Bentley – the car for the royals!
Did you hear say royal? Aristocracy is it? Yes, you heard it right…we say it again…Bentley! Right word to describe imperialism on four-wheels.
Bentley is one of the most posh and luxurious brands of cars we know today. Be it the looks, the made, the features, the functions or the price tag…it has every reason to be under the “upper crust” tag.
And exactly how did it all begin? How has the journey been to the road of success? Smooth as the polished exterior of the car? Or rough like the road itself? Let’s read the inside story of Bentley in the pages that follow…
Bentley: in a gist…
Bentley Motors was founded by W.O. Bentley in 1919 when the first Bentley engine burst into life at New Street Mews, London.
From these modest beginnings, W.O’s company went from strength to strength through the 1920s, with an evolving series of acclaimed motor cars and a parade of racing triumphs to prove their outstanding performance. These laurels were capped with five outright victories at Le Mans between 1924 – 1930 and a sixth in 2003.
If Bentley had mission statements in those days, it could not have been expressed more eloquently than in the words of W.O. himself, “To build a good car, a fast car, the best in class”.
These words are just as relevant today as they continue to inform the beliefs, actions and ambitions for the future. Located in Crewe, England since 1946 and owned since 1998 by Volkswagen AG, Bentley Motors is dedicated to making responsive and powerful Grand Tourers with the stamina to cross continents at pace, and drive in refined comfort and style.
A more into Bentley:
Bentley Motors Limited is a British manufacturer of automobiles founded on 18 January 1919 by Walter Owen Bentley known as W. O. Bentley or just “W O”. Bentley had been previously known for his range of rotary aero-engines in World War I, the most famous being the Bentley BR1 as used in later versions of the Sopwith Camel. After the war W. O. Bentley designed and made production cars that won the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1924 and following models which repeated those successes each June 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930.
Before World War I, W.O. Bentley had been in partnership with his brother H.M. Bentley selling French DFP cars, but he had always wanted to design and build his own range of cars bearing his name. In August 1919, Bentley Motors Ltd. was registered, and a chassis with dummy engine was exhibited at the London Motor Show in October of that year. An innovative 4 valves per cylinder engine designed by ex-Royal Flying Corps officer Clive Gallop was built and running by December, and orders were taken for deliveries starting in June 1920; however, development took longer than estimated, and the first cars were not ready until September 1921. Their durability earned widespread acclaim. Appearances were made in hill climbs and at Brooklands and a single entry in the 1922 Indianapolis 500 mile race driven by Douglas Hawkes finished at an average speed in excess of 80 miles an hour.
The Bentley Boys
A group of wealthy British motorists known as the “Bentley Boys”—Woolf Barnato, Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin, steeplechaser George Duller, aviator Glen Kidston, automotive journalist S.C.H. “Sammy” Davis, and Dr Dudley Benjafield among them—kept the marque’s reputation for high performance alive. Bentley, located at Cricklewood, north London, was noted for its four consecutive victories at the 24 hours of Le Mans from 1927 to 1930.
In 1929, Birkin had developed the lightweight Blower Bentley, including five racing specials that started with the Brooklands racing designed Bentley Blower No.1.
In March 1930, during the Blue Train Races, Woolf Barnato raised the stakes on Rover and its Rover Light Six, having raced and beat Le Train Bleu for the first time, to better that record with his 6½-litre Bentley Speed Six on a bet of £100. He drove against the train from Cannes to Calais, then by ferry to Dover, and finally London, travelling on public highways, and won; the H.J. Mulliner-bodied formal saloon he drove during the race as well as a streamlined fastback “Sportsman Coupé” by Gurney Nutting—he took delivery of on 21 May 1930—became known as the “Blue Train Bentleys”; the latter is regularly mistaken for (or erroneously referred to) as being the car that raced the Blue Train, while in fact Barnato named it in memory of his race.
The Brand…by name:
There are many unmistakable characteristics that define a Bentley – handcrafted luxury, distinctive design, breathtaking power and performance, a refined and exhilarating driving experience. Yet it is the combination of these characteristics that makes the brand so unique.
The six-time success at Le Mans has made Bentley more than a car – it has come to stand for a way of doing things: with spirit, flair, courage, instinctive intelligence and teamwork. Endurance racing has always been a way for the company to test, strengthen and improve the cars.
The dedication and determination that it brings to building the cars intensifies the unique experience every Bentley driver takes from ultimate relaxation to ultimate exhilaration. The task of a Bentley may be to take customers from A to B. But it’s how it gets them there that demonstrates everything about the marque.
More than any other trait, power is the defining characteristic at the heart of the brand. In a Bentley, it’s that distinctive surge, like a giant hand pushing you towards the horizon. In the way it does business, its total self-confidence – delivered with a very British sense of understatement. The Bentley way is to make things appear as effortless as possible.
A Bentley is unmistakable – all it takes is a glance at the twin headlights, matrix grille or the high waistline to know one. The paradox of the car is that although it is instantly recognisable, it takes time and effort to hand-build each one. That’s the assured Bentley hallmark.
A hand-built car using the finest quality natural materials takes time. Yet, while others may do things ‘meticulously’ or ‘painstakingly’, Bentley has always been about passion. In fact, the entire reputation rests on the experienced skills and passion of the people, handed down through generations. Many of Bentley’s people say that they work on each Bentley as if it were going to be their car. They want to get it right. It’s no wonder that every machinist who creates a set of upholstery signs the back of it with his or her initials.
- Bentley employs approximately 4,000 people worldwide and the average length of service at Bentley is 11 years
- Bentley’s regional offices are based in the UK, USA, Germany, Japan, China, Singapore, Sydney, Korea, Dubai and Mexico
- Bentley is represented by 212 Bentley facilities worldwide; 24 in the UK, 38 in the USA, 52 in Europe, 15 in the Middle East (incl Africa and India) and 15 in Asia and Australasia, among others
- Volkswagen AG acquired Bentley in 1998 commencing a £500 million investment programme to improve factory facilities and support future product development programmes
- Globally, Bentley sold just over 10,000 cars in 2007 – compared with around 9,000 in 2006, around 8,500 cars in 2005, 6,500 in 2004 and 1000 in 2003
- Bentley Motors was founded in 1919 but the manufacturer did not make a complete car for 27 years – only engines and chassis
- Bentley won Le Mans six times – 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930 & 2003
- When Bentley chairman Woolf Barnato was dared to take on the famous Blue Train between Cannes and Calais in his Speed Six in 1930, he won the bet by not only beating it but by reaching his club in Victoria, London, four minutes before the express pulled into Calais
- Bentley production moved from Cricklewood, London to Derby when Rolls-Royce purchased Bentley in 1931
Facts about the cars:
- It takes 150 hours to hand-build a Continental GT and 400 hours to build an Arnage
- Every single component of a Bentley is filed on computer in minute detail and can be tracked back through each stage of its development
- Veneers are both book and mirror matched to create perfect symmetry either side of a Bentley’s centreline
- Every piece of glass in a Bentley is given its final polish with finely powdered pumice normally used to polish optical lenses
- Lacquer-spraying robots in the Paint Shop are programmed to simulate a human sprayer on his best day
- Steering wheels are doubled stitched by hand using two needles simultaneously; the process is far too complicated for a machine. It takes 15 hours work to create one steering wheel
- A full set of leather for a Bentley is selected and cut at the same time, so that there is as little variation in texture as possible
- The trimming of each Continental GT uses 135 metres of thread, the equivalent of 28 Continental GT back to back, 1.3 football pitches or the height of the “London Eye”