Trouble with tops Bentley Continental GTC convertibles

This Bentley GTC convertible top article has been updated as of spring 2019.
Over the years, Robinson Service has acquired a reputation for knowing convertible tops on Rolls Royce and Bentley cars.  As a result, we see cars with all manner of problems.  Intellectually challenging as that may be, it sometimes makes me long for the days when service was simple and the only convertible top problems, we saw were from something obvious, like vandalism.

It was August 2013 we saw our first of a new Continental GTC top mechanism.  This car came in with an opening problem, and damage to the outer fabric.  The owner thought he needed a new outer skin and some straps he’d see broken.  He’d done some research online and found people talking about strap breakage, and the holes in his outer skin made that part of the problem self-evident.

However, as is often the case, we found more to the story.  When we cycled the top we saw the rear edge of the top (which folds up) was scraping the edge of the swing-up boot.  This has been going on long enough to scuff the paint from the boot and cut the fabric bead of the top right through to the metal.  In addition, the top was folding wrong, and there were several patched holes to the left of the rear window.
“The dealer I bought it form must have done that,” the owner explained.  He told me he’d assumed the car would need a top, and he’d budgeted $3-4,000 to make the change.

When we looked closer, we saw that one of the inner securing straps was broken, and the cables and headliner were beginning to unravel on the left side.  It was cleat that something had gone wrong on the left side of the top.  It looks like the straps (which keep the top in place as it folds) had ripped away from the top, which left the top bunch up and tangle in the bows.  We’ve seen that happen on Azure cars, and it often leads to big trouble there, as the tangled fabric causes the bows to bend, and the now-misaligned top will never work smoothly no matter how you adjust it.

Indeed, when we made some measurements, we found the two rear bows were slightly out of alignment or bent.  The way Bentley engineers designed this system it does not take much misalignment to cause a collision between top and boot, with the virtual assurance of additional trouble.

Looking at the workshop manual, it appears the only reliable way to fix this problem is to install a new top assembly, at a cost of $21,500 plus installation.  Looking online, I see there are aftermarket suppliers offering the Haartz top skins alone for $2,800.  However, a skin alone won’t fix this situation.  And once you get into replacing the pad, liner, and inner bow pieces the costs quickly approach that of a complete assembly.

The owner of this car looked at three other similar Bentleys in Florida, and saw the same damage on each.   That makes me wonder if this is a designed-in problem that will plague every Bentley convertible, or if these are just four unlucky people.

Since that day we have seen dozens of Bentley GTC with identical top failures. Our experience (and that of some of our dealer friends) is that the only lasting fix is to replace the whole top assembly (currently a $25k job.). Replacing just the outer canvas is a patch that’s doomed to end in failure.

Bentley allows these tops to be raised and lowered when the car is moving. We theorize that the top frames are vulnerable to twisting when the top is raised and it is hit by wind gusts, as would happen if raised in a moving car on a windy day.  We also theorize that the frame may be getting warped when the stay cables break and the fabric mis-folds.

Whichever the mechanism, the cables break, the frame deforms, and the structure becomes junk. There are at this time no replacement bows, and canvas repair alone won’t fix the underlying structure.

I’ve heard accounts of Bentley taking care of original purchasers with top failure, but second owners seem to be on their own.  At Robison Service we replace tops using the latest Bentley pieces. It’s expensive, but so are other jobs on these cars.

John Elder Robison

About John:

John Robison is the founder of J E Robison Service Co of Springfield, MA. His company specializes in the repair and restoration of Rolls Royce and Bentley motorcars.  John is also known as an author and advocate for people with autism and neurological differences.  His books include Look Me in the EyeBe Different, and Raising Cubby. John has also written numerous articles on Rolls Royce service and repair, and he’s a frequent contributor to the RROC technical forums. He’s always available to advise owners about the care and feeding of their fine motorcars.  www.robisonservice.com  413-785-1665