Bentley coupe enters uncharted territory

ROLLS-ROYCE yesterday unveiled the Bentley of the future - a two-door sporty convertible coupe, with a turbo-charged V8 Cosworth engine, a top speed of 155mph, and a price tag approaching pounds 100,000.

The concept car (above), codenamed the Java, has been two years in design and, if the crowds surrounding it are any guide, is set to take the Geneva Motor Show by storm.

Peter Ward, Rolls-Royce's managing director, said the next 12 months would be spent testing market reaction to the car. If that proved positive, it could be in the showrooms in four years, with a minimum production of 1,500 a year.

Designed as two cars in one - a coupe on the one hand and a four-seater convertible on the other - the Java would take Rolls-Royce away from its traditional market and into the uncharted territory occupied by the likes of the Aston Martin DB7 and the Mercedes SL.

The rear-wheel-drive Java has been built with a steel understructure and aluminium panels. Its features include anti-skid control, self-levelling suspension and driver and passenger airbags, and it is the product of a joint styling study by an in-house design team and Design Research Associates, headed by the former Chrysler and Rover design chief, Roy Axe.

Mr Ward said that Rolls- Royce, which made a profit last year for its owners, Vickers, could develop and manufacture the Java on its own. But when it takes the plunge and goes ahead with a full-blooded replacement for the four-door Spirit, likely to cost up to pounds 200m, then it will need to find a partner or possibly a new parent company.

(Photograph omitted)