The Flying Spur: by Bernard L King
Bernard King is the author of the Complete Classics series of books, which contain a wealth of production information and illustrations for specific Rolls-Royce and Bentley models. Copies can be ordered from the Club shop (members only), or ordered direct from the Complete Classics website at www.completeclassics.fsnet.co.uk, where further information on the contents, updates and forthcoming titles can be found.
There is undoubtedly more confusion over the name given by the coachbuilder H J Mulliner & Co Ltd to their saloon design on the Bentley Continental chassis than to any other design that appeared on chassis emanating from the Bentley and Rolls-Royce works at Cricklewood, Derby or Crewe!
For more years than can be remembered, advertisements have offered “James Young Flying Spurs” and others, “One of only nineteen Flying Spur bodies fitted to a Silver Cloud chassis”. Both these statements are incorrect. Firstly, Flying Spurs were designed and only built by the long established London based coachbuilder H J Mulliner Ltd. Secondly, nowhere in promotional literature prepared at the time, is the similar design as fitted to the Silver Cloud III, referred to as a Flying Spur. Even more spurious is the statement that there were only nineteen on the Rolls-Royce chassis, as fifty four examples actually appeared. The author’s thinking on how this misnomer came about, appears later in this article.
Always intended as a 2-door sports saloon or drophead coupé, the S-Type Continental replaced the earlier R-Type Continental and first deliveries were made in late 1955. However, customer demand for a more sporty four-door saloon prompted H J Mulliner, via their designer Herbert Nye, to streamline their rather slab sided saloon designs 7401 for the standard Bentley S-Type and 7412 for the standard Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud chassis. It was then just a case of convincing the chassis manufacturer that a four-door style on the Bentley Continental chassis should be offered.
Rolls-Royce finally relented and the first “Flying Spur” was on the road in May 1957 and the first two production deliveries were made to American customers just two months later.
BC10DJ Fitted with special Park Ward interior, this S1 Continental has won numerous awards at Concours d’Elegance over the years and here it is seen at the 2005 Bentley Drivers Club Annual Rally and Concours at Hatfield House. The trademark red trousers are being worn by Bill Slater, a former employee at Crewe. (Kris Sukhu)
Right: BC36EL: a 4 door 6 light Flying Spur (Colin Hughes)
So how did the rather grand name “Flying Spur” come about? Harry Talbot Johnstone was Managing Director of H J Mulliner Ltd from 1944 until his retirement in December 1960. The crest of one of the many Johnstone families is the well-known “winged spur”
Johnstone ‘winged spur’
Particular Johnstones to bear this are:
Johnstone, Earls of Hartfell and Marquess of Annandale, title dormant since 1792 according to Burkes General Armory (1884), but claimed by Sir F J W Johnstone, Bt of Westerhall and J J Hope Johnstone of Annandale, and others. The crest is a winged spur Or (gold).
Other Johnstones that used a spur within their family coat of arms were:
Johnstone of Hackness Hall, co. York.
Crest: A spur erect, rowel (spiked revolving disc at end of spur) upwards, with wings elevated Or, leather Gules (red) buckle proper.
Johnstone of Gormack, Scotland.
Crest: A spur-rowel within two branches of palm in orle proper.
Johnstone of Poltoun, co. Edinburgh.
Crest: A spur proper between two wings Argent (silver)
Johnstone of Galabank, co. Dumfries.
Crest: A spur proper winged Or.
Johnstone of Lathrisk, co. Fife.
Crest: A spur placed upright the rowel in chief Or winged Argent leathered Gules.
Johnstone of Netherwood, co. Dumfries.
Crest: A spur with wings Or leathered Gules.
Johnstone of Pitkeirie, co. Fife.
Crest: A winged spur Or.
The late Harry Talbot Johnstone of H J Mulliner Ltd was probably of Scottish descent, but from which branch - take your pick!
The number of “Flying Spur” style bodies fitted to Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars is detailed in the table below. Readers should note however, that a number of additional bodies were built as replacements for those damaged beyond repair in accidents.
The A and B suffixes to the design number (suffix letter unknown for the single Silver Cloud III that we are aware of so far), signifies the rare and sought after 4-door, 4 light versions. LSFU119 was offered at the Retromobile auction in April 2006 but it failed to reach the reserve. Perhaps if the catalogue had revealed that the car was unique, it would have attracted a more acceptable bid!
