1961 Bentley S2 Continental Flying SpurCoachwork by H.J. Mulliner
“The Bentley S2… gives high-speed travel in silence and luxury, while the driver and passengers enjoy the sense of well-being that only British craftsmanship can give. The V8 engine, with its flashing acceleration, certainly contributes to the result and is a definite step forward…” – Autosport magazine’s contemporary road test of the new Bentley S2.
The Bentley S-Type and equivalent Silver Cloud saloons introduced in 1955 were landmark cars for the company. Thoroughly modern, spacious, comfortable, quiet and powerful, although still built on a separate chassis, they signified the beginning of the end of the coachbuilt Rolls-Royce or Bentley.
Advances came, though, in the form of the S-Type Continental two-door models that were launched within months of the Standard Steel Saloon. The stunning drophead coupés by Park Ward and a desirable and sporting ‘fastback’ by H.J. Mulliner were heirs to the iconic R-Type Continental, a ground-breaking car of only a few years before.
Aluminium coachwork, a raised compression ratio and a longer final drive made these Bentleys more sporting than the equivalent saloon – despite their still impressive size – all the while cossetting the driver and up to three passengers in the best traditions of the marque: Connolly leather, exquisite fine wood marquetry, wool headlining, deep Wilton carpet and a host of bespoke extras from picnic tables to cut glass decanters and glasses.
It took two years before Rolls-Royce relented to customer demand for the pace and exclusivity of the Continental combined with the practicality of four doors. H.J. Mulliner, via its designer Herbert Nye, was chosen for the project, the resulting car named after the Clan Johnstone crest of Mulliner’s then managing director, Harry Talbot Johnstone, a ‘Flying Spur’. The first car was on the road in May 1957 and deliveries commenced with a pair of Flying Spurs exported to the USA just two months later.
As the initial S-Type was superceded by the V8-engined S2 in 1959, so too were the Continental two-doors and Flying Spurs. Still hand-bodied in aluminium, the new cars enjoyed around 25 per cent more power and were brisk performers and effortless to drive, thanks in part to the now standard automatic transmission. Taking advantage of the more compact dimensions of the 6230cc V8, the bonnet line was lowered, giving the S2s a sleeker profile accentuated by a new radiator shell with a slightly forward lean. All Continentals had four-shoe front brakes and, on chassis numbers up to BC99BY, higher gearing.
The customer-base remained the traditional landowners and captains of industry so familiar to the marque, with an increasing number of show business personalities and Hollywood moguls who chose Bentley’s impossibly expensive sporting saloon over showier, home-grown alternatives.
In total, Bentley made 122 S2 Continentals, of which just 54 were left-hand drive.
This motor car
West Coast Rolls-Royce dealer to the stars, Peter Satori of Pasadena (whose clients included British actor James Mason and Elvis Presley) handled the order from Mrs Charles Davis of San Marino, California, for this left-hand-drive S2 Continental Flying Spur. According to chassis records accompanying the car, coachbuilders H.J. Mulliner received the chassis in January 1961, it was road-tested on 16th May and then delivered on 4th June for shipping on 14th August 1961 from Southampton to New York on the Queen Mary.
Mrs Davis’s specification for her new acquisition was typical of West Coast orders of the time, and included:
Blue Spot (‘Blaupunkt’) Köln radio
Electrically operated aerials and windows
Firestone sports whitewall tubeless tyres
‘Full refrigeration (Texas)’ air-conditioning
Two loose cushions
Front seats modified to suit owner
Bentley motif fitted – mascot supplied loose
The ‘R.A.C.’ badge, ‘G.B.’ plate and registration ‘APD 888’ suggest close links with the mother country, although the back-story of Mrs Davis and her new Bentley Continental Flying Spur remains an intriguing mystery. It is quite possible that Mrs Davis, like many fellow Americans at the time purchasing a new luxury motorcar built in Europe, chose to tour the Old Continent with it, before it was shipped to the USA. As delivered, the car was handsomely finished in Smoke Green with green Connolly upholstery.
Over the following years the car enjoyed a variety of owners before restoration (believed ca. 2000), then purchase by the current Swiss-resident British gentleman collector in 2008. He has sympathetically brought it up to excellent ‘driving’ condition for rallies and owners meetings in the Alps. The brakes and gearbox have been rebuilt (the latter still under guarantee) and the car is now resplendent in rich Burgundy paintwork with a reupholstered tan interior. Electronic ignition has been fitted, while much of the wiring has been replaced. To quote the owner, whose experience of fine motor cars goes back many decades: “I am about to enter my 80th year, and my Bentley is too big for me. The car is in near concours condition and needs no money to be spent. No water or oil consumption. I have taken part in a number of rallies in Switzerland, and have driven the car a couple of time from here to our house in the South of France. It is fast and safe, heated and on charge, and ready to be driven away tomorrow.”
‘BC90LBY’ featured in the Bentley Drivers' Club Review, April 2011. It comes complete with its owners manuals, handbook, the original Milliner drawings, Swiss Permis de Circulation and Visite Technique. Importation to Europe, if desired, is straightforward and will attract only the reduced 5% rate of VAT through the UK.
Luxurious and swift, the Continental Flying Spur was the ultimate cross-country conveyance for four and their accompanying luggage. Keith Richards drove his all the way to Marrakech in the Sixties, and it was sold at auction last year for £763,000. This fine car is a good example of the type, ready for its new owner and friends to enjoy long-distance adventures in the spirit of the Clan Johnstone motto: Nunquam Non Paratus – ‘never unprepared’.