Matt Davis, Contributor
It's remarkable what having gobs of money can do, whether you're a 7-foot-tall Belgian car aficionado or just a regular Joe fresh off winning the lottery. We've just driven the ominous custom-built 2010 Bentley Continental Flying Star Shooting Brake by Touring and it's tough to quantify the whole mix of things going on here. After all, we're as average in height as we are in income.
Despite the appearance of added mass, the Flying Star is lighter than the Continental GTC ragtop on which it is based. It shouldn't feel even stiffer and more nimble than the original, still handsome Continental GT coupe, but it does. And a Bentley isn't normally called out in particular for its cavernous luggage room, but the volume behind the front seats of the Flying Star easily reaches 42.4 cubic feet up to the windows, and about double that if you decide to go with just a sliver of rear visibility.
We were honored to take the keys to this Bentley wagon — OK, "shooting brake" — and thunder up and down the western shore of Lake Como in Northern Italy. The Bentley Continental Flying Star Shooting Brake by Touring is a wild experience just in spatial terms, but the 190-inch-long spectacle is a body style that this luxo-liner wears very well.
Touring and Shooting
Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera, the classic Italian coach-building firm just outside of Milan, and the aforementioned Belgian giant of a man were hooked up in mid-2009 by a Bentley representative who had been trying for some time to sell a standard Bentley to his client. The man needed a big car and he wanted major space not just for passengers, but he didn't want an SUV.
Meantime, Touring Superleggera was already exploring the idea of a Bentley shooting brake. Founded in 1926, the Touring firm became famous in the 1960s for several Aston Martin DB4-, DB5-, and DB6-based shooting brakes. It also created the Lamborghini 400 GT Flying Star II shooter in 1966.
When we say "several" shooting brakes, the number of these vehicles inspired by open, horse-drawn wagonettes used for hunting in the 19th century translates to about a dozen units that no one ever sees around anymore. They're a strange creature and typically cost a silly mountain of dough to commission and acquire, thus the low resulting demand. But the appearance of the Mercedes-Benz Shooting Break suggests that people are thinking about these expensive trinkets again. Our 2010 Bentley Continental Flying Star does what it can to uphold this tradition by taking the Conti GTC price tag of $201,500 and filling it out to a shocking $780,000.
$780,000. That's right, $780,000. $780,000-ish, actually, since who knows what another one would cost?
Beyond the Numbers Numbness
So, no matter what amount of scrounging around we do, we'll never come up with the bucks to live this life. That's a pity, because we really enjoyed driving this hauling hauler called Flying Star. First off, visibility to the outside world is unprecedented by our calculations — the side glass area alone is now 93 inches long.
From the grille to the backside of the front seats, all is standard Bentley. Of course, a roof needed to be erected over the bodywork of the GTC convertible, but other than that wee detail it's all original Crewe kit. Aldo Goi, technical director at Touring, tells us, "I've spent the past four decades doing jobs like this between Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini and others, but this one was the toughest yet."
A key reason for this is that these days when you do a major restructuring of any homologated car, that car needs to be proven crashworthy even if via computer simulations. Just because it's virtual doesn't make it easy for these limited-run specials. Again, the result is in the driving and we were thoroughly surprised at the integrity of the work that Goi and his team have done on the Flying Star Shooting Brake.
Several components needed to be resituated within the new bodywork. For example, the battery for the starter and onboard comfort systems had to be turned perpendicular from its longitudinal placement behind the left rear quarter panel. The oil reservoir for all hydraulics aboard is right behind the passengers in the GTC, so it had to be moved over to the right below the vast cargo floor. And the list goes on. It took from the start of September 2009 until the very end of February 2010 before enough of the job had been complete for the car to debut at the Geneva auto show.
Fancy Just Gets Fancier
There's only one predetermined option available for the 2010 Bentley Continental Flying Star Shooting Brake by Touring, and it concerns the wheels. What you see on our tester is a normally gorgeous set of classic Borrani alloys with stainless-steel spokes a-plenty. We say "normally" just because these wheels don't really look at home here, which is a pity. They drive sensationally, as anyone who has had the privilege will tell you about any Borrani wheel set, but our Belgian benefactor could have saved the $16,500 and stuck with the standard GTC 19-inchers, or gone for an optional 20-inch set from the Bentley playbook.
The only other thing from an order book for the Flying Star is the five-piece set of personalized luggage to attractively clutter up the rear flatness when you're not out hunting game. There's no price announced for this set, since the how (and from what) of its manufacture is wide open to the buyer's imagination. We'd go for the gold-plated spotted owl hides just to make the car's price tag eclipse $1 million.
Flooring in the back and rug-lettes for the feet look like cloth pieces, but that's actually all custom weatherized leather. Both the gleaming silver surround of the new all-aluminum cargo door and the bezels for the taillights are actually chromed brass that is meant to withstand a lifetime of hard use. The LED taillights themselves are pulled from the Bentley Continental Supersports and inserted from inside the new quarter panels so as to sit flush with the bodywork.
Touring's Goi also admits that his real wish is to create the entire roof structure from carbon fiber, thereby shaving 220 pounds from the curb weight of the 5,660-pound GTC. As is, the new steel structure panels and aluminum cargo door still peel 66 pounds off the weight of the original convertible donor car. "I don't think the people in Crewe would take this weight loss too well, though," says Goi. In fact, Bentley in Crewe has followed most of this process from the start and Bentley dealers will do all servicing and honor the factory warranty.
Bentley Doesn't Need an SUV
There have always been little voices here and there about Bentley "needing" an SUV at some point, but we'd hesitate after living a few hours with this more-than-sufficient shooting brake configuration. Between the holy cargo space and the great passenger volume for four big adults, an SUV would only add the higher seating position, which is already high up in the case of any Bentley. Just bring that price down to a less celestial $250K or so and then we might talk.
Technically, of course, this is stock 552-horsepower all-wheel-drive Bentley Continental GTC. With the added structural stiffness and less weight, however, Touring Superleggera believes the Shooting Star will do better than the 4.8 seconds it takes a GTC to accelerate to 60 mph from a standstill and come close to the 4.6 seconds recorded by a Continental GT coupe. This is one quick wagon, Mom.
Already mounted from the GTC Speed is the thumping-good dual-sport exhaust, the resonating qualities thereof getting a natural echo chamber thanks to the added cargo framing. Right after our exclusive drive time, the owner was shipping it off again to Crewe for the full Speed treatment, which means 602 hp and 553 pound-feet of torque.
As for thumping, that's what our heart was doing each time we felt it safe to lunge deftly past all the tiny Italian cars on the road. This is forever the great thing in these big and powerful 12-cylinder Brits — no matter how many times we've done it, it always geeks us when we call on the full-power pedal.
The 2010 Bentley Continental Flying Star Shooting Brake by Touring is one of the great events of our year. The hope is to build 20 examples of this pricey warrior, each of which is unique from the other 19. And Touring also intends to return each year to the Geneva show with a new extravagant idea to put on display.
Wow. If they build those 20 units it'll make the Continental Flying Star the best-selling shooting brake in the history of shooting brakes.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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