BC9FM is an S1 4 door 4 light version of the Flying Spur design 7443/B (Colin Hughes)
Besides a few other detail differences, a fairly significant design change was made between the 7443 as fitted to the S1 Continental and the 7508 fitted to the replacement S2 Continental. S1 customers reported difficulty in raising the boot lid and lifting luggage above waist height to clear the sill. Minor changes to the bonnet area were necessary in order to accommodate the new V8 engine and at that time, the rear received H J Mulliner’s attention. The boot lid was enlarged and it opened from below waist level – immediately above the bumper. The registration plate, plate and reversing and reversing lights were repositioned to actually on the vertical area of the boot lid, whereas before, they had been situated below the boot lid.
Right: BC34XC also has a Webasto roof
Even rarer, was another version known in the factory as “with Peter van Gerbig small quarter lights”. Interestingly, Peter van Gerbig, an American citizen sometimes resident on this side of the4 Atlantic, received four new cars manufactured at Crewe during his lifetime. These were R-Type Continental BC22LD, S1 Continental BC8LBY and two standard steel salons, chassis numbers B26LEG and B134LEG. The fact that his “Flying Spur” BC87LBY apparently featured a standard 4-door, 6-light body (see photograph “The Flying Lady” page 4580) only adds to the confusion about the popular “Flying Spur” design amongst the Bentley and Rolls-Royce fraternity! Van Gerbig was obviously a great fan of the marque for his name appears frequently in the files at The Hunt House as purchaser of many other Bentleys purchased second hand. Whether a suffix letter was allocated for these derivates, we have been unable to discover.
As far as we are aware, until now, no picture of the Van Gerbig small quarter light version on the S3 Continental has ever been published and our attempt to obtain a photograph of BC144LXA from the last recorded owner in Utah, USA was rewarded with the news that the car was totally destroyed in a California garage workshop fire when undergoing refurbishment! However, we have been very fortunate as Davide Bassoli discovered a photograph of the 4 door-4 light version on a S3 Continental chassis BC22LXC (see below) on a recent visit to Florida. This is thought to be a unique car and apparently was specified with just single headlamps from new.
BC22LXC The rare four-light version of the Flying Spur. Though an S3 Continental, this example was fitted with single headlamps from new and is thought to be unique. (Richard Gorman/Vantage Motor Works via Davide Bassoli)
H J Mulliner’s Flying Spur appeared on the scene when the traditional Rolls-Royce customer base was changing rapidly; no longer British landowners and industrialists, but now international stars on television, the screen and stage were the predominant purchasers. However, these nouveau riche seemed to go for the more sporty two-door designs on the Continental chassis and amongst the Flying Spur customer list, the majority were delivered to “Captains of Industry” on both sides of the Atlantic.
Nevertheless, BC34LEL was delivered to the British born film director Alfred Hitchcock for use at his Californian home, BC21GN and BC16XC went to Fanny Craddock, the popular jewel bedecked host of a cooking programme on British television, Rolling Stone Keith Richard received BC68XE and James Carreras, head of Hammer Films Production Company took delivery of S2 BC14AR and S3 BC36XB. Later owners included the American film actor Gregory Peck who kept BC102LAR until his death, while on this side of the Atlantic, Elton John has had BC98AR and BC36CZ. Although, the popular music star disposed of many cars in his collection in recent years, it is believed that BC98AR is still in his possession. This is quite an interesting car as it was ordered by Guest Keen and Nettlefolds as a standard 4-door, 6-light Flying Spur but completed as a four-light version at the behest of the firm’s Chairman and Managing Director, Kenneth Peacock. As the result of an accident or perhaps he considered the four-light arrangement slightly claustrophobic, in any event a new six-light version quickly replaced the earlier four-light Flying Spur.
Moving on to the similar design bodies fitted to the Silver Cloud III but not marketed as “Flying Spurs”, it has generally been accepted that only nineteen were produced. However, following much research by the author for his forthcoming Complete Classics book on the Silver Cloud III and its stable mate, the Bentley S3, it is now known that fifty four (including a single 4 door-4 light version on chassis LSFU119) exited the works in North London behind a Rolls-Royce grille. Perhaps this lower production figure entered everybody’s grey matter as a like number (nineteen) of left hand drive cars were delivered. It is said that an avid British collector of Rolls-Royce motor cars, on learning that so few were built, endeavoured to collect them all. After amassing well on the way to that number, he either ran out of funds, or did someone tell him that he still had a long way to go for, in fact, there were actually fifty four H J Mulliner saloons fitted to the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III chassis?!
