Lots of automobile manufacturers make claims for engineering, performance and/or styling. But none can lay claim to being consistently regarded as the most luxurious and well-built cars in the world more than Rolls-Royce. And no luxury car maker can claim the same performance standards that Bentley maintains.
But the British luxury marques share more than legendary status in the automotive world. For most of the history of both brands they were indeed part of the same company. And while Rolls-Royce might be famous for its standards of luxury and engineering, that doesn’t mean they weren’t capable of playing some business gamesmanship to bring the two manufacturers together.
To learn more about how that happened, it’ll help to take a quick look at how both companies came to be.
A (Very) Brief History of Rolls-Royce’s Early Years
An engineer and designer, Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business in 1884. The emergence of automobiles caught Royce’s fancy and he built his first car 1904, shortly before meeting Charles Rolls, who happened to be an automobile dealer.
The Rolls-Royce Ltd. came into being in early 1906 with a production facility in Derby, UK. The company initially manufactured cars from existing Royce designs. It wasn’t until the company’s first all-new model, the Rolls-Royce 40-50, that the marque’s enduring legacy began to literally take shape.
In addition to automotive design and manufacturing, the company was contracted to make engines for wartime airplanes by the British government 1914. This proved to be stroke of good fortune after the war.
A (Very) Brief History of Bentley’s Early Years
25 years younger than Royce, Walter Owen Bentley (known simply as W.O.) was also an engineer. He founded Bentley Motors Ltd. in 1919 in Crewe, UK, with the first production cars delivered in September, 1921.
It didn’t take long for Bentley’s reputation for performance and reliability to take hold. Within three years the company managed to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1924, before famously winning it for four consecutive years from 1927 to 1930.
The Depression and How it Brought Together Rolls-Royce & Bentley
The onset of the Depression made it difficult for both Bentley and Rolls-Royce to sell their expensive automobiles. But, that fortuitous move into airplane engine manufacturing, which the company continued even after the war, helped Rolls Royce survive. Unfortunately, without the help of additional revenue, Bentley soon succumbed to the slow economy. Unable to meet mortgage payments on their facility, a receiver was appointed in July 1931 to liquidate the company.
While offers were received for the company, the British Central Equitable Trust submitted the winning bid of £125,000.
Who’s Got a Secret?
Not even W.O Bentley himself knew that the ‘British Equitable Central Trust’ was really a front for Rolls-Royce Limited, who had now managed to get rid of their main competitor.