When Rolls-Royce introduced the Bentley S1 and its own Silver Cloud in 1955, the company had already proven that it could be significantly more profitable by offering complete cars instead of depending on custom coachbuilders. Literally thousands of Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn and Bentley Mk VI models had been sold in the previous eight years, instead of just hundreds of coachbuilt earlier models.
The Bentley S1 and S2 and Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud I were classic examples of badge engineering. They were fundamentally the same except for grilles, bonnet shape, mascots, instruments, and wheel covers. The body was a modified razor-edge design that was beautifully proportioned and a huge hit. Bentley sold 3,107 S1 models between 1955 and 1959, using the 4887cc six-cylinder engine that dated back to the original Silver Ghost. A new aluminium 6230cc V-8 engine was introduced for the S2 Bentley and Silver Cloud II in 1959. It developed 200 horsepower, which was about 30% more than the old six-cylinder engine, but fuel consumption dropped from 16 mpg to 10 mpg.
GM’s 4-speed Hydra-Matic transmission was standard from 1956, when power steering and air conditioning were also offered. The cars had adjustable shock absorbers operated by a lever on the steering column, and the brakes got a second master cylinder in 1956. Chassis and suspension were operated by a total-loss Bijur system, with an oil tank on the firewall.
From 1957 on, 35 long-wheelbase limousines were built and the custom coachwork, high-performance S-Type Continental continued to be successful, with 431 sold. Park Ward built a striking two-door sedan and others were bodied by James Young and Hooper, while the four-door Mulliner Flying Spur is also desirable. The Bentley S1 outsold its Rolls-Royce equivalent 2 to 1.
For Bentley's S2 models, chassis lubrication was modernized, with 21 grease gun fittings, and automatic transmission and power windows were standard. The Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II outsold the Bentley S2 series but Bentley still sold 1,922 cars, including 57 long-wheelbase limousines, before the introduction of the four-headlight S3 and Silver Cloud III in 1962.
As always, buy only the best cars with complete records and a solid ownership trail. Insist on a pre-purchase inspection by a Rolls-Royce/Bentley specialist, and be aware that any repairs will be costly. Check carefully for rust. Many cars may have been in wedding service--check these have been properly maintained, but frequent use may actually make these a more attractive proposition than cars that have been infrequently driven.