Living with a Flying Spur: here’s one they made earlier

Published: 18 February 2022 Updated: 18 February 2022

► CAR lives with a Bentley Flying Spur
► Ben Pulman’s your guide to luxury life
► It’s a hard life, but someone’s got to do it

What does Bentley mean to you? To me it’s what 007 really drives; it’s Red Label and Green Label Arnages; a succession of droptop Azures on the cover of Jay-Z’s Vol 2… Hard Knock Life, or in the hands of Jaheim in the video for Could It Be, and with Will Smith in Miami; a cheeky Le Mans win in ’03; and then a Continental GT that’s morphed from ‘footballer’s car’ in Mk1 guise to one of the great grand tourers in its current form. In other words, a little muddled in my mind.

Which doesn’t seem like the right place to be when there’s one on your drive for a few months. There’s no doubting the Flying Spur’s abilities, but if you’re in the market for a luxury limo, what would make you pick a Bentley over a Mercedes or Porsche? What does the winged badge imply, and how does this luxurious tour de force relate to the Bentleys of old?

Bentley has an original Flying Spur – which is fortuitous, because I don’t know anyone who actually owns any Bentley, let alone one from the ’50s. It resides on the company’s heritage fleet, which has limos from the Arnage, through the Mulsanne, to the VW Group-era Flying Spurs, while at the other end there are vast touring machines from the first half of the 20th century. There’s actually a chasm of missing metal between the 1958 Flying Spur and the Arnage, but the relevant cars are being acquired to ensure a full (and running) back catalogue by the summer.

It’s an age since I was last at Bentley’s factory – Pyms Lane in Crewe – but that was quite an occasion: dinner with the CEO, in his own house, to get a sneak peak of the SUV concept that would eventually become the Bentayga. Remember that car, the EXP 9 F? Probably best you don’t – when Wolfgang Dürheimer uncovered the exterior and interior design sketches and asked the assembled media their opinion, we all politely congratulated his team on the cabin styling…

Still, Dürheimer deserves credit: as R&D boss in the early ’00s he took the flak for Porsche launching the Cayenne, and then took some more by being the man in the firing line with the Bentayga. He’s gone now, but SUVs have transformed Porsche’s profits, and in Crewe its first SUV is now the company’s biggest seller – though Conti GT and Flying Spur are nearly one-third each – and in the first six months of 2021 profits were greater than any full year in Bentley’s history. There are new buildings everywhere, but reassuringly the cars themselves still come out of the original brick factory. It feels like a pre-war timewarp, at least until you glimpse the state-of-the-art production lines hiding inside.

It’s now turned 70 years since Bentley established its own design department in Crewe. The first car penned back in 1951 was the R-Type Continental, while its successor – the car we’re here to drive – was designed in ’55. I was minus 30 years old and the styling department brought their ideas to life as hand-painted watercolour artworks, before scale and technical drawings followed, and then 3D wax models. It’s a far cry from the computer-dependent, virtual-reality world of today, but it clearly worked: I hadn’t expected to be bothered about such an old car, but with its black paintwork gleaming this ’50s Flying Spur looks splendid.

flying spur vs classic spur

There are visual links to the current Flying Spur: some are more tenuous than others, like the quad headlamps; and some more remarkable like the shape of their rear haunches. But what’s really striking is just how voluptuous the older car is. It’s got hips and curves – whoever carved this as a full-size wax model did a heck of a job.

Does it feel like the great grandfather to ‘my’ Flying Spur? No, not when there are so many years between them – the gap is too great, the technology too different, the silhouette and packaging too dissimilar. And while the current Flying Spur offers room in the back to luxuriate, plus four-wheel drive, four-wheel steer and active-roll control goodies to allow the driver to hoon, the oldie doesn’t permit rear-seat passengers to stretch out nor let the driver hustle it in a way that belies its size.

