Bentley T-Series
Bentley T1
Bentley T Series

Total Production: 1,852
It's refreshing to see Rolls-Royce and Bentley traveling in their own, independent directions once again. The two carmakers had distinctly different personalities prior to Rolls-Royce's acquisition of Bentley in 1931, but it took the guidance of two German companies (Volkswagen for Bentley and BMW for Rolls-Royce) to knock Bentley and Rolls-Royce back into their proper pre-1931 orbits after the two brands had been intertwined for so many years.

From the early 1930s through the late 1990s, Rolls-Royce and Bentley served up the world's most opulent examples of a disdained practice: badge engineering. The same practice that arguably spelled the end of American companies like Oldsmobile, Mercury, and Pontiac was alive and well for decades at one of Britain's most prestigious car companies. For many years, the Rolls-Royce and Bentley line-ups essentially mirrored each other, with Rolls-Royce and Bentley each producing cars that were all but identical aside from different grilles and badges. Rolls-Royce supposedly built a more luxurious car, while Bentley claimed to produce a sportier conveyance. In reality, though, the cars were extremely similar: the Bentley vs. Rolls-Royce debate was little more than an extravagant marketing gimmick aimed at satisfying customers' brand loyalties.

It was this mindset that led to the creation of the Bentley T1 for 1965. Introduced at the same time as the nearly identical Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, the T1 was the Bentley alternative of an all-new platform.

While the Bentley's badge-engineered position was traditional and even archaic, the car itself was not. The car that came before the T1 and Silver Shadow—called the Silver Cloud in Rolls-Royce guise and named S1, S2, or S3 as a Bentley—was outdated even upon its introduction in 1955. The ten-years-newer T1 and Silver Shadow represented perhaps 30 years worth of advancement over the outgoing model, and they proved the ability of Rolls-Royce/Bentley to produce a modern luxury car.

The Bentley T1 used the all-alloy Rolls-Royce V8, displacing either 6,230cc or 6,750cc. Its body featured monocoque construction, a great technological advancement over the outgoing models that enabled more modern driving characteristics and limited weight savings, at the cost of making it difficult for coachbuilders to fit new bodies. Additionally, four-wheel disc brakes and a self-leveling suspension system were fitted.

The shape of the car, too, was modern and pleasant, a blessing given the difficulty of fitting new coachwork. Only James Young (with 15 coupes) and Pininfarina (with a single coupe whose styling would influence the Rolls-Royce Camargue) ventured to construct new bodies for the T1.

Though the T1 and Silver Shadow were essentially identical, the Silver Shadow was far and away the better seller of the two. The Silver Shadow outsold its Bentley counterpart about 10 to 1, making the T1 a relatively rare find today. Bentley produced 1,703 T1 sedans, along with limited runs of two-door coupes and convertibles by H.J. Mulliner Park Ward and the 16 aforementioned specials, for a total of 1,852 cars. The T1 was produced for well over a decade, from 1965 to 1977, and was succeeded by the T2, an update of the same basic design that continued until 1980.

The Bentley T1, along with the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, represented an important era in the history of Bentley and Rolls-Royce. Though the T1 was a shameless act of badge engineering, it was at least an automobile founded on modern principles and capable of competing head-on with contemporary luxury cars instead of simply using prestige as an excuse to avoid direct competition as the Bentley S-cars and Rolls-Royce Silver Clouds had done. It was a car that, while rooted in the past and steeped in tradition, was ready to face the future of automobile design.

Sources:

'Bentley T1.' Motorbase n. pag. Web. 6 Jul 2010. http://www.motorbase.com/vehicle/by-id/105/.

Roßfeldt, K.-J. 'Bentley T1.' rrab.com: n. pag. Web. 6 Jul 2010. http://rrab.com/bt1.htm#top .

By Evan Acuña
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* Please note, dates are approximate

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