After nearly two decades of quietly marching along in the shadow of its parent marque Rolls-Royce, Bentley Motors finally got the freedom to create an exclusive and unique new model that returned the company to its sporting roots. Following on the success of the Mulsanne Turbo and Turbo R, designers set out to create a high-performance, yet opulent four-seat grand touring coupe in the spirit of the R-Type Mulliner Fastback of the 1950s. The gorgeous Continental R debuted in 1991, sharing its underpinnings with the Turbo R, including the 330 horsepower 6.75-liter turbocharged V8. The sleek, elegant two-door coupe, penned in-house by John Heffernan and Ken Greenley was the first Bentley since the 1960s not to share a body with Rolls-Royce. Upon its debut, it was met with praise and awe by journalists and the public alike, with more than 1,200 units sold in the car’s eleven-year production run.
Despite being the most expensive four-seat car in the world, customers soon demanded more exclusivity, and Bentley responded by offering a bespoke customization program under the Mulliner name. They soon added a new model; an open-air version named Azure, which joined the line in 1996. The design lent itself well to going roofless, and name conjured images of carefree, wind-in-the-hair motoring along the salubrious coastline of the French Riviera.
Bentley called upon Pininfarina to design and construct the power-operated convertible top, trusting the Italian firm not to spoil the beautiful lines and proportions. The luxury of a folding soft-top added more than £22,000 over the price of a coupe, thereby ensuring exclusivity. Just as with the Continental R before it, the Mulliner option for the Azure arrived in 1999, allowing those with the means to create a unique combination of colors, fittings, and high-performance options. With the MSRP easily surpassing $400,000, the Azure Mulliner was one of the most expensive grand touring cars on the planet, and Bentley produced just 155 examples between 1999 and 2003. The name returned in 2006, based on the new Arnage platform.
This 2003 Bentley Azure is from the final year of production of the first generation series, desirably equipped with Mulliner equipment and the full high-performance drivetrain. This top-spec version features the muscular wide-body fender flares, 18-inch chrome wheels, and mighty 400 horsepower 6.75-liter V8 shared with the short-wheelbase Continental T. This car was sold new via Braman Bentley in Miami, Florida, and is one of only fourteen left-drive Azures constructed in 2003.
Finished in white over a tan leather interior, this car has covered just 16,700 miles from new, backed by the accompanying clean Carfax report. Also, the report shows this car has had four owners and was dealer serviced for much of its early life. This car features the distinct Mulliner bodywork including flared wheel arches, extended sills, unique bumpers and vents cut into the front wings. Stainless steel mesh inserts in the grille, side vents and bumpers pair with the big 18-inch chrome wheels to give a decidedly aggressive look. The paintwork presents in excellent condition all around, with straight and crisp panels and consistent shut lines. A couple of minor touch-ups are found on close inspection; however, the overall presentation is outstanding. The doors open and close with vault-like solidity, giving the impression this big Bentley is carved from a solid billet.
Once aboard, swaths of natural tan leather upholstery, wool carpets, and wood trim greet the occupants. The leather upholstery presents in fine condition overall, with appropriate levels of creasing and light wear that is consistent with the mileage. Some weathering is apparent on the front seats, no doubt resultant of the car’s life in warm southern climates. Beautiful woodwork covers the instrument fascia, center console, and door caps – featuring two-tone veneers and inlaid Bentley logos. Overall, the wood is in excellent order, with some light weathering and nicks visible, mainly on the driver’s door top. Of course, the windows and top are electrically operated.
With more than 400 horsepower and 645 ft-lbs of torque on tap from the 6.75-liter V8 engine, performance is astonishing, particularly considering the Azure’s substantial 5,700-pound curb weight. All of that power goes through a GM-sourced four-speed automatic gearbox, specially strengthened for duty in the big Bentley. Zero to sixty comes in six seconds flat, and the top speed is electronically limited to 155 miles per hour. With fewer than 17,000 miles from new, the engine is clean and tidy, and receipts show new hydraulic suspension spheres purchased in 2018, and the previous owner reports the top hydraulics were rebuilt by an independent specialist. The sale includes the original owner’s handbook and jack.
After more than 15 years, the Azure Mulliner still has an undeniable presence. Few cars before or since can match its burly good looks and astonishing performance. The marvelous example is sure to provide many more miles of effortless, high-speed motoring, even if you don’t live in the South of France.
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