CSC3C is a 1965 Silver Cloud III Flying Spur saloon (Colin Hughes)
Wearing the British registration 4346DG, previously on standard Bentley S3 chassis number B216EC, this as yet unidentified Silver Cloud III was spotted at an RREC event during 2005. (via Andre Blaize)
MULLINER SPUR (1990-1992)
A variation on the name was used for a two-year period in the 1990s as the Mulliner Spur. This was a customised version of the popular Rolls-Royce Silver Spur introduced in 1980. Seventy one examples were produced, with the first delivered to a customer in the
USA during May 1990, and the last to Japan in August 1992.
ROLLS-ROYCE FLYING SPUR (1994-1995)
Fitment of a turbocharger was confined to Bentley models, that is, until introduction of the Rolls-Royce Flying Spur during 1994. With distinctive badging on the boot lid and on the kick plate of each door opening, the first was delivered to a British customer in June
1994 and the last to Germany in December 1995. Just 133 were built before a new turbocharged Silver Spur was introduced in late 1995.
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL FLYING SPUR (2005 onwards)
The second new model to appear from Bentley following its take-over by Volkswagen of Germany, was the Continental Flying Spur. The new car made its international debut at the Geneva Salon in March 2005 and shares heart and soul with its highly successful stable mate, the Continental GT.
It is a four-door Grand Tourer born of a coupé and is the fastest saloon style car in the company’s history and is currently the fastest in the world, with a top speed of 195mph. It marries the excitement, power, refinement and craftsmanship of the Continental GT with enhanced luxury and space to provide a supreme combination of performance, style and comfort.
The launch of the Continental Flying Spur is a further step forward in the revitalisation of Bentley, which began in 1998 with significant investment in Crewe, the company’s design, engineering and manufacturing headquarters.
Created at the state-of-the-art Crewe factory, where a 550-strong team of engineers has worked alongside Bentley’s renowned designers, craftsmen and craftswomen. Access to parent company Volkswagen’s worldwide engineering test facilities has also been of prime importance to the development of the Continental Flying Spur.
“The Continental Flying Spur is a brilliant example of how to match world-beating technologies with renowned craftsmanship,” says Bentley chairman Dr Franz-Josef Paefgen. “It is a performance car but not at the cost of comfort and as such represents a
**An all-new four-door Grand Tourer born of the Continental GT coupé that blends peerless Bentley craftsmanship and design with modern technologies.
**Inspired by the 1952 Bentley R-Type Continental and 1957 four-door Continental Flying Spur, from which the new model takes its name.
**Exhilarating super car performance thanks to a top speed of 195mph (312km/h) and a 0-60mph time of 4.9 seconds (0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds).
**Powered by a 6-litre, twin-turbocharged, 12-cylinder engine engineered and built at Bentley’s factory in Crewe. Tuned to provide 552 brake horsepower.
**A high-tech, all-wheel-drive system for exceptional stability and grip in any conditions is driven by an advanced six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shift controls.
**The Continental Flying Spur shares the massive braking system introduced on the Continental GT coupé. The 405mm ventilated front brake discs are the largest on any production passenger car on sale today.
**A stunning cabin that uses exquisite Bentley design and craftsmanship to create a spacious, welcoming interior. A classic mix of leather hides and wood veneers are combined to give a contemporary but timeless appearance.
**Over 11 leather hides are used to make a complete set of upholstery in the Continental Flying Spur. These are traditionally imported from northern Europe, where the relatively insect-free environment benefits leather quality.
**Spacious rear legroom provides total comfort for all passengers with a five or four-seat layout optional at the time of purchase.
**All expected technology and feature content in the Continental Flying Spur comes as standard, meaning customers only have to choose options in order to personalise their car, rather than complete it.
**Designed and developed in parallel with the Continental GT coupé at Bentley’s design studios and engineering facilities in Crewe to ensure ultimate synergy in their visual appearance and in their on-going engineering and development programmes.
Photographs courtesy of Bentley Motors Limited
A full technical specification is shown below
Our grateful thanks go to Bentley Motors, Davide Bassoli in Italy for the supply of photographs and confirmation of the van Gerbig style, Adrian L King for information on the Johnstone family crests, Klaus-Josef Rossfeldt’s book Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars from the Dawn of the 20th Century into the New Millenium, Barbara Westlake of the RREC for her kind assistance with production numbers and Philip Hall of the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation for confirming my thoughts on the cars fitted with Rolls-Royce radiator grilles.