art of passion, excitement and admiration. Values are known to have existed behind the steering wheel since the day cars were invented.
Leather gloves mark the start of this fine car driving ensemble, while a six-litre, twelve-cylinder twin-turbo engine thumps to life. Moments later and a starting point in Ljubljana is a distant memory. We pass Zagreb and arrive to a magical Adriatic Riviera. A mere thousand islands are afloat in these bluest of waters, forming an archipelago of unprecedented beauty. First night in a Crikvenica waterfront property is an acquaintance milieu for the participants. Coming from all around Europe, we quickly form alliances and friendship is on the horizon. Driver’s stories mark the evening and the longest stretch of tarmac sets the dream criterion for the next day. And what a day it proves to be.
A coastal road towards Dubrovnik grounds as one of the most spectacular pieces of asphalt in the world and an ensemble of vehicles quickly clusters into petite entities as curves and scenic drops mark our way. Engine sounds dominate walls of rocks as onlookers awe with amazement. A tour de force. An eight-speed automatic in the Bentley is set into manual mode, letting me decide whether to allow its grunt of 720 Nm of torque to pull me towards the horizon or pursue a high revving encounter towards the 6.250 red lines. In either case, the effect is dramatic and very quick should one wish to be in a hurry. The pleasing part is, it does so in immense style. In the comfort of a leather cocooned cockpit, be it massaged and cooled seats. With its steel frame, a Continental GT W12 amasses almost two and a half tons of weight, but let me put it this way. It manages to convert its sheer mass into a drivers experience par excellence. Goes like a train, in utmost comfort and class, the only thing stopping it is colossal brake rotors which in our case were of the ceramic compound and a diameter of 420 mm. These work fast and without any hindrance in performance. While I stop to be amazed at the views, my colleagues pass their twelve, ten and eight-cylinder silhouettes straight by. And one needs not to be a specialist to understand which is which, so distinctive in the sound they scream.
As Dubravko stretches above the waterline to extract fresh oysters from their riverbeds, today seems to last forever. A stop in Ston where everyone is being treated to world-class delicatessen is less than an hour away from Dubrovnik, our halt for the night. Halt if driving is substituted for a laissez-faire club evening. No expenses spared.
Next stages revolve blisteringly fast. Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia. A real grand tour of the Balkans to be precise. We witness friendships being formed, sometimes through the hardship of breakdowns. In Prizren city, the population awaits our police escorted convoy in the streets. Seems like a carnival entering the centre. Phones turn into cameras, posing and sometimes caressing metal become a routine. Country borders are a lot and passing them is easier than expected. Also due to organizational skills of the two founders, Nik and Gabriel. It is their first rally and has success written all over it. Everyone is excited to come back next year. And should they add a night stage, I for sure will be there with the darkness piercing reflector lights of a Bentley. What else is living about if not turning night into day.