24 January 2005

The fastest four-door in Bentley’s history hits showrooms this spring with the arrival of the Continental Flying Spur. The 190mph saloon is both visibly related to the Continental GT, and shares its mechanicals with the coupé, including the 552bhp 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 engine and four-wheel-drive system. This should enable the two-tonne saloon to hit 60mph in around 5.0sec.

The Flying Spur will be priced at just above the GT’s £112,750, and initial predictions see the new model taking around half of this year’s production, rising slightly as demand for the GT is expected to fall off in 2006.

Work has been going on behind the scenes since 1999 on the second GT model derivative, and it arrives at a time when the GT’s popularity is still amazingly high: more than a year after launch, there’s still a 12-month waiting list.

The runaway success of the GT has pushed the saloon’s launch back while customer demand is addressed. ‘We’re not under pressure to get the car out,’ said sales and marketing boss Adrian Hallmark. The public’s first chance to see the car in the metal will come in early March at the Geneva Motor Show.

The interior is predictably luxurious, and buyers can opt for either a four- or five-seat layout – the four-seater coming complete with a rear centre console and electric rear seats. Extensive leather trim, using more than 11 hides, and wood veneers adorn the cabin, and four-zone climate control will keep occupants comfortable.

The Flying Spur is almost certain to become the first Bentley built outside the UK, with production likely to shift, at least in part, to VW’s Dresden plant, which currently builds the Phaeton executive saloon to which the Continental GT is closely related. The German factory is running well below full capacity, and with a third GT spin-off – a convertible – expected to appear in around 18 months, the Crewe plant will be at full capacity.

Hallmark admits a review has already begun within Bentley to assess whether the move would be successful, but says there is an ‘understanding within the company as to what it would mean for Bentley’ to move production to Germany. He also says Crewe would have to supply the engine, transmission, axle and chassis already assembled. ‘No one else has got the skills and workshop we have,’ he said. Hallmark claims that somewhere between a third and half of the build process would actually be carried out abroad. ‘We have to make a judgement: do we make people wait? We have to grasp the demand while it’s there.’

Bentley has now completed more than one million miles of testing across the GT/Flying Spur projects, a third of which were conducted on the latter. Although a soft-top version of the coupé is the only other logical spin-off, Hallmark claims that the company came up with a total of 37 potential variants during early planning meetings.

The Continental Flying Spur name was first used on a Bentley in 1957, on a saloon derived from the R-Type Continental, claimed to be the fastest coupé of the early ’50s. The modern Flying Spur will be joined next spring by the soft-top version of the Arnage, which was unveiled at the Los Angeles Motor Show in early January.

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