Prototypes : Rolls-Royce/Bentley collaboration with BMC
During the early-to-mid 1960s, Rolls-Royce entered into a collaborative venture with BMC, with a view to jointly producing a range of saloons and coupés.
Rolls-Royce was thinking in terms of downsizing at this time, a reaction to the general down-turn in demand for their traditional coachbuilt models during the post-war years. In due course, this would lead to the production of the their first unitary-construction car, the 1965 Silver Shadow, but along the way, a number of intriguing BMC-based Rolls-Royce and Bentley models were considered.
History relates that the only production manifestation of the BMC/Rolls-Royce venture was the FB60-engined Vanden Plas 4-Litre R, but on this page you can catch a glimpse of some of the cars that might have been…
The ADO53-based Bentley Java
The short-lived Java project (1961-1962) was conceived as a way of developing a new entry-level saloon on a shoestring budget, by basing the car on the bodyshell of BMC’s Vanden Plas Princess 3-Litre. Perhaps mindful of the effect such a move might have had on its reputation, Rolls-Royce only ever contemplated marketing this car as a Bentley model.
A six-cylinder engine, the F-60, was earmaked for the car, having originally been developed from a previous Rolls-Royce engine for use in the aborted Bentley Burma saloon. The first running prototype, designated 71-B, hit the road in March 1962 and was little more than a Vanden Plas Princess 3-Litre fitted with a Rolls-Royce F-60 engine and gearbox, along with various other modifications to its brakes and steering.
This car was used solely for performance-evaluation testing, but would later form a test-bed for the Vanden Plas Princess 4-litre R, which retained the F-60 engine (designated FB60 in its BMC incarnation) but dispensed with the 71-B prototype’s gearbox, brakes and steering.
The picture above records the styling transition from Princess 3-Litre to Java. A quarter-scale model of the 3-Litre was used as a starting point, and the revised rear wings and bootline were worked up in clay. The front of the car would also be given a makeover.
This is the first full-scale model of the Java, showing its vetically-stacked twin headlights which predicted the frontal appearance of the following year’s Alvis TE21 (although the style of both these cars was likely to have been inspired by that of the 1954 Facel Vega FV).
This is the sole fully-engineered prototype produced for Project Java, and was designated 72-B. By the time it was ready in October 1962, the project had all but been cancelled, and testing of this model lasted barely more than a month. During that period, a number of changes were made to the car’s mechanical specification, with the revised version being known as Java 2.
Evolving into a mini Bentley T-Series
In the above image, we see the quarter-scale Java 3 model, which is as far as the car got before the plug was pulled. With substantially revised bodywork, clearly inspired by the contemporary thinking that was shaping the Burma/Silver Shadow, thoughts finally turned to the possibility of marketing the car as a Rolls-Royce.
However, these plans came to nothing and, once Java had been cancelled, the F-60 engine was released to BMC for use in the Vanden Plas 4-Litre R – it is, though, widely thought that the development of the Silver Shadow benefitted from the experience gained during Project Java.
ADO61-based Bentley Bengal/R-R Rangoon
By the time the Vanden Plas 4-Litre R reached the market in 1964, work was already well underway on project ADO61 (the Austin 3-Litre), which would replace the entire big Farina range. As can be seen in the Vanden Plas prototypes gallery, BMC gave serious consideration to producing a Vanden Plas Princess version of the Austin 3-Litre, but less well-known is the fact that this car could also have formed the basis of a brace of even more upmarket saloons.
Pictured above is the Bentley Bengal styling model, in which the doors and quarter lights from the ADO61 (and indeed, ADO17) are clearly identifiable. The car would have used the suspension and six-cylinder engine from the aborted Java 2 proposal, but in fact did not get beyond the quarter-scale model seen here. However, that suspension system did eventually see the light of day – in the Austin 3-Litre.
The Bengal formed the basis for a Rolls-Royce version of the car, the Rangoon. Externally, the two would have differed only in details such as the radiator grille and chromework but, as the above double-sided model reveals, some thought was given to an alternative front wing treatment. As with the Bengal, the ADO17/ADO61 origins are obvious.
Had the Bengal and Rangoon reached production, the main differences between them would have been limited to the quality of the interior trim, with the Bentley being the less lavishly finished of the two.
Before the project was dropped, doubts were evidently creeping in about the instantly-recognisable glasshouse, so this heavily revised model of the Bengal was produced. However, productionising such a move would, of course, have sent costs spiralling and thus largely undermined the whole point of using ADO61 as its basis. Mercifully, the plug was pulled and Rolls-Royce instead concentrated their efforts on getting the Silver Shadow onto the market.
ADO30-based Bentley Alpha
Alongside the Bengal/Rangoon project, Rolls-Royce saw an opportunity to develop a Bentley version of a BMC’s proposed ADO30 coupe, which was itself to have been built on ADO17 underpinnings.
ADO30 (also referred to within BMC as XC5212) had its origins in a project to replace the Austin-Healey 3000 with a Pininfarina-designed coupe, using Hydrolastic suspension and the 4-litre FB60 engine or a twin-OHC version of the Rolls-Royce F-60 engine, dubbed G-60.
Most observers seriously doubt that this engine would have done such a car justice, but it was all to prove academic: in 1966, Jaguar joined forces with BMC and, after briefly thinking about using a Jaguar engine in the car, the project was promptly cancelled.
Although a full-size prototype of the BMC car was produced, the Bentley Alpha only made it as far as the quarter-scale model pictured above.
ADO58: Bentley Burma-based coupe
This was the final joint-project undertaken by BMC and Rolls-Royce, and was intended to produce a coupé based on a shortended version of the aborted Bentley Burma prototype. The car would have been built and sold only by BMC, and would most likely have carried one of their upmarket brands, such as Wolseley or Riley. However, the project was cancelled before any models or prototypes were built, although it is believed that one of the Bentley Burma protoypes was modified as a mock-up.
This page was contributed by Declan Berridge