Bentley “Flying Spur” Type Four Door Continental Sporting Saloons:by Ian Dixon Potter
The recent introduction of the new Bentley Flying Spur is an appropriate moment to consider the original Flying Spur, which was one of eleven variations of four door sporting saloon produced between 1957 and 1965 and based on the S Series Continental chassis.
In 1954 the R Type Continental was introduced. Initially only one body style was available, the fastback two door coupe coach built by HJ Mulliner of Chiswick and inspired by the 1949 Cadillac coupé which it strongly resembled in all respects, other than the arrangement of headlamps and radiator. This and later Continentals differed from the standard saloons in a number of respects. The lower sleeker bodywork was more aerodynamically efficient. The body was entirely made of aluminium, unlike the standard car which was predominantly steel. As a consequence it was significantly lighter. In the R Type and S1 Continentals a raised compression ratio, more efficient exhaust and much higher gearing combined to produce a considerably faster car. The Continentals also sported different tyres to the standard saloon. HJ Mulliner built 193 R Type continentals and between them Park Ward, Franay, Graber, and Farina produced a further 15.
The HJ Mulliner and Park Ward two door body styles continued for the longer and more spacious S Type Continental which also sported a completely different fascia to the standard saloon with the incorporation of a rev counter (as with the R Type Continental) and the grouping of the dials ahead of the driver. The S1 Continental had the larger engine which featured on the later R Types and in 1956 gained a further increase in compression ratio, together with larger carburettors and a redesigned head with larger inlet valves.
There were those who felt that such a large car with such generous rear accommodation should, from both a stylistic and practical point of view, have the convenience of four doors and so in 1957 the first and ultimately most numerous of the four door Continentals appeared.
This was the “six light” Flying Spur by HJ Mulliner named after the heraldic emblem of the Mulliner family. In fact Mulliner originally produced an almost identical but slightly taller body style for the standard S1 chassis and a two door variant for both standard and continental chassis. Herbert Nye and the team at Crewe cooperated on the design of the bodywork, which was not unlike a stretched version of the two door Continental excepting the notchback effect at the tail and larger boot. The most distinctive element of this style was the pronounced curve in front of the rear wheel arch echoing the shape of the separate wings of earlier cars and terminating the swage line three quarters along the length of the rear door.
As with all the other four door Continentals, the Flying Spur was significantly lower than the standard saloon giving rise to the false impression of greater length and an altogether more sporting appearance. Despite the fact that this car was mechanically a “Continental” with all the features which distinguished this model from the standard cars, Rolls-Royce Ltd wanted the four door car to be referred to as the “Flying Spur” rather than the “Continental although HJ Mulliner persuaded the company to adopt the Continental nomenclature.
Between 1957 and 1965 there were eleven variations of the four door continental produced by three coachbuilders and powered by two different engines.
Pressure from customers persuaded HJ Mulliner to produce a “four light” version of the same body style sometimes referred to as the “blind rear quarter Flying Spur”. The absence of a large rear quarter light may have introduced a blind spot but aesthetically this car was an improvement on the “six light”, the heavier C pillar better integrating the roof with the lower body thus creating a more flowing homogenous design with stronger more purposeful rear quarters. The character of the four light was more sporting and gave the impression of being hewn from one piece of metal rather than being divided by a more extensive glazed area. The same could be said for the difference between James Young’s four light and later six light variations of their four door Continental. HJ Mulliner’s four light model continued to be available for the S2 and S3 Continentals, but was always produced in much smaller numbers than the six light.
James Young of Bromley also decided to produce a four door Continental sporting saloon. This model, often referred to as the “James Young Flying Spur” was very similar in design to the HJ Mulliner four light, although the James Young design was smoother and more subtly curvaceous than the Mulliner car. The doors and wings were more rounded in profile with greater “tumblehome” and the boot line curved distinctly downwards in comparison to the more rectangular boot of the Mulliner car.
Whereas the Mulliner cars had sidelights mounted on protuberances on top of the front wing, the James Young cars had a cleaner frontal appearance with the wing line curving down uninterrupted by sidelights, which were mounted much lower. In this respect the James Young car was closer in frontal appearance to the earlier R Type Continental. Other subtle differences were the use of sharper edges to the bottom of the front windscreen, the use of a chrome surround to the rear window and James Young’s distinctive square buttoned door and boot handles. More significantly, the James Young body featured a continuous, unbroken swage line from front to rear and was one of the first and most successful body styles on a Rolls-Royce or Bentley Chassis produced by an English coachbuilder which fully embraced the full width body concept, without relying on a visual suggestion of the separate wings of earlier cars. This is a subtle but very significant departure which although heralded by some of the French, Swiss and Italian stylists was never more successful than on the James Young four door Continental, which some regard as the most attractive of all variants of the model. There were only twenty two of these cars built although some of these may have been two door Continentals.
A fourth variant of the S1 four door Continental was produced by Hooper although there were only six built to this rather eccentric design which featured hooded headlamps positioned on the extremity of the wings, odd shaped side windows and a drooping swage line which terminated just in front of the rear wheel. Although not to every ones taste this was a very distinctive car with a slightly more modern feel than the other Continentals, largely as a consequence of the position of the headlamps.
This body style continued virtually unchanged for the V8 engined S2 although there was only one car built, this being the last ever body produced by Hooper.
