Bentley W-12 cutaway

Despite being in the automotive business for most of my working life, and much of it in England, I had never visited the Bentley HQ in Crewe until last week. Ever a sucker for factory tours, my eye was taken by a cutaway of the W-12 engine that’s used in Audi, VW, and Bentley products. I always knew that the 12 was a couple of Volkswagen VR6 engines on a common crankcase, but had never seen the guts before. So, you look at the block and think, er, what the hell does the crank and con-rod assembly look like?

Later on, we saw a W-12 crank with its connecting rods and pistons, and you had to wonder who the mad genius was behind this engine. After all, it’s one of the very few motors that’s wider than it is long, at 28.7 inches front to rear and  29.5 inches side to side.

I asked a high-up in the VW Group whether the engine was the work of Karl-Heinz Neumann, the company’s engine guru at the time. Unequivocally, he said: “The W-12 was [Ferdinand] Piëch, drawing on a napkin. He was inspired by an Italian military W-18 marine engine. As usual, Neumann was inspired by Piëch.”

I heard further evidence on the launch of the Bentley Mulsanne (a car we’ll tell you more about shortly) that Piëch is different from most car-company leaders. He reviewed a rework of Bentley’s long-lived V-8 pushrod engine and requested to the lead engineer that cost be taken out by replacing studs in the engines with bolts. Now, how many car-company execs would know the difference between the two?

By Mark Gillies