Bentley is celebrating its centenary this year, and months ahead of the debut of an all-new 2020 Continental Flying Spur the British marque is pausing to take a look in the rearview mirror, specifically at the S2 Continental Flying Spur that debuted 60 years ago.
Why the S2 Continental Flying Spur?
There’s more to this particular model than just the 60th anniversary of its debut. Bentley had originally planned the Continental to be solely a two-door coupe, but in 1957 the automaker made the decision to produce a four-door variant, using the talents of coachbuilder H. J. Mulliner. The idea was to create a four-door sedan, but keep the distinctive coupe profile of the two-door model. Sound familiar?
The S2 Continental Flying Spur was ahead of its time in several ways. Take, for instance, an aluminum V8 engine displacing 6.2 liters, a design that would serve as the basis of Bentley engines well into the modern era.
“The groundbreaking L Series engine proved so successful it was later used in the Bentley Arnage and Brooklands models,” Bentley notes. “A highly modified version is still fitted in the Bentley Mulsanne today.”
Yes, that’s the current Mulsanne that Bentley is talking about. Few powerplants in use today can claim such a pedigree, even if the engine itself has seen quite a few revisions over the years.
More powerful than many engines of its day, this V8 unit replaced a six-cylinder powerplant that dated back to the 1920s used in the earlier S1 model, ushering in a new era of performance for the British marque. Aluminum engines are common now, but electrically operated ride control was perhaps an even more futuristic item back in the day — the S2 borrowed this item from the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II, along with the V8. Add to that push-button electric windows, and the S2 Continental Flying Spur quickly begins to seem like a perfectly modern car … even down to sharing tech with a sister brand.
For all the talk about the engineering, which Bentley and Rolls-Royce cleverly shared back in the day, the neatest trick that the S2 Continental Flying Spur pulled off was the sleek, modern design. Lest we forget, the standard S2 model was not exactly a forward-looking design, opting for a stately, draped kind of image shared with the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud — its badge-engineered twin — instead of a sporting one. The H. J. Mulliner model still offered plenty of presence, but it did so with the practicality of a four-door sedan that hid its size well. To this day, the model looks smaller than it really is.
Today Bentley announced the coming V8 versions of the Continental GT and GT Convertible. It’s a new-generation engine, configured as a “Hot-V,” meaning the intake is outside of the V …
Bentley and Rolls-Royce models of the era were known for long shelf lives, but the S2 Continental Flying Spur ended up being a brief moment for the marque, even if a successful one. The S2 sedan was produced from 1959 until 1962, when it was displaced by the nearly identical four-headlight S3 model, seen in the photo below, which gave it a more Rolls-Royce-style look. The S3 model was a very modest facelift by the standards of the time, but even this variant persisted only until 1965. In all, the four-door Continental Flying Spurs stayed in production for around seven years, before the arrival of the boxier and more compact T-series/Silver Shadow cars in 1965.
“In all, more than 1,900 S2 cars were hand-built between 1959 and 1962,” Bentley says.
On the 60th anniversary of its debut, the basic recipe of the Continental Flying Spur is about to receive another update as Bentley gets ready to unveil a four-door version of the redesigned Continental lineup. The coupe and the cabrio have already made their debuts — now it’s time for the four-door model, one that owes more than a tip of the hat to the innovative H. J. Mulliner shape.
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