What is the history of Bentley in the UK?

Bentley Motors Limited is a British company that makes and sells luxury cars and SUVs. Since 1998, it has been a part of the Volkswagen Group and has been a part of Audi since 2022.

Bentley is connected with elegance, grandeur, and superior automobile manufacturing. If you drive a Bentley around the city streets, you will undoubtedly get a few or many jealous glances.

A Bentley is much more than simply another name in luxury automobiles; it is a statement. Possessing one implies you are either very wealthy. Bentley uniquely embodies British grace. The private limousine of the Queen is a unique Bentley type of which only two were made.

How did this manufacturer come to be regarded as the pinnacle of British gentility? Let’s take a look at Bentley’s history.

Walter Owen Bentley: The Founder

Walter Owen Bentley, who liked to be known to as W.O., was born in 1888 as the youngest of nine children. He was an English engineer who created the London-based Bentley Motors Limited. He raced motorcycles and automobiles as a young guy. After establishing his reputation as a designer of aviation and vehicle engines, Bentley founded his own company in 1919. He guided the brand to many wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans after establishing the company as one of the world’s leading luxury and performance automakers. After selling his namesake to Rolls-Royce Limited in 1931, he worked for Lagonda, Aston Martin, and Armstrong Siddeley as a designer.

Now, over a century later, his name is renowned worldwide for producing automobiles with an unmatched combination of performance and the best workmanship and materials.

The first Bentley automobile was produced in 1919, and the brand has since grown from strength to strength to become the ultimate British luxury car manufacturer.

The Early Years

Early Years

Walter Owen Bentley, an English engineer, established Bentley Motors in the London suburb of Cricklewood in 1919. After beginning his career by selling French automobiles, W.O, as he preferred to be called, always desired to develop and manufacture his own automobiles. W.O exhibited his first engine at the London Motor Show, in collaboration with ex-military experts. The vehicles were renowned for their durability and speed, with Bentley’s participation in the 1922 Indy 500 serving as an early highlight.

After the triumph of the 1924 Bentley 3 Litre Sport in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the brand quickly gained popularity among rich British motorists. Unfortunately, Bentley was perpetually underfunded and in 1925 had major financial troubles. However, it was saved by Woolf Barnato.

Captain Woolf Barnato

Barnato, a member of the so-called ‘Bentley Boys,’ assisted Bentley financially to the point where he ended up dominating the firm as Chairman. Bentley was able to manufacture a complete generation of automobiles under Barnato’s ownership with W. O as an employee. The vehicles of Barnato’s era won Le Mans in 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930.

Bentleys in Cricklewood

  • 1921–1929 3-litre
  • 1926–1930 4½-litre & “Blower Bentley”
  • 1926–1930 6½-litre
  • 1928–1930 6½-litre Speed Six
  • 1930–1931 8-litre
  • 1931 4-litre

Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression

The Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression hit in 1929. The Wall Street Crash almost killed the demand for expensive cars, which put Bentley in financial trouble again

Rolls-Royce

Bentley was about to be acquired by Napier & Son, but they were outbid by British Central Equitable Trust. Rolls-Royce is the corporation behind British Central Equitable Trust. As a result, Rolls-Royce purchased Bentley in 1931.

Rolls-Royce acquired the assets of Bentley Motors (1919) Ltd and established Bentley Motors (1931) Ltd as a subsidiary. Rolls-Royce had purchased the Bentley shops on Cork Street, the Kingsbury service station, the Cricklewood complex, and Bentley’s services. This latter point was challenged in court without success by Napier. Bentley failed to register their trademark; thus, Rolls-Royce registered it immediately. In 1932, they also sold the Cricklewood plant. Rolls-Royce halted production for two years before restarting operations in Derby. W. O. Bentley, dissatisfied with his position at Rolls-Royce, departed the company at the end of April 1935 to join Lagonda.

The Bentley 3 ½ litre, a sportier version of the Rolls-Royce 20/25, was the first automobile produced by Rolls-Royce. It’s interesting to note that all automobiles built between 1931 and 2004 shared or inherited Rolls-Royce chassis and engines.

