1980-1992 Bentley Mulsanne Buying Guide
The 1980s Bentley Mulsanne oozes old money and class, but it can bite if you buy a poor example. This is what to look for
How much to pay
• Project £2000-3000 • Good £5000-8500 • Concours £8750-14000
Running costs ★★
DIY friendly ★★★★
The Bentley Mulsanne range has long been overshadowed by its turbocharged stablemates, and its sisters bearing the Spirit of Ecstasy. Yet there is no reason why this should continue. After all, the 1980s Bentleys embody all that is right about style and class. It may be the most genteel version from that era, but whoever purchased a 17ft saloon for driving hard anyway?
The Mulsanne lets you waft along in a world of peace and inner harmony. You are, after all, driving your own Bentley – and to enjoy that experience to the full, here’s what you need to check.
Your AutoClassics Bentley Mulsanne inspection checklist
Bentley has been using the Rolls-Royce pushrod V8 since the engine was introduced in 1955 and, barring a size increase to 6750cc in 1967, the unit has barely changed since. It is notoriously understressed, which is why Rolls-Royce always claimed the power output was ‘adequate’; the marque was uncomfortable admitting that it got less than 200bhp from a 6.75-litre engine. Hydraulic tappets can wear and replacement is not cheap – you’ll pay upwards of £1500 for parts alone.
At one stage General Motors offered acceptable replacements, yet owners have recently reported that GM tappet quality has deteriorated. Blocks can also corrode, and given the fine tolerances involved this can be an expensive concern. Walk from any car that emits a death rattle – it will be too late, and the engine will need a full rebuild. For an adequate rebuild, the cylinder liners should be removed.
Service bills won’t be cheap, and we’d run away from a car that lacks any evidence of regular expenditure. For instance, the engine uses 18 litres of coolant and 9.4 litres of engine oil, plus plugs and filters – and Rolls-Royce specialist labour doesn’t come cheap.
Mulsannes used the three-speed General Motors Turbo Hydramatic 400 series, along with other Rolls-Royce and Bentley products of the period. This is a sturdy gearbox and there is widespread knowledge as to how to rebuild it. Parts are universally available, too, so this should pose no issues. Later SZ-body cars used the GM 4L80E, which in theory can be retrofitted to an earlier model should you want to upgrade to four speeds.
Suspension and brakes
Check for LHM leaks, and budget for new hoses if anything is dripping. Likewise, budget about £3000 to overhaul the whole braking system if the car has been standing. A knocking noise under braking signifies that the hydraulic pump is on its way out. The triple-circuit braking system is the same as it is on the earlier T-series, and is notoriously complicated – we advise that only Rolls-Royce and Bentley specialists be entrusted with any braking repairs.
Knocking from the front suspension is typically down to ball joints; these are relatively inexpensive to replace, but you should negotiate the price of a potential purchase accordingly – we’d be aiming for £250 off the asking price for each side that needs to be done.
Likewise, bounce the rear of the car on test. If it doesn’t bounce and then return, the suspension self-levelling spheres will need to be replaced or recharged – they go firm as they lose pressure. Bank on about £600 for a proper job.
The Bentley Mulsanne is a large car – and that means a lot of metal to rot. While the wags may argue that a Bentley doesn’t rust, the truth is that it simply fails to avoid the process of oxidisation. The wheelarches and sills are the most important areas to check, as these are the places that rust first. Any poor or half-baked repairs here will indicate the potential condition of the rest of the shell.
Rear spring pans can corrode, too, so make sure they’re solid. Many panels are aluminium, so you can avoid rust on most of the outer shell – but beware of galvanic corrosion issues where the aluminium meets steel. Also, as aluminium is softer than steel, it’s more susceptible to parking dents. The edges of the windows and around the door handles can act as water traps, and in places where the trim has rubbed against the body and allowed the paint to wear away rust can begin to form.
Paint should be deep and clear with no evidence of orange peel – a substandard paint job can really let down one of these cars, so if it’s had rectification or a respray ensure the work hasn’t been done on the cheap. An easy tell-tale is the presence of large amounts of filler under the paint – if you can see it, walk away. Finally, bumper corners can be damaged when owners misjudge the size of their cars. It’s not the end of the world, but make sure the car’s price reflects any necessary repairs.
The interiors of Bentleys of this era were hand-made, and what can be hand-produced can be hand-replicated at a cost – so even the worst cabins can be restored. However, from a financial perspective it makes sense to source a car with the best possible interior.
There is no standard specification, as these models were built to order. Dashboards could be trimmed in any manner of wood or other material the first owner chose, and the seats need not be leather. Many earlier examples were even trimmed in velvet, sometimes with West of England cloth headlinings.
Most desirable for resale are cars fitted with burr walnut dashboards and pale leather trim, though personal taste may dictate you search for something more unusual. Piano black is commonplace for upgrades, while leather has often been painted in a colour chosen by a subsequent owner.
Leather can crack, while veneer and lacquer can both lift on the wood. We would advise you avoid cars with interior damage such as this. Similarly, avoid examples with electrical issues – a central-locking solenoid, for instance, could cost upwards of £300.
- 1980: Bentley Mulsanne launched as replacement for T2.
- 1980: Bentley Mulsanne L launched using Silver Spur extended body.
- 1982: Bentley Mulsanne Turbo launched.
- 1984: Bentley Eight launched as entry-level model. Standard specification includes cloth headlining and seats, plus a mesh grille for the first time.
- 1987: Bentley Mulsanne S launched – NASP engine with the Turbo R’s suspension and interior trim. Alloy wheels are standardised.
- 1988: All models offered with twin round headlamps to replace square units.
- 1992: Mulsanne S production ceases, to be replaced by Bentley Brooklands.
The Bentley Mulsanne is not a car to buy unless you know you can afford to run it. Beware that many classic Bentleys have been run on a budget and that they can hide a litany of issues. However, if you are careful, buy wisely and spend as much money as you can afford on the best car you can get, a Mulsanne will be an enjoyable and rewarding appreciating asset.
Think of it as a more restrained version of the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit. It could never be called subtle – but it’s got class aplenty.
Looking for that perfect Bentley Mulsanne for sale?
Why not have a browse through the AutoClassics classifieds? We have several healthy Bentley Mulsannes for sale.