Back in 1998, at the start of the messy divorce proceedings between Bentley and Rolls-Royce, suspicious traditionalists muttered that the brand's new owners - the Volkswagen group - had none of the necessary nous to maintain this ultra-luxurious, high performance British institution.
Of course, it turned out they needn't have worried. Bentley's modern incarnation was an engineering triumph, and the launch of the Continental GT in 2003 cemented the marque's name as a major player in modern luxury. This car, the Continental GTC Speed, is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the model before an all-new Continental hits showrooms early next decade.
The GTC Speed is not a subtle machine and that nomenclature is not just for show; the original GTC was no slouch, but added power pushes this open-topped two-tonner beyond the magical 200mph mark. The final Speed model to be added to the Continental stable, no other four-seater convertible comes close.
Inside and out, the GTC demonstrates the attention to detail the company prides itself on, with hand-stitched leather, polished wood and hand-milled metal controls all creating an exceptional tactile experience. Power delivery is as creamy as the deep carpets, and the car picks up and sheds speed in a way that belies its size.
It's not all plain sailing. Driving the big Bentley over London's myriad speed bumps feels rather like easing a grand piano down a steep flight of stairs, with ominous thumps and shudders accompanying each raising bit of roadway. And that exceptional interior is slightly marred by last generation technology - any off-the-shelf satnav could outperform Bentley's own model (although the Naim-built iPod-compatible audio system is beyond criticism).
If nothing else, the GTC Speed demonstrates the extraordinary breadth of ability of the modern supercar. Step back to the 70s and 80s, and the only cars with performance even approaching GTC Speed levels were out-and-out race cars for the road, including the most outlandish offerings from Ferrari and Lamborghini. No-one could ever have imagined something as sophisticated, comfortable and cosseting as the GTC would one day easily outdrag them.
There's also the pointed question of environmental impact, as a twelve-cylinder, 600 horsepower car is physically unable to have a lightweight footprint. But treat this car like an heirloom, not a trinket, and it'll last several generations; Bentley simply don't do disposable. For despite the heft, power and bulk, the GTC is remarkably liveable, the kind of car that becomes a trusted tool, rather than an unwieldy beast that must be tamed. All this, and the wind in your hair as well.
Continental GTC Speed, from £153,400, www.bentley-motors.com