Derby Bentleys

  • 1933–1937 3½-litre
  • 1936–1939 4¼-litre
  • 1939–1941 Mark V
  • 1939 Mark V

Bentley moves to Crewe

Rolls-Royce and the British government discovered Crewe when looking for a place for their shadow plant to manufacture aviation engines. It has excellent road and rail connections and is safe from aircraft attack. 25,000 Merlin engines were built and 10,000 workers were employed during WWII. After the war, Rolls-Royce relocated its aviation operations to Crewe, where Bentley vehicles are still manufactured today. Bentleys became noticeably more Rolls-Royce-like after the war, and sales plummeted significantly. 

Vickers buys Bentley

Vickers

The RB211 engine problem led to the nationalization of Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royce Motors Limited, a distinct company, maintained its independence up until 1980, when Vickers plc acquired it. Vickers was the driving force behind Bentley’s return to its roots as a high-performance automobile. The Mulsanne’s creation served as more evidence of this. Some automobiles produced while owned by Vickers were;

  • Continental Turbo
  • Bentley Mulsanne
  • Bentley Brooklands
  • Azure
  • RT Mulliner

Volkswagen

Vickers announced the sale of Rolls-Royce Motors in 1997. As BMW already provided engines and other components to both Rolls-Royce and Bentley automobiles, the company was seen as the obvious candidate for this acquisition. However, VW outbid them by about £100 million.

The issue was that although Volkswagen owned the designs and manufacturing facilities, they did not own the Rolls-Royce brand and also the logo. BMW paid Rolls-Royce plc for the brand and badge, starting a conflict between the automakers. Following discussions, it was determined that BMW would get the Rolls-Royce and VW the Bentley.

Volkswagen took over the firm and started manufacturing the renowned automobiles we know today.

In 2002, to commemorate her Golden Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth II was given an official State Limousine by Bentley.

Bentley has also grown in the market for prestige cars. The Continental and the sportier GT version are now the cars of choice for music stars, top football players, and the rich and famous.

The history of Bentley is fascinating and the luxurious automobiles that have been produced by the company are among the are among the best in the world. Here are a few of the finest Bentleys ever produced.

2021 Bentley Continental GT

2021 Bentley Continental GT

Unapologetically extravagant in every sense, the Bentley Continental GT is expensive. This automobile had a particularly difficult job to do since it was the first vehicle produced after Volkswagen’s acquisition, yet it succeeded as expected. This vehicle is a twin-turbo 6.0-liter W12 engine-powered, attractive, roomy, and exquisitely constructed living embodiment of a creator’s vision.

Bentley Turbo-R

The car that distinguished clearly between Bentleys and Rolls Royces was the Turbo-R. As a result, the engine was adequately modified, becoming a 6.75-liter V8 that generated 300 horsepower and 468 lb.-ft of torque. It was a quick vehicle with a body that was lightweight for a Bentley. It was also one of the most recognizable automobiles of its period due to its distinctive appearance.

Bentley 8 Litre

As the final vehicle created by W.O. Bentley for the firm, the Bentley 8 Litre was the brand’s most luxurious grand tourer. It was introduced in 1930 and was known as the “100-mph silent automobile.” Due to the Wall Street Crash, however, only 100 versions were manufactured between 1930 and 1932. It was the Bentley Eight Litre that marked the end of the Bentley brand before Rolls Royce acquired the firm.

Bentley Speed 6

The Bentley Speed 6 is one of the Bentley lineage’s most revered forebears. It had a strong engine that served as the foundation for the most of the company’s future work and was one of the top race winners in its prime.

Blower Bentley

The Blower Bentley, perhaps one of the most recognized Bentleys of all time, built on the skills of the Bentley 4 ½ Litre of the late 1920s by adding a Roots-type supercharger in front of the headlights.

Tim Birkin, an independent racer, requested the addition of the blower, which helped the vehicle finish second in the 1930 French Grand Prix and establish a lap record of 137.96 mph in 1932 at Brooklands.

Bentayga

Bentayga

The Bentley Bentayga is the manufacturer’s first SUV. The Bentayga has expanded from its initial W-12 engine offering to include V-8, diesel, and hybrid powertrain options.

Currently, the majority of Bentley vehicles are constructed in the company’s Crewe facility, but a limited number are assembled at Volkswagen’s Dresden factory in Germany, and the bodywork for the Continental and Bentayga are made at the Volkswagen Bratislava Plant.

Bentley continues to develop a future fueled by new technologies, materials, fuels, and talents in pursuit of a progressive, new world: one in which the greatest levels of luxury mobility are attained by environmentally responsible means.