The six light and four light HJ Mulliner Flying Spurs continued for the S2 with the six light again being by far the most numerous of all the four door S2 Continentals. Both cars had a lower radiator shell compared to the S1, with the bonnet sloping downwards rather than being parallel to the roofline and featured revised rear lights and boot lid. The James Young four door Continental also continued, but only as a six light variant (with a wrap around rear window) which replaced the four light variant which was only available on the S1 Continental chassis. Whilst the S1 Continental was mechanically quite different to the standard saloon, the V8 engined S2 was virtually identical mechanically to the standard S2 with the exception of higher gearing and the use of four pot braking system on the front brakes.
If one compares the prices of the various S2 Bentleys in 1959 it is interesting to note that the HJ Mulliner two and four door continentals were identical in price (£8119) whilst the James Young two door Continental (£8197), whilst being slightly more expensive than the HJ Mulliner cars was not as costly as the James Young four door (£8296), which was the most expensive of all variants and nearly 50% more expensive than the standard saloon (£5661).
For the S3 variant four door continentals were only available from two coachbuilders: HJ Mulliner and James Young. James Young dropped their two door Continental and continued only with the four door which was unchanged from the S2 in appearance with the exception of the new twin headlamp treatment of all S3s.
The HJ Mulliner version continued to be available as a four light and six light although the six light now featured smaller rear quarter windows. As with the S1 and S2 the HJ Mulliner Flying Spur was far more numerous than the James Young (291 HJ Mulliner S3’s produced compared to only 20 S3’s produced by James Young).
In addition to these eleven variations on the Bentley four door Continental there were also a number of Rolls-Royces produced with both the HJ Mulliner and James Young Flying Spur type bodywork. To confuse matters further some of these were built on the continental chassis and others on the standard chassis.
Nearly half a century after the introduction of the original Flying Spur the name resurfaces on the new Bentley sporting saloon. Only time will tell if, in another fifty years, examples of this new model are cherished and appreciated as much as the original models described here.
This article prompted the following letter from Arthur Johnstone, published in Bulletin 277 Jul/ Aug 2006
I was most interested to read Ian Dixon Potter’s most comprehensive article in B275 about the various body styles on the R Type Continental chassis.
As I have written elsewhere, I started working at HJ Mulliner in 1947 until the mid 1960’s and with my employment there I hope he will not mind me correcting one or two points relating to the original R Type Continental and the Flying Spur.
The original concept for the Continental was before the 1939-45 war when Rolls-Royce had a plan suggesting that there should be a higher performance car with an illustration of a sloping back style. In the late 1940’s Evernden (Ev) pursued this in conjunction with Walter Slater of Franco Brittanic Autos of Paris and I remember reading a quite comprehensive brochure, prepared I think by Ev, which revived the pre-war plan with a more modern fast back style and which I expect is now in the records at Paulerspury. However the plan depended on having a suitable body and, as I have written before, Stanley Watts, technical director at HJ Mulliner, came up with an all metal lightweight structure, but with the traditional aluminium panels. The weight reduction was so startlingly low on the first model with this framework that Crewe decided to proceed with the R Type Continental. I well remember that Stanley Watts claimed that he personally drew it straight on to the full size drawing. Herbert Nye did do a scale drawing of it but this was just a record of Stanley Watts’ design. I have no recollection of the Crewe design or the final HJ Mulliner design being inspired by a 1949 Cadillac.
I must correct that the Flying Spur emblem is named after the Mulliner family. When the S series started it was intended that the S type Continental should be only a 2 door model, as in fact the R Type Continental was. However HJ Mulliner wanted to build a 4 door model on the Continental chassis and HT Johnstone (HTJ) Managing Director of HJ Mulliner, persuaded Dr Llewellyn Smith (LS-known to his more intimate colleagues as ‘Doc’ Smith) to allow them to build a 4 door model on this chassis. HTJ wanted to give this model the name ‘Flying Spur’ which is well documented as the heraldic symbol of the Johnstone Clan in Scotland. The ‘Flying Spur’ was supposedly awarded to the Johnstone clan for their help in allowing Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape from the English on horseback. I have always thought that it was not really appropriate to use the family crest on a motor car – particularly now that the modern Flying Spur is actually built in Germany.
The original Flying Spur radiator mascot. HT Johnstone had it made made to go on the Flying Spur prototype. It was mounted on the radiator cap, with the Flying B removed.
I wrote recently to the Managing Director of Bentley Motors at Crewe about the origin of the name and had a very courteous reply from Dr Ing Franz-Josef Paefgen, Chairman and Chief Executive, who pointed out that Flying Spur is a registered trade mark of Bentley Motors having been first registered by Rolls-Royce when they took over HJ Mulliner in 1959. I still have the actual Flying Spur radiator mascot which HTJ had made for the first Flying Spur car.
Ian Dixon Potter replies as follows:
Clearly I was misinformed about the origin of the heraldic emblem, although anyone who has seen the Cadillac in question cannot doubt that it served as the inspiration for the R Type Continental. The car is virtually identical except in the frontal treatment.
Speaking as an architect I often design what I assume to be a unique feature and later discover that it has been designed by an earlier architect. I assume that I subliminally absorbed the former motif or feature, having seen it and forgotten about the source of my inspiration.
The Cadillac came into production a few years before the Bentley and it is therefore reasonable to assume an influence, be it either subliminal or deliberate.
Ian Dixon Potter