The stores themselves are fascinating, and immense. Hundreds of engines, from straight-six motors for Silver Clouds to V12s for Silver Seraphs, sit patiently awaiting their fates. There are rows of Rolls-Royce radiator grilles and Bentley radiator cowlings. Spirits of Ecstasy abound. After a while it all becomes quite disconcerting.
But where, I wonder, do all the cars come from in the first place? “We get them from all over,” says Johnson. “Sometimes it’s cars that owners intended to restore but never got around to it, sometimes it’s cars that have become uneconomic to repair and sometimes it’s cars that belonged to someone who’s died and the family just want to get rid of it.’
So how can he tell the cars that are worth restoring or recycling from the worthless rot-boxes? “Over time you get an instinct for it. It’s not practical to inspect every car, and not needed. Cars tend to suffer the same sorts of problems and 80-90% of the cars I buy I see for the first time only when they get here. Sometimes you get a bad one, sometimes you get lucky.”
As if to illustrate the point, he shows me to a Silver Shadow, bought from a deceased owner’s estate, which had been in storage for years. “I bought it over the telephone, then when it got here and we cleaned it up we discovered we had a single-owner car with 25,000 miles on the clock in amazing condition. It’s probably worth over £20,000.”
He won’t tell me what he paid for that particular car but says the bulk of the cars that come in on the back of low-loaders cost him around £1000 to £1500 each. But then a late Shadow II purrs up, and apart from the odd rust bubble in the rear arches, it looks rather resplendent, albeit in a somewhat 1970s vogue. “That’s a good car,” says Johnson. “It has some of the usual problems but it’s fundamentally sound, passed its MOT, and we’ll probably fix it up and sell it on.” It cost him £2500.
I’ll confess that when I first arrived at Flying Spares the sheer incongruity all those once-noble cars in varying states of disrepair and decrepitude was unsettling. But then you think of all those other Rolls and Bentleys that are kept running all over the world thanks to donor cars like these, and a different perspective emerges. Johnson says that 80-90% of every car that comes here ends up being recycled or reused in one form or another, and as a result there is almost nothing they cannot supply for a Rolls or Bentley of the ages they see the most. Only bespoke body parts from coachbuilt cars of the 1950s are tricky to obtain.
Flying Spares has already moved into all the available space on the industrial estate and Handford is looking to buy some land nearby so everything can be put in one place and digital records created for every component in the stores. It will be the largest Rolls-Royce and Bentley graveyard in the world, but it will also be a place of resurrection, where cars come to provide a future for others once their time has passed.