Before Rolls-Royces shared their V12s with the BMW 7 Series and before Bentleys rode on the same VW Group platforms as mainstream crossovers, the two British marques fell under one corporate umbrella, Rolls-Royce Motors.* For decades, Rolls-Royce and Bentley models were incredibly similar. For instance, starting in 1980, Rolls-Royce’s full-sized sedan, the Silver Spirit and long-wheelbase Silver Spur, formed the basis for the Bentley Mulsanne and it’s successor, the Brooklands.
There were some key differences between Bentley and Rolls-Royce’s offerings, most notably that in 1982 Bentley introduced the high-performance Mulsanne Turbo, followed by the Bentley Turbo R in 1985. Rolls-Royce never developed a souped-up Silver Spirit/Spur, leaving customers who wanted the Rolls’ looks with the Turbo R’s performance hanging. But one clever customer realized this forbidden combo could be brought into existence by a third-party coachbuilder, resulting in the Rolls-Royce Silver Spur Turbo R by Hooper.
Founded in 1805 as a speciality carriage maker, Hooper later transitioned to cars and became an Bentley and Rolls-Royce connoisseur. Production halted in 1959, but Hooper was resurrected in 1980 and constructed several special editions. One of the rarest was the Frankensteinian Silver Spur Turbo R.
Very little is known about this vehicle, which I spotted near Regent’s Park in London. Registered as a 1987 Bentley, the car featured a Silver Spur body mounted atop a Turbo R chassis and engine. The 6.75-liter V8 was the same one found in the standard Silver Spur, but Turbo R spec added a turbocharger and, starting in 1987, Bosch fuel injection, boosting horsepower well north of the 300 mark (official figures were never released). In the 1987 Turbo R, this powertrain propelled the sedan to 60 mph in the mid-six second range and to a top speed of 146 mph, although performance would likely have been diminished when the Turbo R’s mechanicals were stuffed under the longer Silver Spur body. The stiffer suspension and heavier steering from the Turbo R provided the Rolls-Royce with a sportier ride.
Not much on the exterior that betrays the car’s unique construction. The most obvious signs are the rear badges, reading “Hooper” on the left and “Silver Spur Turbo R” on the right, with the “R” highlighted in red as found on the normal Turbo R. A smaller rear window—common on Hooper commissions—chrome side sills which extend into the bumpers, and a gold Spirit of Ecstasy hood mascot are the only other indicators that this Silver Spur is not as it seems. The interior was spiced up with walnut burl door panels and a wood-rimmed steering wheel.
Unfortunately, that’s the extent of the information available on this rare machine. The Silver Spur Turbo R was listed for sale via DD Classics, a London classic car dealer, in 2013, but the listing has since been taken down. The listing video, still available on YouTube, mentions that the car was “maintained by the in-house mechanic of the owner at all times,” and the price in the listing was £19,950. The car has remained in London, but wears a different license plate than in the listing’s photos, suggesting that a sale was completed. The fact that the Rolls-Royce Silver Spur Turbo R by Hooper is shrouded in mystery makes this hodge-podge vehicle even more special.
*In 1971, Rolls-Royce Limited was nationalized, as mismanaged finances had put the company’s future in jeopardy. The British government sold off the car business in 1973 to allow Rolls-Royce Limited to focus on airplane engines, and Rolls-Royce Motors was born. Rolls-Royce Motors, which produced both Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, was purchased by Vickers in 1980. The company was then sold in 1998 to Volkswagen Group, who outbid BMW, Bentley and Rolls-Royce’s engine suppliers at the time. While the sale granted VW the rights to the iconic Pantheon grille and Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, the Rolls-Royce name and logo were still the property of Rolls-Royce plc, an evolution of Rolls-Royce Limited. Rolls-Royce plc sold the name and emblem to BMW, as the two companies had been partners in several joint business ventures. This created a marketing conundrum, but the two corporations soon reached a deal. VW insisted that it’s main focus had been acquiring Bentley, which outsold Rolls-Royce two to one at the time, but VW needed time to develop their own engines for future Bentleys. Therefore, from 1998 to 2002, BMW continued to supply engines while VW produced cars under both the Bentley and Rolls-Royce nameplates. Starting in 2003, however, VW agreed to only build Bentleys while BMW would be allowed to use the Rolls-Royce name, thus creating a new company, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which survives to this day under BMW ownership.