Auto erotic

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 44, Autumn 2015

Page 4

Auto erotic

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 44, Autumn 2015

Page 4

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards' 1965 limited-edition motor was the perfect vehicle for his rock-star lifestyle. Satisfaction guaranteed, says Neil Lyndon

If cars could talk, many might tell a tale to make their owners blush. If, however, the 1965 Bentley S3 Continental Flying Spur originally registered JLP 400D could recall the excesses it bore and the scenes in which it was a mute accessory, the old beauty might itself shudder to the bottom of its bespoke chassis.

This was the car that Keith Richards bought at the end of 1965, just before his 23rd birthday – not long after the guitarist had conceived the Rolling Stones' first global smash hit single and brought himself riches with (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.

Richards spent some of his share on a place in the country and a motor fitting to his status. He bought Redlands, a Grade II, 16th-century farmhouse in West Wittering, Sussex. And he went to H.R. Owen's showrooms in Berkeley Square, where he picked out the Bentley.

The 6.2 liter V8 engined four-door Flying Spur was an unusual car and a discerning choice. One of a limited edition of only 87 cars, Richards' S3 Continental (chassis BC68XE) had aluminum coachwork hand-crafted by Mulliner Park Ward, with the twin headlamps that had been recently introduced for all new cars from Bentley/Rolls Royce. It was fitted with Connolly leather upholstery, a Radiomobile 920T Transistor radio, Sundym glass and Dunlop whitewall tires. The car will be sold by its current owner at Bonhams in September.

The purchaser made some modifications to his own taste. Like many owners at that time, Richards added a folding Webasto sunroof. More individually, he also – according to Life, his 2010 autobiography – installed a "secret compartment in the frame for the concealing of illegal substances". He called the car 'Blue Lena' – 'blue' for the shade of paint in which the bodywork had been finished, and Lena in honor of Lena Horne.

The esoteric name itself suggests unusual connoisseurship. The film Stormy Weather from which Lena Horne's best-known hit was drawn, was made in 1943, the year Keith Richards was born. How many barely educated 23 year-olds who were reaping riches from London's 1960s pop culture would even have known of the existence of the former Cotton Club dancer, jazz singer and civil rights activist? Might Dave Clark of Glad All Over or Reg Presley of The Troggs have acknowledged the influence of Lena Horne?

Similarly, the S3 Continental Flying Spur reflected uncommon judgment. The range of cars appropriate to the status of newly-rich pop stars in the mid-1960s was, in retrospect, narrow and still impoverished by post-war austerity. You could, of course, buy a customized Mini or an E-type Jaguar – and many did – but those were mass-produced, run-of-the-mill choices, available to anybody who had made a few quid. If you wanted a car that signaled that you had vaulted far beyond the class restraints of stuffy old Britain and one, also, which manifested its owner's total cool, the options were few. Ferraris, Maseratis and Porsches of the time were maddeningly unreliable and near-impossible to drive even if the driver's wits weren't addled with drugs.

A Rolls-Royce – as chosen by John Lennon and Brian Jones – seemed to convey an idea of yourself as royalty. The two-door version of the Bentley Continental was a driver's car, custom-made for amateur road racers such as the Tory MP, Alan Clark. For one who intended to be chauffeured most of the time and get up to a whole lot of no good in the back seats, the four-door S3 Continental Flying Spur was an inspired choice. JLP 400D was to witness its owner getting up to no good at world-beating, record-breaking levels.

Little more than a year after occupying his ancient house and taking delivery of the noble Bentley, 'Keef' was in serious trouble. The very acts of acquiring and flaunting possessions that had always been regarded as the exclusive birthright of Britain's ruling class may have needled the Establishment beyond endurance. While the Beatles jigged and bowed at the London Palladium for the Royal Command Performance and were decorated with MBEs at the behest of the Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who treated the Liverpool mop-tops as if they were his personal pets, the nasty, dirty, libidinous Rolling Stones were persistently getting on the wrong side of the law and viewed as a threat to national order.

On 12th February 1967 – acting on an insider's tip-off and with the collusion of the Fleet Street press – police raided Redlands, where Richards had been hosting a weekend party for guests including Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, George and Patti Harrison and some well-known figures in London's underground. They found amphetamines on Jagger, marijuana in the house and Jagger's girlfriend Marianne clothed only in a fur rug (in his autobiography, Keith Richards adamantly denied everlasting rumors about Ms Faithfull and a Mars bar). Jagger was found guilty of possession and Richards of allowing drugs to be used on his property. Both were bailed pending an appeal, which they won.

In the time before his trial, Richards suggested to the band's other guitarist, Brian Jones, that they should pile into the Bentley – which "had carried us on many an acid-fuelled journey" – and motor to Morocco where they could enjoy drugs unchecked. Richards' chauffeur was driving; Keith sat in the front passenger seat, feeding 45s into the car's Phillips record player, while Brian was in the back with girlfriend Anita Pallenberg and Deborah Dixon, both models and actresses.

The group was soon depleted in numbers. In Toulouse, Brian Jones fell ill with pneumonia and was taken to hospital. Deborah Dixon had endured more than enough of the party by the time the car reached Spain and fled for home in Paris. Richards and Pallenberg were left alone in the back of the Bentley, where it did not take long for the mutual admission to emerge that each had always been attracted to the other. Nature then took its timeless course. History, as recorded by Keith Richards, does not reveal whether the Bentley was actually in motion for the consummation on its back seat.

History as recorded by the snitch, the late Tony Sanchez, does, however, yield other moments involving Blue Lena, Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg. Sanchez became Keith's gofer in 1968 and, in his own creepy memoirs, told the story of driving his employer in the Bentley to lurk in Belgravia's Lowndes Square, near the house where film director Nicolas Roeg was making Performance with Pallenberg and Mick Jagger. Richards suspected that his girlfriend and his closest band member were continuing their on-screen sexual relationship when the cameras had stopped rolling. He was right. In revenge, he went to bed – or, perhaps, to Bentley – with Marianne Faithfull.

Richards did sometimes drive Blue Lena himself but while he liked to think of himself as "a good driver", those excursions frequently resulted in damage both to the car and to his passengers. The gravest incident occurred when he fell asleep at the wheel while driving away from the Knebworth festival in 1976 with seven passengers in the car including his own young son, Marlon. When the Bentley hit a tree, Marlon's nose struck the dashboard where – according to his own memories – it left a distinct imprint in the veneers.

That damage was to be repaired, along with the mess that had been made of Blue Lena's majestic coachwork. Even the badge bar beneath the radiator was restored. It's touching today to see that, in photographs of Keith Richards with Blue Lena, that badge bar was bearing an RAC member's emblem – a classic symbol of belonging for conformist, bourgeois Britain. Shaking off the conventions of the old country must have been harder than it seemed – even for the wildest man in rock.

Neil Lyndon is a journalist, author and former motoring correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph.


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