Yet there’s no doubting the majesty and aura of VGX 853. Built in 1958, the interior remains unrestored, and the car amazes on several fronts: the ride quality, the refinement, and the attention to detail. Unable to have the unmatched breadth of today’s Flying Spur because the technology simply didn’t exist, it was created to cosset and coddle.
On big balloon tyres it glides along with a serenity the current Flying Spur’s air springs and adaptive dampers can’t match, and with a focus on pure luxury rather than sporting luxury, the straight-six engine is smooth and silky and near silent. Then there’s the dashboard, seemingly carved from a whole tree trunk, and the windscreen wipers, the mirror arms, the switches – all solid metal and meticulously hewn.

I have no qualms about climbing back into the modern Flying Spur for the long trip home, but after a day ambling around the Cheshire countryside has anything changed? I think you make what you want of any brand, automotive or otherwise, so just as I reckon BMW has lost what it stands for, currently Bentley is humming along sweetly in its niche – and the original Flying Spur is now something else of significant note to be added to my own interpretation of its back catalogue.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Bentley Flying Spur

Price £160,200 (£216,225 as tested)
Performance 3993cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 4.1sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 22.2mpg (official), 26.4mpg (tested), 288g/km CO2
Energy cost 26.1p per mile
Miles this month 369
Total miles 3455

Month 4 living with a Flying Spur: back seat reviver

pulman flying spur ltt

My kids have enjoyed luxuriating in the back of the Flying Spur, but for a brief moment of escapism I removed the child seats and sat in the Bentley on my own for an hour or so of ‘work’.

Away from the need to re-enact scenes from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, I let the ‘soft-close’ door purr electronically shut and settled into the quiet serenity. I’m over 6ft tall but had no complaints about legroom here, and I raised the rear blinds, set the seats to lightly scald (aided by a heated fold-down central armrest), buried my head in the fluffy pillow of a headrest, and had a soothing massage. Bliss.

Utterly relaxed and in no mood to work up a sweat, I then put our three-year-old to work on cleaning the Bentley – but such is its sheer size she soon tired and it was back to reality as I scrubbed our local flock of pigeons’ droppings and the countryside’s filth from the Cricketball Red paintwork. For that fleeting moment, though, I had been king.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Bentley Flying Spur

Price £160,200 (£216,225 as tested)
Performance 3993cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 4.1sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 22.2mpg (official), 25.3mpg (tested), 288g/km CO2
Energy cost 26.6p per mile
Miles this month 313
Total miles 3086

Month 3 living with a Bentley Flying Spur: finding perfect harmony

flying spur ltt overhead

North Wales used to seem so close when I lived near CAR’s Peterborough HQ – and, crucially, was young. Take a 911 GT3 to Snowdonia for a photo shoot tomorrow? All in an evening’s work, and no problem to drive straight back once the pictures have been shot. Now, though, I’m old, sleep-deprived thanks to two tots, and Betws-y-Coed is the best part of six hours away.

But I know the current Bentley Continental GT is a great car for long drives, and so the closely related Flying Spur should be equally perfect. Here’s hoping, as so far we’ve not quite gelled…

We’ve been starting to get there, though. When there are two under-threes to herd, family outings to the nearby beach are always an event, but they’re actually a pleasant event when you’re travelling by big red Bentley.

Hilariously incongruous too, with the boot stuffed with buckets and spades and picnic blankets and tents, queuing for Mr Whippy like everyone else, and being rather more in the public eye when trying to change into dry clothes back at the car after.

But unless you live in London and exclusively reside aft of the B-pillar, you don’t buy a Bentley to stay within 10 miles of your own home. No, you should darn well go places in it… and wait, what’s this, a 1000-mile work trip? Perfect.

Off I go from Hampshire to Snowdonia, and with a 90-litre tank the only breaks are prompted by my thirst, not the car’s. After sunshine, rain storms and even hail, crossing the Welsh border I replace the podcasts with something more up-tempo for the last leg. Now, I’m no audio expert, but my amateur ears decree the optional 2200w Naim system astonishing (though so it should be for £6725).

