"No Longer Related"

A very, very brief history of union and breakup of Bentley and Rolls Royce by Anthony Liberiou..

entley and Rolls-Royce are Britain’s best known luxury car brands. Both luxury cars were created by motoring pioneers who were driven by passion for cars and engineering. The motoring public associate the early Bentleys with racing and Rolls Royce with luxury and engineering. From separate beginnings, these two brands independent brands would “marry” in the early 1930s and “divorce” in the late 1990s.


Bentley was founded in 1919 by W.O. Bentley and his brother H.M. Bentley. Their first sports vehicle was a chassis better known as the Bentley 3 Litre Prototype which was shown at the London Motor Show.

W.O. Bentley’s intention was “To build a fast car, a good car, the best in its class” and he succeeded. Although the cars were considerably larger than other sports cars of the same era, the innovative technology allowed the Bentley 3 Litre to dominate the smaller sports cars in racing and attracted a lot of attention among the wealthy British car enthusiasts. These enthusiasts were soon to be known as the “Bentley Boys”. And it was a Bentley Boy—Mr Woolf Barnato who would later help the company during financial hardship. However his help came at a huge cost to W.O. who lost ownership of the company to become an employee instead. Under the new ownership, Bentley produced five more models including the famous Speed Six which is the most successful racing Bentley of all times. After victory of Speed Six at Le Mans of 1930, it took Bentley another 73 years before they would win another Le Mans.


Rolls-Royce was created by Sir Henry Royce and Charles Rolls in 1904. Rolls-Royces’ immediately attracted attention for their focus on pure luxury especially after the introduction of the iconic Silver Ghost with its own aluminium trims. The Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost achieved a world record in 1907 by driving 14,371 miles without an involuntary stop, establishing the car’s reputation for reliability. Unlike the financial struggles of Bentley, Rolls-Royce weathered the Stock Market Crash of 1929 relatively unscathed except for the closure of its factory in the United States.


Bentley was severely hit by the Great Depression and in 1931, the company became insolvent with the court appointed a Receiver to Bentley. In November 1931, the British Central Equitable Trust (“Rolls-Royce”) became the new owners. The acquisition of Bentley by Rolls-Royce meant that future development of both cars would become intertwined. From the 1960s, the brands were virtually identical, save for their distinctive hood ornaments, badges and grill.


It was not until 1998, when Volkswagen bought Bentley and BMW bought Rolls Royce, that the brands rediscovered their original DNA. Today the two brands have found separate paths to success. Although their 1998 divorce was a little messy, which included the battle over who would control the Rolls-Royce brand, the split has made both companies better off today.

By 2016, the change of fortunes saw Bentley selling a record 11,089 vehicles, driven by the success of its first SUV, the Bentayga.

Rolls-Royce has also been on a roll(er). In 2014 the company recorded its best sales year in its century-plus history of 4,063 vehicles, attracting new, younger buyers with bold Black Badge versions of models such as the Ghost, Wraith and Dawn. And with the average age of Rolls-Royce buyers dipping to the low 40s (thanks to younger customers in markets like China), the new model was also engineered to be as pleasing to drive as it is to be driven in. The Phantom floats along on an electrically controlled suspension, called Magic Carpet Ride. The ride was so quiet that the engineers needed to strip some of the sound insulation dial, so there would be enough road noise to stop the occupants from getting motion sick.

Meanwhile, Bentley is designed for a driver who loves performance, while still swaddling passengers in luxury. Its twin-turbo, 12-cylinder engine powers the car to a top speed of 333 kph and goes from 0 to 100 in under 4 seconds.

With their new owners, both automakers have found viable business models. “If I compare the cars and drive them, they are different,” says Wolfgang Dürheimer, the past CEO at Bentley, “Rolls-Royce is ultimate luxury. We are luxury and performance.”