History of the 1955-1959 Bentley S
When Rolls-Royce introduced the Silver Cloud and Bentley S1 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 Bentley Mk VI and Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn models had been sold in the previous eight years, instead of just hundreds of coachbuilt examples.
The Bentley S1 and S2 and Silver Cloud 1 were a classic example of badge engineering in that they were fundamentally the same except for grilles, hood 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 4,887 cc six-cylinder engine that dated back to the original Silver Ghost.
GM’s 4-speed Hydra-Matic transmission was standard from 1956, when power steering and air-conditioning were 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, 35 long-wheelbase limousines were built and the custom coachwork, high-performance S-Type Continental continued to a big hit, 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 quite desirable. The Bentley S1 outsold the Rolls-Royce 2-1.
A new aluminum V-8 engine of 6,230 cc 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. 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-headliner 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 mechanic, and be aware that any repairs will be costly. Avoid right-hand drive cars unless their provenance is impeccable and they were imported early to the U.S. Check carefully for rust as well and buy nothing that’s been in wedding service (in which case it’s probably been painted bright white). In the right hands, these cars will go a half-million miles, but deferred maintenance can make for endless problems.