Around the turn of the 20th century Volkswagen acquired both Bentley and Lamborghini, two very different, very prestigious brands. Right away there was some worry by many enthusiasts that VW may dilute the brands, especially in the case of Lamborghini, but it soon became clear that they were only making things better. In the coming years they introduced the likes of the Bentley Continental and Lamborghini Gallardo. Both were totally new cars that delved into new territory for their respective brands, and both would go on to become the best selling cars in their brands history to date. Lets take a look at what made these two models so successful.
Beginning at Bentley, the brand had been in a partnership with Rolls Royce for some time. Their cars were all big luxurious bricks that commanded a very, very high price to own. While this has always been a part of the Bentley way, there was little in the lineup that showed the brand’s large roots in racing and Grand Touring. Enter the Continental GT, a proper grand touring car with a 12 cylinder engine, all wheel drive control, sexy looks, and every luxury gadget you could imagine at the time. It was also priced as an entry-level model, making it available to more of the world’s elite.
The package that the Continental offered as a GT car was unbeatable for its price. It was more exclusive than Mercedes CL600, and its 552hp twin turbo W12 gave it performance that could blow away any Aston Martin or of the time. Anything short of a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti had no chance in a race, and the Ferrari was double the price. Also the Audi all wheel drive system made the car an extremely solid on the road and easy to drive, eve with all that power. It was a car that could appeal equally to customers wanting high performance, unparalleled luxury, the right image, or any mix of the three. Because of this high end versatility the Continental GT quickly became the must have car for the elite all over the globe. In places like London, California, and Monaco you could barely walk down any street without seeing one. Continentals were featured in every music video, and most celebrities could be seen in one at some point, serving only to further the car’s popularity.
Bentley, recognizing the car’s appeal of course, brought out other versions of the Continental to cover even more of the market share. The Continental Flying Spur was the four door sedan version, the Continental GTC was the convertible version. Faster, “Speed” and “Supersports”, models were released as well, bringing power figures well into to 600hp range. The cars continued to sell like hotcakes in all forms because they offered an unmatched overall luxury package, and remain, in my opinion, the best model range of cars that Bentley offers (I really don’t see any merit in the Mulsanne when it is compared to a Flying Spurr). We are talking tens of thousands of six figure cars being sold here. Bentley also just released the second generation Continental last year, and it seems its success will continue.
On the Lamborghini end of things VW proved early on with the Murcielago that they would keep making the proper Lambos that everyone loved. The Murcielago retained all of the outrageousness of the Diablo, but was more reliable and better built. The insane, scissor door Lambos have a somewhat limited appeal though because they are large, unwieldy, and you cannot see much around you from inside. VW’s answer to this issue was to make a smaller, more livable Lambo that would target Ferrari’s aging 360 Modena.
Enter the Gallardo, a “baby Lambo” with a 500hp screaming V10 and a 195mph top speed (Hardly a “baby” anything in my opinion with that sort of performance). The Gallardo was a much smaller and more livable car to drive than its big brother. It also had great, nimble handling and a nice, tight driving feel. Visibility was drastically improved, and the Gallardo’s small size made it much more livable in the real world. Needless to say it was much better as a car than the Murcielago in all practical respects, thus allowing to appeal to a wider array of clientele.
On BBC Top Gear Jeremy Clarkson was a bit critical of the Gallardo for “losing much of its Lamborghini idiocy”, but that is the point of the Gallardo in my eyes, and the reason it has seen such success. You see, the Gallardo lost most of the idiotic things present in the Murcielago; the driving position is actually good, you can see around yourself, and you don’t have to take wide turns like in a truck to avoid scuffing the sides. All of this marks improvements for most buyers, buyers who until now had to buy a Ferrari or a Porsche. However, the Gallardo still retained its flavor as a Lamborghini, with its exotic, angular shape, low slung driving position, orgasmic V10 sound, and of course insane levels of performance. So while it may have been easier to live with, it still offered all of the main aspects needed in a Lamborghini.
When the Gallardo hit showrooms it was vastly better than any of its competition, offering 500hp in a 400hp world. That was soon to change, but the next generation of supercars only met the Gallardo’s level of performance, not surpassed it. It was the car that set the new standard back then, and it still remains competitive with the newest supercars, like the Ferrari 458 or Mercedes SLS, with it’s evolutionary versions that have seen as much as 570hp. In fact, back when around 2009, the Gallardo LP560-4 was actually notably quicker than the Murcielago LP640 until around 130mph, and most of the fun happens below that speed on the street. All really impressive stuff for the “baby Lambo”. The Gallardo is nearing the end of its life cycle now, but I find it amazing that it is still able to compete late in its life. As a supercar its success has been truly incredible, especially considering it shares its platform with the Audi R8, another very successful model. Sure, I do agree with many critics that a Ferrari competitor is noticeably better to drive on a track, but on roads in the real world the Gallardo feels more planted and able to deal with varying surfaces and conditions at speed.
VW has done an amazing job with Bentley and Lamborghini. They have shown they can make the cars that stay true to each company’s roots as well as create new products that greatly expand the appeal of each brand. I know these cars are high end and out of reach for most people, but this is really the car business at its finest. These are cars that entered production without precedent and really changed their market segments. Marketing does not get much better than this, and many other car companies should take notes.
As for the Gallardo’s awesome sound, here is Top Gear’s review of the Spyder. Go to (2:40) to hear it in all it’s glory.