What's in a Name?

Terry Walker

One of the interesting things about the Bentley motor car, during the Rolls-Royce era, is its mysterious nomenclature. When W.O. was producing Bentley cars, there was a substantial logic:

Four and a Half Litre
Six and a Half Litre
Eight Litre
Four Litre (the last gasp)

Most of these were in production more or less simultaneously, so Cricklewood never had to face the question of what to call a new model 3-litre car if they had ever produced one. Since Rolls-Royce acquired the brand, the new R-R built cars have had the following remarkable sequence of names for the main production models:

1933: Three and a Half Litre
1935: Four and a Quarter Litre
1939: Mark Five (Eh?)
1946: Mark Six
1953: R-Type (Er…)
1955: S-Type
1965: T-Type
1980: Mulsanne
1997: Arnage

What on earth were Rolls-Royce thinking?

Well, the first two model names were in keeping with previous Bentley tradition, based purely on engine capacity. So far…so logical.

The big Eh? arose when the new 4 ¼ Litre model was introduced in 1939, with an all-new chassis, drastically revised engine, and independent front suspension. Keep on calling it the Four and a Quarter Litre? No, the Company wanted to make it quite clear that it really was a new model. But why Mark Five? Whatever happened to Marks 1, 2, 3 and 4?

There are several theories, but it must be said there are no bullet-proof, definitive answers to those questions.

Martyn Nutland, in his book on the postwar Bentley and Rolls-Royce models, puts forward this theory:

The first design for a Rolls-Royce built Bentley was the car codenamed Bensport, which was to have a 2 ½ litre overhead cam engine. This was followed by Bensport 2, also a 2 ½ litre, but based on the Rolls-Royce Peregrine concept, which was for a still smaller Rolls-Royce which was never developed beyond prototype. The Peregrine engine was soon abandoned, and a third experimental engine was developed from the 20/25 Rolls-Royce. This was code named the "Japan 1" engine, and was installed in the proposed Peregrine chassis.

This prototype became known as Bensport 3 and was fairly close to the production 3½ litre model. So we have Marks I, II and III pretty well staring us in the face….. but Mark IV?

The factory internal type code for the production model 3 ½ litre Bentley which appeared in 1933 was 1 B IV. It was in effect Bensport 4. The 4¼ litre version was considered just a variation on the 3½, so 1 B IV (“Mark IV”) applied to what we, the public, think of as two different models. Apparently the “Mark” designations were used purely informally by the development team. It wasn’t until the all-new chassis appeared for 1939 that the company decided to promote the “Mark” nickname to an actual name, and we get the Mark V.

The very rare Mk V. WW2 got in the way.


Well, that’s Martyn Nutland’s theory, and he admits it is still a matter of some contention.

After the War, the new Bentley was called, logically, the Mark VI, and the Company might have continued along this path if it hadn’t been for Jaguar also using Mark names. The Jaguar Mark V was about to be succeeded by the new Mark VII, with Jaguar avoiding Mark VI because of the well known Bentley model. At the same time, the much revised version of the Bentley Mk VI was about to be released, due to be called the Mark VII (and some documentation of it being the Mark VII still exists). The discovery that Jaguar’s Mark VII would hit the streets before the new Bentley Mark VII meant a hasty rethink at Crewe.

The new name was pretty well plucked out of thin air: The chassis number series allocated to the new car had the suffix letters RT. (The first production car was chassis number B 2 RT.) So hey, let’s call it the R-Type. Which led to the Bentley S Type, based on the R-R Silver Cloud, and the Bentley T Type, based on the R-R Silver Shadow.

I guess they must have baulked at a Bentley U Type, so they rummaged in their heritage box, associated Bentley cars with Le Mans, and came up with Mulsanne. (“Le Mans” itself couldn’t be used; it had already been used by another company and was unavailable). Mulsanne is of course the very long, very fast straight at Le Mans, and suggestive of speed. Bentley Mulsanne sounds a lot better than Bentley U-Type.

The current model (as I write) is the Bentley Arnage, another Le Mans association. Oddly though, the current turbo 6.75 litre Bentley Arnage Red Label is significantly faster than the preceding Bentley Mulsanne, but is named after the slowest corner on the famous racing circuit.

What next, for the successor to the Arnage? If they keep the Le Mans association going, there’s not a lot left. The only other famous part of Le Mans is White House Corner, (“Maison Blanc”), but somehow I don’t think a Bentley White House would make the cut. ¶