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The fate of Britain’s legendary Rolls-Royce and Bentley marques is so crazy that plenty of folk still don’t understand it — so a recapitulation is in order. Last year, Germany’s Volkswagen bought Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd. when it outbid BMW. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd. makes both Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, so VW thought it had bought the rights to manufacture both brands.
Unfortunately, it had bought everything but the rights to the Rolls-Royce name, which were held by Rolls-Royce plc. This company builds Rolls-Royce jet engines and was spun off from the car-making arm of the company back in the 1970s, when the aero-engine half of the business plunged R-R into effective bankruptcy.
The aviation company already had a liaison with BMW to make jets, and its chairman decided to stand by his chums in Munich. VW was foreign, said R-R plc, and wasn’t therefore suitable to look after the future of Rolls-Royce cars. BMW was also foreign, but it was obviously a much better class of foreigner, for it was deemed to be worthy to take over the Rolls-Royce name.
One of the best brand names in the world was therefore sold (for peanuts) to BMW, who licensed it back to VW until 2003. At that point, BMW will take over the manufacture of Rolls-Royces in a new British factory, and VW will concentrate on Bentley.
Got it? Well, try to follow along.
In a sidelight on this, it’s worth pointing out that although the aviation company had the rights to the name, the flying lady mascot and the shape of the radiator, the two most recognizable symbols of Rolls-Royce, were in fact registered designs owned by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd. and, as such, had been bought by VW. In a gesture much more worthy of an English gentleman than the mean-spirited action of Rolls-Royce plc, Dr Ferdinand Piech, VW’s boss, handed them both over to BMW.