Think luxury in the classic car world and two names instantly spring to mind: Rolls-Royce and Bentley. Of course, the two are inextricably linked and their relationship stretches back to the 1930s when Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley, but for many, the former has always been the slightly more subdued way to express their appreciation for the finer things in life.
The Bentley S1 came to the fore in 1955 and was born from the parent company’s post-war development of the Silver Cloud. It was to be a direct replacement for the R Type (Bentley Mark VII) and although it retained the presence and commanding stature of its predecessor, the S1 boasted an all new design with a sleeker appearance than its rather angular older sister.
With a longer wheelbase, seating for five or six people, electrically controlled rear dampers and a larger, 4.9-litre straight-six than had been fitted to the R Type, the new Bentley was sure to appeal to those looking for something a little different – particularly as there was a noticeable saving over buying the equivalent Rolls-Royce but with very few differences apart from the obvious badging.
The optional power steering, introduced in 1956, made certain that the driving experience was a relatively effortless task despite the not inconsiderable weight and with both two- and four-door versions available thanks to the coupe and saloon model variations – not to mention the involvement of several coachbuilders including HJ Mulliner and James Young – there was something to please every potential purchaser.
The Bentley S1 failed to draw much in the way of criticism when it was tested by The Autocar. Although obviously a large vehicle, its silence and comfort was praised – as would be expected from such an offering of course, but so too was the “utterly effortless” ability to cruise at high average speeds whilst offering peace of mind with regards to the braking and stability.
Testers reported reaching top speeds with relative ease whilst retaining the ability to remain in control and know that the vehicle would react accordingly in the event of emergency action being necessary, thanks in part to the much-praised servo-assisted brakes.
Of course, when you think of a large, luxury cruiser such as the Bentley, you don’t necessarily link it to cornering with ‘gusto’, yet testers confirmed that it responded extraordinarily well through ‘S’ bends and only advised that a touch of throttle might be all that was needed to help it round certain corners.
Again, the four-speed automatic gearbox is viewed as a positive inclusion, providing the “best of two worlds” with the option to leave in ‘fourth’ and let all changes happen automatically, or slip into positions two or three and hold gearing for much longer. Either way, the flexibility on offer is welcomed and presents the ability to maintain high average speeds through considered use.
Signing off by suggesting that after a day in the Bentley, the driver will look forward to yet more time behind the wheel is perhaps the best praise that could be put the way of the Bentley and confirms that something of such luxury does not diminish its status as a true driver’s car.