2011 Bentley Mulsanne (© Robert J Pennington)Click to enlarge picture

2011 Bentley Mulsanne

Bentley unveiled its entirely new Mulsanne Sunday afternoon in front of the massive crowd at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. It was the first time a new vehicle has been revealed during the big event of Monterey Car Week, and we were there for all the fanfare. But it wasn't the first time MSN Autos got a look at this fine automobile. The day before, we headed out into the winding hills north of Monterey to get an exclusive sneak peek at the newest ultra-luxe Bentley at an ultrasecret location in the tiny town of Tehama, Calif. Needless to say, it was well worth the trip.

Security was tight — we had to pass through three separate checkpoints before reaching our destination - and when we arrived, members of the Bentley reveal team were still fussing over the drape enveloping the car.

Sitting next to the covered Mulsanne was a piece of history: a 1930 Bentley 8-Liter, an almost impossibly enormous and thoroughly period vehicle that still somehow evokes the same design language - large round headlamps tight to the grille, a play on oval shapes - we recognize today as being uniquely Bentley. This particular auto was owned and driven by company founder W.O. Bentley himself, designed by W.O. specifically to be the greatest car of its time, and the very first capable of hitting the 100 mph mark.

After a bit of small talk ("yes, the Mulsanne is the name of a corner at Le Mans;"; "no, the Mulsanne is not based on the Arnage, which ends production this year;" etc.), Bentley designer Dirk van Braeckel pulled the cover off the car. Van Braeckel's excitement was palpable as he gave us a tour of the car.

The all-new Mulsanne is nothing short of incredible. How to describe it? "Significant" is a loaded word (though one fitting a thoroughly new model from the venerable house of Bentley) and "solid" doesn't do the car justice. Simply put, it's massive. The tires are massive; the grille is massive; the exhaust pipes and the headlights and the length are all massive; and yet nothing is out of proportion. It's an ultra-luxury sedan with the sporty feel of a coupe.

Van Braeckel made a point to highlight the vehicle's muscular haunches and slightly forward stance, the peaked lines that run the length of the bodywork, and how it directly references the curves of the tire guards on the 1930 8-liter.

He also pointed out finer niceties, such as the jeweled detailing of LED headlamps that create a signature look for the front end of the Mulsanne, and the complete lack of unnecessary breaks in the body, something, he eagerly pointed out, that can only be done in a hand-tooled car like this, and one of many reasons each Mulsanne will take an estimated 450 hours to build.

Most of the Mulsanne's specifications are under wraps until the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. However, we do know the engine is a V8 and the interior uses the high-quality wood, leather and metals that Bentley customers expect. The Mulsanne will go on sale in mid 2010, but no price has been set. Stay tuned for more.