The History Behind Bentley Motors

Background

Considered to be one of the oldest and famous car brands in the world, Bentley Motors is highly patronized for building some of the most luxurious and high-performance cars in the industry. Founded in 1919 by Walter Owen Bentley or W.O Bentley, the British car manufacturer is best known for making exceptional grand tourer cars that aim to make any person’s voyage across the country or in long distances, a convenient, classy, and thrilling experience. Through its 100-plus-year history, their expertise in automotives were also used for war efforts which proves their commitment and versatility. Some of the car models that Bentley produced that have been loved by car enthusiasts and civilians include the Bentley Continental GT, Mulsanne, Flying Spur, Bentayga, and Continental GTC.

Let us take a look back at the history of Jenson Motors and learn about their journey as well as their contributions to the automotive industry.

Early History of Bentley Motors

Like many of the origin stories of different car brands, the success of Bentley all started with one man who developed his passion for cars and engines since he was just a little boy. Upon growing up, he became captain of the Royal Naval Air Service and used his natural talent in the war efforts by creating a reliable and strong engine out of aluminum pistons, for the Sopwith Camel which became the most successful British fighter aircraft during those times.[1] His contribution became an important key towards fulfilling his dreams after being awarded an MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1919 along with an £8,000 award. This gave him enough capital to start his own company on July 10 of the same year, and so Bentley Motors was born. [1]

Bentley’s First Set of Cars 

 

Bentley’s vision was simple, to engineer “a good car, a fast car, the best in its class”, and this was manifested in his first car model, the Bentley 3-Litre. Launched in 1921, this grand tourer was way ahead of its time due to its innovative features including a crossflow cylinder head, twin spark plugs, and twin carburettors. This paved the way for the company’s victories at the 24 hour of Le Mans in 1924 and in 1927. [2] Even Autocar magazine praised this saying that its performance “combined docility in traffic with exceptional speed potentiality on the open road”. [2] In 1926, he released the 6 and ½ liter model that also gave two victories during the Le Mans in 1929 and 1930. 

The Bentley 8-liter model however, was what others and W.O Bentley himself, considered to be his masterpiece because of how powerful it was. Built in 1930, the 8-liter had the power and torque of a straight-six engine and the speed capacity of 100 mph regardless of the type of body that the car owner chooses. Moreover, it was also known and praised as a “dead silent 100 mph car” because of how quiet it was. In a review, Captain W. Gordon Aston said, “Never in my life have I known a vehicle in which such a prodigious performance was linked to such smooth, unobtrusive quietness.”

Despite its success and prominence, the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929 limited the company’s production to 100 models. But even so, its legacy as an excellent and unique car model remains to this day.

Rolls Royce and the Crewe Factory

Rolls Royce and the Crewe Factory

After the stock market crash, Rolls Royce, another famous luxury car brand, bought the assets of Bentley Motors which included a complex at Cricklewood, showrooms in Cork street, a service station in Kingsbury, and even the services of W.O Bentley himself. From London, the company’s operations moved to Crewe, which was a town north of Manchester, where they began building the 4 ¼ liter Derby Bentley or also known as the Mark V in 1939. [3]  It had a refined six-cylinder engine that produced around 120 horsepower which was already impressive during that time. Similar to the 8-liter model, the Derby Bentley was dubbed as the “silent sports car” which eventually became a slogan used for Bentley cars until the 1950s. [3]

Shortly after World War II, they went back into production and launched the following famous car models:

 

  1. Bentley Mark VI – The Mark VI was a postwar luxury car, specifically a 4-door standard steel sports saloon launched in 1946. This also became the first car from Rolls Royce with all-steel coachwork. This was powered by an F-head straight-six 4-liter engine allowing the car to gain a top speed of 100 mph just like some of its predecessors. It also featured a luxurious interior made of traditional and leather, as well as a sliding sunroof. [4]

 

  1. Bentley R-Type Continental – Introduced in 1952, this 4-door sports saloon that had a long and graceful body, a fastback roofline, and fins that were added to the rear wings to maintain stability. Powered by a straight-six engine it would also go at speeds of 100 mph while seating four passengers. Because Britain did not have motorways during the time, the Bentley gave a great touring experience, which became the reason why it had the word “Continental” in its name. [2]

 

  1. Bentley S1 – This luxury 4-door sedan built in 1955 was inspired from Rolls Royce’s redesigned production car launched after World War II which was the “Silver Cloud”. Powered by a 4.9-liter straight-six engine, the S1 was slightly faster than its predecessors with its top speed of 103 mph than the usual 100 mph. Compared to the R-Type Continental, many improvements were made such as a lower build (without reducing headroom), lighter steering, improved braking, and a softer suspension. [5]

