When the Bentley marque enjoyed a healthy revival after World War II, parent company Rolls-Royce was heavily into badge engineering the Bentley S1 was identical to the Silver Cloud 1, with no more that the distinctive R-R radiator distinguishing the two luxury cars.
They both used the same six-cylinder engine and had a four-speed automatic gearbox (though a manual was available until 1957).
This duopoly also represented the first standardization of pressed steel body styles by Rolls, but as far as the S1 went that was far from the whole story. The vast majority of S1s were indeed factory-built saloons, but around 150 escaped to receive the distinctive accolade of handcrafted bodywork, whilst a dozen long wheelbase versions were also custom bodied. The tale didn’t end there, for six months after the S1 appeared in 1955 the Continental made its bow. This featured a tuned engine and other performance tweaks enabling Bentley to claim that the company’s new speedster— helped by a switch to lightweight aluminum bodywork — was the world’s fastest production car.
None of the Continentals (431 were built) were factory bodied, which led to the creation of some exquisite body shapes and showed that the great British tradition of fine coachbuilding was alive and in rude health. The likes of Hooper, H J Mulliner, Park Ward and James Young produced some to-die-for S1 Continentals that included stunning two-door fastbacks, two-door saloons, dropheads and four-door sports saloons. Quite a number of these were left-hand drive cars destined for wealthy admirers in the United States. Even Italy’s famous Pininfarina got in on the act with a distinctive fastback coupe.
The Continentals may represent the crown jewels, but with only 3,538 S1s produced each and every survivor is a cherished classic that offers serious bragging rights and is still a stately drive.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1955 (until 1959)
4,887 cc F-head Straight Six
Top speed of around 120 mph (192 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 12.9 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
When Rolls-Royce built something it was meant to last and the engine that went into the Bentley S1 was the final evolution of the R-R straight-six motor that had been introduced in 1922 to power the Rolls-Royce twenty series.