The first proper stop is at a quarry in Bangor, and after 300 or so miles the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 (complete with imperceptible cylinder deactivation) has returned an indicated 29.9mpg at an average of 55mph. The next 100 miles are more brisk (down to a rendezvous in Snowdonia, a pizza run to keep my colleagues fuelled to dusk, and a late-night razz to a hotel) and take us to 401 miles, in just over eight hours at the wheel, and a not too shabby 25.1mpg.

Better yet, the Bentley and I are finally on the same page. As well as being the fabulous cruiser you’d expect, able to schlep serenely or suddenly surge forward on a great wave of torque when a gap in the traffic opens up, it also reveals another dimension to its talents. While other limos might match it on the motorway, the Bentley is pretty special on a blast through Snowdonia in a way no Rolls-Royce can rival.

Our Spur has the optional £5855 Bentley Dynamic Drive and Electronic All Wheel Steering, and at first it had felt just a bit weird. The rear-steer part of the package is relatively easy to get used to: a suddenly tightening turning circle when coming out of junctions. But the 48-volt active anti-roll control system is a less natural fit.

Now, however, thanks to my miles in North Wales, it’s starting to make a lot of sense. Yes, the Flying Spur still rolls a tad, even with up to 1300Nm of anti-roll torque applied in 0.3 seconds. That wasn’t the problem. The difficultly was my brain getting used to by how much, and under what conditions, it would roll. I think the issue is that it behaves so unlike any other car of this size – there’s simply nothing comparable tucked away in your memory banks.

Yet the ride never seems to suffer, with even the worst bumps Snowdonia can throw up unable to disrupt the progress of this vast suite of leather and captain’s chairs. Mind duly adjusted, the Flying Spur will hustle like nothing else. This is revealing itself to be one heck of a car.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Bentley Flying Spur

Price £160,200 (£216,225 as tested)
Performance 3993cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 4.1sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 22.2mpg (official), 20.5mpg (tested), 288g/km CO2
Energy cost 32.1p per mile
Miles this month 1073
Total miles 2773

Month 2 living with a Bentley Flying spur: Dreamliner vs reality

flying spur ltt child seat

By the bottom of our road on day one I am nonplussed by the Flying Spur. The low-profile tyres mean it doesn’t ride quite as well as the just-departed e-Tron (on wheels with the same 21-inch diameter). And after the serenity of a pure-electric Audi, the V8 rumble and the changing of actual gears – no matter how smooth – makes the Bentley feel unrefined by comparison.

Before setting off we have an issue, too. Most cars have obvious access points to their Isofix mounts, via little plastic flaps or zips in the seats. Not so the Flying Spur (because that would rather spoil the aesthetics of the plush rear accommodation – accommodation that most owners are unlikely ever to put small kids in). Instead, you need to part base from backrest; a process that in my father-in-law’s old Astra is a doddle. But in the Bentley, with its thick, sumptuously-stuffed leather, it’s a fight. A real, 30-minute, sweat and swearing fight that makes you think your child seats won’t fit and you can’t keep the Bentley. I do eventually succeed, but only after admitting defeat and then being sent back out by my wife.

Seats sorted, that first journey is a 100-mile trip, punctuated only by the newborn dropping his dummy into the cavernous no-man’s-land between the front and rear seats and the first born being fascinated by the in-built blinds.

The Flying Spur is serene to cruise in, but I discover a few more foibles in comparison to the e-Tron: despite the Bentley’s 568lb ft of torque, the initial throttle response can’t match that of an EV; and in retrospect I’ve come off the fence about the Audi’s dinky digital mirrors because the Bentley’s massive mirrors create their own huge blind spot at junctions.

But after that family trip, and the odd solo run (quite a way to arrive for your second jab…) I’m still rather flummoxed by the Flying Spur – I don’t love it and I’m not won over. That’s what these long-term tests are about, though, so maybe a planned 1000-mile trip will reveal more…

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Bentley Flying Spur

Price £160,200 (£216,225 as tested)
Performance 3993cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 4.1sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 22.2mpg (official), 22.2mpg (tested), 288g/km CO2
Energy cost 30.0p per mile
Miles this month 229
Total miles 1700

Month 1 living with a Bentley Flying Spur: asking a lot, getting a lot

flying spur ltt front tracking

In the past decade or so I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to run all manner of long-term test cars, but two favourites stand out: an E92-generation BMW M3 Competition, and a Mk1 Porsche Panamera GTS. Both had big V8s that were equally happy whipping around the dial or cruising at a few thousand revs, dual-clutch gearboxes that could slur or snap through the changes, and each pulled off that mythical trick of feeling as special in a Friday-night jam as they did on your favourite road.