Vickers and the Bentley Mulsanne

 

After W.O Bentley’s  passing in 1971 as well as the financial collapse of Rolls Royce, Vickers PLC, an engineering and manufacturing company, acquired Bentley Motors. Under its leadership but still using the Bentley marque, they produced a high-performance car known as the Bentley Mulsanne in 1980. Its name was derived from the Mulsanne Straight which was part of the racing course of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in which cars reach their highest speeds at this point. This is because of the phenomenal top speed of 190 mph that it achieved after being powered by a 6.75-liter Rolls Royce V8 engine. In 1982, the Mulsanne Turbo was released which was said to have a 50% increase in engine performance. Moreover, this model was also praised for its stylish interior that featured a highly polished, walnut-veneered fascia, leather upholstery with pure wool used for the carpet and headlining. [6]

Rebranding with Volkswagen Ownership

In 1997, Vickers officially sold Bentley Motors to Volkswagen, another famous car manufacturer, which had plans to rebrand the Bentley under its ownership. Dedicated to their vision, Volkswagen was even reported to have sent US $2 billion for Bentley’s revival which they used for upgrading the Crewe factory’s facilities and in expanding the workforce. [3] At this time, Bentley was fortunate enough to relive its heritage in the field of racing after returning to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Bentley EXP Speed 8 race car in 2001, and winning in 2003. [3]

Rebranding with Volkswagen Ownership

In the next decade, things started sailing smoothly again for Bentley after the production of several successful models like the Bentley Continental GT which had a powerful 6-liter twin-turbocharged W12 engine, enabling it to achieve a top speed of around 207 mph. The car brand also had its royal highlight in automotive history after building a Bentley State Limousine for none other than  Queen Elizabeth II for the celebration of her Golden Jubilee in 2002. [3] Meanwhile in 2003, the Bentley Azure was released which featured a 6.75-liter V8 engine along with a 4-speed automatic transmission, gaining a top speed of 150 mph. The styling of its body was also based on the highly patronized R-Continental model.

Bentley in the Recent Years

After gaining its momentum, Bentley continued its legacy and produced more modernized versions of its past car models as well as new ones. The famous models in current production include the following: 

 

  1. Bentley Bentayga – Premiered in 2015, the Bentayga is an all-wheel drive SUV  powered by a twin-turbo 6 liter W12 engine. In a diesel engine, the car could achieve a top speed of 168 mph, while 180 mph in a V8. The car also features innovative specs such as bluetooth connectivity, Bentley’s signature voice control system, driver assistance programs, and even intelligent parking assist capabilities. [7]

 

  1. Bentley Continental GT (3rd Generation) – The 3rd generation of the Continental GT is a newer version of the grand tourer coupe released in 2017. Similar to the Bentayga, it is also powered by a twin-turbocharged 6-liter W12 engine, thus enabling it to achieve a top speed of 207 mph. Modern specs in the model include Apple Carplay, MirrorLink support, and a 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system. [8]

 

  1. Bentley Flying Spur (3rd Generation) – Produced since 2019, the 3rd generation of the Bentley Flying Spur is a full-size luxury grand tourer which was handcrafted in the Crewe factory, taking at least 100 hours to completely assemble by hand. This model can be equipped with either of the three engines including a 6-liter W12,  a 4-liter V8, as well as a plug-in hybrid with maximum speeds ranging from 198 to 211 mph. The model is also equipped with modern technology like driver assist systems including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning. [9]

References

[1] The extraordinary life of W.O. Bentley. Bentley Motors Website: World of Bentley: The Bentley Story: History and Heritage: Historic People: W.O. Bentley. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://www.bentleymotors.com/en/world-of-bentley/the-bentley-story/history-and-heritage/historic-people/w-o-bentley.html#:~:text=Bentley%20Motors%20was%20founded%20by,of%20both%20luxury%20and%20performance

[2]  Extraordinary heritage. Bentley Motors Website: World of Bentley: The Bentley Story: History and Heritage. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://www.bentleymotors.com/en/world-of-bentley/the-bentley-story/history-and-heritage/extraordinary-heritage.html

[3] Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, February 26). Bentley. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bentley

[4] Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, January 7). Bentley Mark VI. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bentley_Mark_VI

[5] Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, October 30). Bentley S1. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bentley_S1

[6] Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, January 15). Bentley Mulsanne (1980–1992). Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bentley_Mulsanne_(1980%E2%80%931992)

[7] Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, January 27). Bentley Bentayga. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bentley_Bentayga

[8] Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, February 6). Bentley Continental GT. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bentley_Continental_GT

[9] Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, January 7). Bentley Flying Spur (2005). Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bentley_Flying_Spur_(2005)