Welcome to Ridiculous Rebadges, a series of articles in which I go through and examine the details and circumstances surrounding some of the more infamous and some of the more esoteric vehicular rebadges throughout automotive history.
As car enthusiasts, you likely are aware that Bentley today is a bit of a mass-market alternative to Rolls Royce, what with its VAG W12 engines and parts bin switchgear paling in comparison to Rolls’ BMW V12s and bespoke handcrafting. Despite the large chasm which divides these two small British manufacturers between two German giants today, in the past Bentley and Rolls Royce were more linked than you may have expected.
Let’s jump back in time to 1965. Rolls Royce had just released the new Silver Shadow, a successor to its Silver Cloud. Instead of its tried-and-true, old-as-the-Earth body-on-frame structure, the British manufacturer decided to introduce an all-new unibody frame upon which to produce its new flagship. This made it more difficult (well, impossible) for the company to simply pull off the body and transplant it with a new one.
You see, Rolls Royce had taken control of Bentley in 1931 after the smaller company went into financial issues following the beginning of the Great Depression; however, for the next thirty or so years, while the cars came from the factory wearing the same standard bodywork, coachbuilt models were popular and differentiated the models enough that the brands were still distinct.
With the unibody frame, coachbuilding was no longer as easy or viable as it was previously, so more owners began opting for the factory bodies once the Silver Shadow was released. Its Bentley counterpart, the T Series, was identical, save a few bodywork alterations such as the grille and badges. Contemporary critics, though, saw the T Series as a return to Bentley’s sporting form because the unibody frame allowed much better handling characteristics than the body-on-frame chassis used previously as well as the fact that Rolls equipped the Bentley with slightly tighter underpinnings. While the Silver Shadow was to become a runaway sales success which would ironically tarnish the exclusive nature of the brand, the T Series remained a symbol of understated class, i.e. the VW Phaeton to the Bentley Continental today.
It wasn’t until 1998 when Bentley was bought out by Piech (who was apparently fulfilling his German instinct of taking over everything during that time) and the era of rebadged Rolls Royces ended. However, before ‘98, there was one more car that was strikingly similar.
This was the Rolls Royce Silver Spirit/Spur which shared more than a passing resemblance to the Bentley Eight, Mulsanne, Turbo R, and Brooklands. The Bentley remained priced slightly cheaper than its counterpart SZ Series Spirit/Spur (which IMO looks like a Town Car mixed with Cressida and W126) but kept its reputation as a choice for the less ostentatious individual.
Nowadays, this notion of Bentley being a more understated alternative to Rolls Royce has gone by the wayside with the somewhat plebeian Continental based on the D1 platform has become the token vehicle of those with too much money who don’t necessarily know how to spend it. Meanwhile, Rolls Royce has once again regained its status as The Ultimate Being Driven Machine.