I never tired of either of them. Both were sporting GTs in essence (and the M3 has definitely suffered a little revisionist judgement that now deems it too heavy, with too many cylinders) and yet I never once felt either needed to be more focused. They darn well did it all. And the overdue point is, after nearly 15 years living with all manner of metal, I know what I like, and the next long-term test car might just enter my pantheon of greatness alongside an M3 that some don’t seem to like any more and a big white Porsche.

Enter the Bentley Flying Spur V8, a £200k gateway to maybe the most ridiculous few months my family and I will ever experience. We will forever make a point of telling everyone we know that we once had a Bentley for the summer and used it for everything.

In fact, we already have. Within hours of the Flying Spur arriving we were off to see family in the countryside and my daughter was having a post-nursery picnic in the back. The next evening I took it paddleboarding, and soaking wet gear from the Solent got dumped in the boot (I fall in a lot). It’s been to the beach multiple times in its first week with us, too. It is fantastically opulent, and an utterly ridiculous way for myself, my wife on maternity leave, and our two-year-old and five-month-old to spend a chunk of 2021.

This is the third-generation Flying Spur, a four-door sibling to the Continental GT, and both now share a platform with the current Panamera (while the Mk1 and Mk2 cars were related to VWs and Audis). That’s about as good as the gene pool gets. While any Stuttgart DNA left in the Flying Spur is welcome, you’d never know it is in any way related to a Porsche for all the wood and leather and gentleman’s club ambience.

I have high hopes. I’d not driven a current Flying Spur before this but CAR’s Gavin Green declared of the W12-enginered version: ‘No big limousine today can simultaneously play the high-performance saloon with such conviction.’ And my own experience in a current W12 Continental GT is that there is no finer place in which to consume motorway miles.

flying spur ltt interior

So, our car. It was pre-ordered by Bentley and… it’s not how I’d spec it. Slightly because I’m old before my time and like a bit of chrome on my Bentley, but mainly because I’ve actually no idea what I’d go for. Crewe’s configurator is so vast I can’t even decide upon a favourite colour; the choice of paint is split into seven sub-categories and I counted 89 different hues. Then there are over a dozen leather colours, an even greater number of veneers, contrast stitching…

With the decisions made for us, our Flying Spur is Cricketball Red, with Blackline specification (£3620) rather than chrome trim. Inside there’s both Linen and Burnt Oak leather and a Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus veneer.

The main options are the Mulliner Driving Specification (£10,290, and including 21-inch wheels, quilted seats, and beguiling 3D leather door panels); the Touring Specification (£6480, for lane assist, adaptive cruise, night vision, and a head-up display); a £6725 Naim audio system; the £4865 swivelling central display that can be a digital screen, a trio of clocks, or a veneer panel; and £5855 for rear-wheel steering and 48-volt anti-roll technology.

We did ask for one extra to be added, though, a £295 heavy duty rubber boot mat from the accessories catalogue. It’s currently protecting the too-nice-for-a-boot carpet, and all is well in our make-believe world.

At least it is now, one month in. Inside the first 60 minutes of having the keys, and after much sweat and swearing, I was convinced the Flying Spur was useless to us and would have to go straight back. But we’ll save that for next month…

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Bentley Flying Spur

Price £160,200 (£216,225 as tested)
Performance 3993cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 4.1sec 0-62mph, 198mph
Efficiency 22.2mpg (official), 18.6mpg (tested), 288g/km CO2
Energy cost 35.6p per mile
Miles this month 161
Total miles 1471

By Ben Pulman

Ex-CAR editor-at-large