Eulogising about Bentley's new 'S'-series cars, introduced in April 1955, The Autocar wrote, 'the latest Bentley model offers a degree of safety, comfort and performance that is beyond the experience and perhaps even the imagination of the majority of the world's motorists.' Later, in October that same year, the Bentley Continental became available on the 'S' chassis, the model having been synonymous with effortless high speed cruising in the grand manner since its introduction in R-Type form in 1952.
The S-Type's new box-section chassis incorporated improved brakes and suspension and an enlarged (to 4,887cc) and more powerful version of the existing inlet-over-exhaust six-cylinder engine. The Continental came with a higher compression ratio, shorter radiator and higher gearing and, for a time at least, could be ordered with right-hand change manual transmission. Independent coachbuilders continued to offer alternatives to the factory's 'standard steel' bodywork, perhaps the most stylish being those produced to cloth the Bentley Continental which was, of course, only ever available with bespoke coachwork.
Rolls-Royce had envisaged the Bentley Continental as exclusively a two-door car but late in 1957 the decision was taken to sanction the production of a four-door variation by H J Mulliner. Introduced on the S-Series Continental and known as the 'Flying Spur', this design was a collaborative effort by Rolls-Royce's in-house styling department and H J Mulliner, and bore a strong resemblance both to the two-door Continental and to existing coachbuilt four-door styles on Rolls-Royce and (non-Continental) Bentley chassis. To the Continental's existing qualities of pace and elegance, the Flying Spur added four-door practicality, a more spacious interior and a generously proportioned boot. Embodying all the splendour of the great pre-war Grandes Routières, the Continental Flying Spur cost £7,994 in 1957 some 44% more than the S-Series 'standard steel' saloon or more than three times the value of the average UK house. Ownership of what was one of the most expensive and exclusive automobiles of its day was necessarily confined to a handful of wealthy connoisseurs.
Chassis number 'BC45DJ' was delivered new to one such: Air Commodore Sir Egbert Cadbury, DSC, DFC, managing director of the eponymous chocolate manufacturing dynasty. It is one of only 14 Flying Spurs built to four-light style (Design Number '7443/B), the vast majority of those produced (55 cars) being completed in the six-light style ('7443'), while two other six-lights featured smaller rear quarter lights. Copy chassis cards on file list two subsequent owners: Stanley Thomas of Plymouth from 16th May 1960 followed by Mrs P D Crowther of Marsden, Huddersfield from 24th April 1961. A few days later the factory swapped the original manual gearbox for an automatic.
Correspondence on file from marque specialists P&A Wood reveals that they had looked after this Flying Spur for some 12 years before selling it to Gordon Willey in August 1991, at which time it had covered 89,000 miles. Accompanying invoices show that P&A Wood and other specialists continued to maintain the Bentley for Gordon before a more extensive renovation was embarked upon. Carried out by P&A Wood between March 2012 and August 2015, these wide-ranging works included bodywork repairs and a bare-metal repaint. Some measure of the refurbishment's extent may be gained from the fact that the related invoices total in excess of £100,000. This magnificent Bentley Continental Flying Spur also comes with a V5C registration document and two expired MoT certificates showing that it has covered only a tiny handful of miles since July 2004 (the current odometer reading is 96,305 miles). Careful re-commissioning will be required before it returns to the road.