Bentley was founded by Walter Owen Bentley in 1920 and bought by Rolls-Royce in 1931.
The original Rolls-Royce Limited had been nationalised in 1971 due to the financial collapse of the company, caused in part by the development of the RB211 jet engine. In 1973, the British government sold the Rolls-Royce car business to allow nationalised parent Rolls-Royce (1971) Limited to concentrate on jet engine manufacture. In 1980, Rolls-Royce Motors was acquired by Vickers.
In 1998, Vickers plc decided to sell Rolls-Royce Motors. The leading contender seemed to be BMW, who already supplied internal combustion engines and other components for Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars. Their final offer of £340m was outbid by Volkswagen Group, who offered £430.
As part of the deal, Volkswagen Group acquired the historic Crewe factory, plus the rights to the "Spirit of Ecstasy" mascot and the shape of the radiator grille. However, the Rolls-Royce brand name and logo were controlled by aero-engine maker Rolls-Royce plc, and not Rolls-Royce Motors. The aero-engine maker decided to license the Rolls-Royce name and logo to BMW and not to Volkswagen, largely because the aero-engine maker had recently shared joint business ventures with BMW. BMW paid £40m to license the Rolls-Royce name and "RR" logo, a deal that many commentators thought was a bargain for possibly the most valuable property in the deal. Volkswagen Group had the rights to the mascot and grille but lacked rights to the Rolls-Royce name in order to build the cars, likewise BMW had the name but lacked rights to the grille and mascot.
The situation was tilted in BMW's favour, as they could withdraw their engine supply with just 12 months notice, which was insufficient time for VW to re-engineer the Rolls-Royce cars to use VW's own engines. Volkswagen claimed that it only really wanted Bentley anyway as it was the higher volume brand, with Bentley models out-selling the equivalent Rolls Royce by around two to one.
After negotiations, BMW and Volkswagen Group arrived at a solution. From 1998 to 2002, BMW would continue to supply engines for the cars and would allow Volkswagen use of the Rolls-Royce name and logo. On 1 January 2003, only BMW would be able to name cars "Rolls-Royce", and Volkswagen Group's former Rolls-Royce/Bentley division would build only cars called "Bentley". The last Rolls Royce from the Crewe factory, the Corniche, ceased production in 2002, at which time the Crewe factory became Bentley Motors Limited, and Rolls-Royce production was relocated to a new entity in Goodwood, England known as Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
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