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The Bentley Dominator: Bentley's First (And Unknown) SUV

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2017

As a lifelong SUV enthusiast (yes, we exist), I remember how thrilled I was the very first time I ever saw these images. They show a Bentley SUV, and I thought it was so freaking cool that Bentley, the vaunted luxury car manufacturer, might be building an SUV. Turns out, they were building an SUV -- but only six.

Yes, it's true: While you probably thought the new Bentley Bentayga was the first Bentley SUV, they've actually tried this before -- just once. Back in the mid-1990s, the Sultan of Brunei (or his brother, Prince Jefri) was the top customer for Rolls-Royce and Bentley, to the point where they were reportedly buying a third of all Rolls-Royce or Bentley models sold during certain years. Many contemporary accounts suggest Rolls or Bentley may have folded in the 1990s without the Sultan to keep them afloat.

But the Sultan (or Jefri) wasn't content on simply purchasing regular production models: He also commissioned many one-off vehicles that were designed solely for him and sold into his collection. Ferrari made several -- look up the Ferrari Testarossa F90 Speciale and the Mythos -- and Rolls-Royce and Bentley accounted for many more. There are Bentley station wagons, and Bentley coupes that didn't exist. And then there's the SUV.

It's called the Bentley Dominator, and, indeed, the Sultan had six built -- including one in yellow. Interestingly, the VIN numbers are easy to find on the Internet thanks to an extensive spreadsheet that includes all of the Sultan's vehicles, but the cars themselves are virtually never pictured: The only images are on airport runways, where the Dominators have been spotted getting on and off planes bound for (or returning from) Brunei.

So what's going on with the Dominator? Interestingly, not much is known. The architecture is very clearly shared with the Range Rover, and so is the overall appearance -- and the 4-wheel-drive system is said to be similar, too. Beyond that, we don't know what engine powers the Dominator (Land Rover's 3.9-liter V8? Bentley's 6.75-liter V8?), and we're not really sure how big it is -- or what it looks like inside.

Sadly, we may never know: The only contemporary piece written about the Sultan's collection came from the excellent Michael Sheehan, who visited Brunei and tried to broker a deal to save some of the collection's most valuable cars -- but nothing ever came of it. Sheehan reports, ominously, that "the bulk of the collection is still there and will die there, rotting into oblivion." The Dominators dominate no more.

 Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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The Bentley Dominator: Bentley's First (And Unknown) SUV - Autotrader