2014 Bentley Flying Spur
2014 Bentley Flying Spur
2014 Bentley Flying Spur. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

Recently I had the opportunity to take a 2014 Bentley Flying Spur for a test drive in Montreal. It got me thinking about Bentley cars, the company, and its very long history. Bentley is, as you may know, now owned by Volkswagen and has been since 1998.

After 15 years, shock, horror, dismay and general skepticism as a response to VW’s acquisition has pretty much died down, and I would think that even brand enthusiasts must be happy with the vehicles produced by Bentley under the VW umbrella. They are, after all, still assembled in Crewe, England where they have been built since the 1940s (although body shells come from Germany).

However, it’s been quite a while since Bentley was regarded as “the backbone of British motoring” as it was described in one automotive publication from the 1970s. Even if and when it was, the Bentley company – whose first model was available for sale in 1921 – never produced many cars.

Nonetheless, in its earliest days, the vehicles that Bentley did produce were pretty spectacular, with examples winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times between 1924 and 1930 (including a 1-2-3-4 victory in 1929).

Racing was always a big part of Bentley’s identity, the company’s founders W.M. and H.O. Bentley believing like many car manufacturers before and after, that “winning sells cars.”

But a Bentley wasn’t just any car. From the outset, this was a high luxury brand that competed with the very best. Unfortunately, the vision, expertise and passion possessed by its owners (mostly it was an H.O. Bentley enterprise) was unfortunately not matched by their business acumen. You may not know that the original Bentley company – the one responsible for some of its most legendary vehicles including the Speed Six and the Blower Bentley – lasted for only a decade, five years of which were under the ownership of wealthy patron Woolf Barnato.

In fact, it was a good thing that Mr. Barnato and a small group of other well-heeled Bentley enthusiasts (the “Bentley Boys”) supported the company with investments and by buying cars they would personally race. Otherwise Bentley likely would have failed before the 1929 stock market crash that sealed the firm’s demise.

Bentley hobbled on until 1931, but it was during that year the company was forced into receivership, subsequently re-emerging under the ownership of Rolls-Royce (Mr. Barnato shrewdly invested in Rolls-Royce, as well…).

2014 Bentley Flying Spur2014 Bentley Flying Spur
2014 Bentley Flying Spur. Click image to enlarge

What of “W.O.”? He worked for Rolls-Royce for a while under a service contract, but apparently without enthusiasm. Eventually he left to work as Technical Director with Rolls-Royce competitor Lagonda, for whom he designed a V12-powered vehicle that gave him his last Le Mans success (a third and fourth place finish in 1939).

Later in 1939 saw the beginning of World War II, and car races were forgotten until its conclusion.

Even though the Lagonda factory was destroyed during the war (hit by a V1 missile), production recommenced in 1948. David Brown, who owned Aston Martin as well as Lagonda, used a twin-cam straight-six-cylinder engine for both cars, which interestingly, were also designed by W.O. Bentley (whose name by this time couldn’t be attached to any vehicle).

But Bentley branded vehicles continued to be built using Rolls-Royce chassis and drivetrains into the 1990s. “Badge engineered” some would derisively say; a sportier Rolls-Royce in the opinion of others.

Which brings me back to the current Bentley and its 2014 Flying Spur. The name “Flying Spur” has been used on four-door Bentleys since 1957, always as four-door variants of the two-door Bentley Continental. The 2014 version is billed as Bentley’s most powerful four-door ever built, and wears subtle design changes to further individualize the model from the Continental.

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