Rare Rides: A 1994 Bentley Azure, As Built by Pininfarina
One of the most exclusive convertibles in the world when it was new, the Bentley Azure was a Rare Ride even in the Nineties. But today’s example is a special pre-production model. It was sent off to Pininfarina as a new Continental R, while the Azure was only a dream in Bentley’s head.
Let’s take a closer look at this incredibly rare cabriolet.
The more astute among you will have noted the Azure didn’t enter production until 1995 — and you’d be right. Though this pre-production car is registered as a 1994, it was surely built from a Continental R of model year 1992 or 1993. At the time Bentley was desperate for a more modern convertible. The company’s ragtop on offer through 1995 was basically the same one it offered in 1984, and the one Rolls-Royce had sold since 1966: A Rolls-Royce Corniche badged as a Bentley Continental. Through four iterations, the Sixties Corniche design had been fiddled with and updated as much as possible — it even had an auto-latching top and the four-speed transmission from a GMT 400 Tahoe. The new cabriolet needed to be something special, and Bentley needed assistance.
A long-distance call to Italy was in order.
As mentioned, the basis for the new Azure was Bentley’s Continental R coupe. On sale since the 1991 model year, Continental rode on the shared Bentley/Rolls-Royce platform, which underpinned most everything both companies made. But unlike in past instances, the Continental was not sold as a Rolls-Royce. As the Corniche bowed out and Azure entered production, Rolls-Royce went without a convertible in its lineup for about five years, until the Azure-based Corniche of 2000.
Pininfarina had its work cut out for it once Bentley delivered its coupes. In a two-year process, the Continental R was turned into a four-seat cabriolet using parts sourced mostly from the UK. Roof removed, the chassis was reinforced considerably as a targa bar was inconceivable for a car of this class. For production models, the fabric roof was constructed in Italy, and sent over to the factory at Crewe, England where Azures were completed.
Engineering an automatic roof for such a large car was no small ask. The Azure maintained the 120-inch wheelbase and 210-inch overall length of the coupe upon which it was based. Things started out very slowly, as in 1995 just nine examples were finished. Full production started in 1996, when 251 were completed.
Power was provided by the traditional six-and-three-quarter-liter Bentley V8, complete with turbo. The four-speed GM transmission was carried over from the old Continental cabriolet. All that power and bespoke luxury didn’t come cheap, as in 1995 the Azure asked £215,167. Adjusted for inflation and in US dollars, that’s $536,040. Not joking. Azure remained on sale through 2003, at which time it took a three-year hiatus. It returned in 2006, in line with the new (and beautiful) Brooklands coupe.
Today’s Rare Ride was one of four pre-production cars sent from Crewe to Pininfarina, then turned from Continental to Azure. Pininfarina kept it in its collection through 1997, when it was sold to a private customer of considerable connections and means. Never registered until 2000, its most recent service in 2004 took place at Pininfarina. Eventually it was sold to a second owner in Germany in 2005, where it remains today.
A bargain at $122,479.
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