Among the many key words that Bentley claims were inspirations for the design strategy that underpinned the glorious new Continental Flying Spur (among them, ‘timeless’‘, ‘evocative’’ and ‘uncompromising’‘), my favourite has to be ‘unostentatious’‘. Oops: back to the drawing board, everyone.
The Flying Spur is just about as unostentatious as a 5m long, 2 300kg lump of perfectly tailored Bentley auto-mobile can be—which is to say, about as unostentatious as the Beckhams’ wedding.
Asking a Bentley not to draw attention to itself is like asking the pope to loosen up. It’s just not something one would really think of as viable at this time.
Still, the abject failure in this one area of the brief will come as a relief to fans of the marque, who would be likely to regard the very idea of Bentley deliberately building mobile wallflowers as some kind of sick joke. It certainly wouldn’t play well with the Bentley demographic.
Whatever the multiple reasons impelling someone to spend upwards of £115 000 on a motor car, the hope that that car should humbly hug the kerb and blend in with the weather cannot be one of them. You don’t buy a Bentley because you want it to sit quietly in the corner. You want it to leap up with its hand outstretched and say ‘Bentley, pleased to meet you’‘, in a deep English accent.
Then again, in Bentley’s own fabulously unequivocal terms, the Flying Spur is a little on the shy side. At any rate, judged in relation to the company’s thunderous, range-topping Arnage—a walnut-panelled study, masquerading as a limousine—it’s a reluctant, socially timid animal.
The Spur is the extrusion into saloon form of the company’s vibrant coupe, the Continental GT, which continues to do crisp business among Premier League footballers. (Show me the players’ car park without a Continental GT in it, and I’ll show you a lower league side.) Oozing class and money in almost equal quantities, the GT pretty much single-handedly changed the fortunes of Bentley, which was in danger of going the way of the oil lamp before it found this more dynamic and somewhat cheaper product to sell. Suddenly Bentley was a company that could build cars for the Queen of England and A-listers alike.
The idea behind the Flying Spur is to fill an alleged gap in the market.
You’ve been driving a Mercedes S class, or an Audi A8, or perhaps a BMW 7 series. You have grown bored and want to step up, but you’re not ready to lay down the gross national product of Borneo on an Arnage and risk appearing, to your neighbours, like someone with delusions of diplomatic or mayoral status. What do you buy?
You buy a Flying Spur. The car has been cunningly sized with the slightly twitchy, dissatisified CEO in mind. The comically vast amounts of leg room in the rear cabin (along with the individual climate controls and the burnished cubby holes and seat-back pockets) mean that the car will play well with self-made businessmen, politicians and people who have had their licences taken away. But the car isn’t so stately that that self-made businessman would feel stupid getting into the front seat and driving himself—not a facility available to Her Majesty in her ceremonial Bentleys. We are at the point, in other words, where a limo meets a regular saloon without laughing down its nose at it in a frankly unpleasant manner.
And, let’s face it, it would be a shame to own a Flying Spur and only let your chauffeur know the pleasure of driving it. Its nose-bleed-inducing maximum speed figures mean that this is the fastest saloon car in the world, making it both thrillingly swift and the card to have in any game of top trumps. For all that it is fat with polished cocktail cabinets and hand-crafted salary signifiers, it doesn’t take an awful lot longer to climb to 100kph than a Ferrari does. To push down on the accelerator in the Flying Spur is to hear the six-litre engine draw an aristocratic breath and to feel one’s head leap back into the beautifully cushioned headrest. At this point, one of two authorised exclamations may escape you—either Toad’s ‘Poop poop!’’ or Billy Bunter’s ‘Yaroop!’’ It’s your choice.
Inside, there is the standard Bentley commitment to finesse—the handstitching around the steering wheel, the painstakingly laminated dash and doors with the mirror-image grain. Woodwork, of course, is what Bentleys remain rightly prized for and the Flying Spur continues the tradition. You can’t make up your mind whether it’s been bolted together in aluminium or hollowed out of a tree.
As for the leather, Bentley chooses the skins of only the tenderest cattle, reared on northern European pastures, where the weather is colder and the cows are accordingly less bothered in the hide region by insects. I’m not making this up. All that whipping of flies with the tail can wear a cow’s backside out, apparently, to the point where Bentley simply isn’t interested in it any more.
More than 11 cows have given up their lives so that each Flying Spur may have a leather interior. (They’ll have supplied some meat, too, of course, albeit not specifically to Bentley.) Heartfelt thanks, then, to each and every one of those cows for their sacrifice. It wasn’t pretty for them, I’m sure. At the same time, though, if I knew I was coming back as a Bentley’s interior, I’d find the prospect of death, even by electronic cattle prod, more equable than I currently do, lacking that certainty. And let’s face it: being reconstituted inside one is the best chance most of us have of forging a lasting relationship with a Bentley. More’s the pity.—