Celebrating 100 Years of Bentley Motors
The 10th July 2019 marks Bentley Motors' Centenary, an achievement most definitely worth celebrating. From the very first prototype created in a London mews to the phenomenally powerful and exquisitely crafted cars driven across the world today, Bentley has transformed the face of motoring.
Born in 1888 as the youngest of nine siblings, Walter Owen Bentley – though he preferred to be called W.O. – founded the company that carries his name on 10 July 1919. Now, over 100 years later, his name is known across the globe for creating cars with an unrivalled blend of performance and the finest craftsmanship and materials. Below, we take a look at the man who changed motoring forever.
From humble beginnings, the marque’s first car to pulled out of New Street Mews, London. The company moved from strength to strength – in a relentless pursuit of both luxury and performance which saw the brand’s five victories at Le Mans in the 1920s (plus a sixth in 2003) but the company began to hit financial troubles.
Woolf Barnato, a racing driver, fan of the cars and a member of the ‘Bentley Boys’ helped finance the company, initially injecting £100,000 into the firm and eventually taking full control, leaving WO Bentley an employee and to design new cars.
In March 1930, Barnato notoriously had the Rover Light Six in his sights when he bet £100 and raced the Le Train Bleu from Cannes to London via Calais and won in the Bentley Speed Six, paving way for the tail of the infamous Bentley Blue Train story and further cementing the extravagant marque with its racing and GT heritage.
Despite Barnato’s steady cash flow, the Great Depression of 1930 knocked Bentley for six. This time, fabled rival Rolls-Royce stepped in and bought Bentley Motors Ltd, moving production north to Derby. However, founder WO Bentley left the company as soon as his contract expired in 1935.
In 1946, Rolls-Royce chose to move Bentley production to Crewe, where the marque has been located ever since. This paved the way for fresh ideas and new technology to find their way into cars wearing the B-winged emblem.
The Bentley Mark VI became the first car to be built entirely at Bentley’s Crewe works and the first to be offered with a pressed-steel body shell as standard. Two engine options were offered – 4.3-litre and 4.6-litre inline six-cylinder units. Coachbuilt cars were still available, but the Mark VI signalled the dawn of a new era in Bentley car production and became one of the marque’s biggest selling cars in history.
By the 1950s it was clear the Mark VI was in need of a replacement and so the R-type Continental was launched in 1952. The collaboration between Rolls-Royce and Bentley was exceeding expectations and three years later the two brands were sharing identical technology – the Bentley S Series differing from the Silver Cloud only in external styling.
A decade of intensive development and a redesigned production line at Crewe in 1965 produced the Bentley T Series along with its Rolls-Royce sibling – the Silver Shadow. With independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and air-conditioning, it was the first Bentley built with a monocoque chassis and body shell.
As gracious as it was in design and as smooth as it was in performance, the T Series was seen by Bentley enthusiasts as the final betrayal of the marque’s sporting heritage. Their loyalty to the winged B was vital. As sales of the new cars began to decline, the performance credentials that Bentley had fought so hard to win on the racetrack were now a distant memory among luxury car buyers around the world.
Into the 1970s and early 1980s, Bentley sales continued to plummet and at one point, Bentley production counted for just five per cent of combined output at the Crewe facility. After the financial collapse of Rolls-Royce, the company was nationalised by the British government. Rolls-Royce Motors Limited and Bentley were acquired by Vickers plc in 1980.
Under Vickers plc, Bentley restored its former reputation as a luxury sports car maker and the sales started to rise thanks to the 1980 Mulsanne and Bentley’s restored sporting image. By 1991, the output ratio of Bentley to Rolls-Royce was 50:50.
In 1998, Vickers plc sold up to Volkswagen, who had outbid BMW at the time for the brands. BMW then bought the rights to the Rolls-Royce name and announced that Rolls-Royce and Bentley would be two separate companies after 67 years of collaborating together.
From the original 3 Litre right through to the incredibly powerful and refined cars of the modern era, Bentley’s extraordinary cars have always been designed and built by exceptional people. Today, every car is made at the Bentley factory in Crewe, by a team of over 4,000 highly skilled men and women.
It’s not just the team at Crewe that makes Bentley so extraordinary. Bentley drivers have always helped take our cars to ever greater heights, beginning with the high-spirited Bentley Boys and Bentley Girls of the 1920s and continuing through to the visionary Bentley owners of today.
Here is to another 100 years of Bentley Motors!
To celebrate Bentley Motors’ Centenary, they have launched a wide range of limited edition Centenary memorabilia which can be purchased on our website, www.flyingspares.com. Simply visit our Gifts & Accessories page and click ‘The Centenary of Bentley Motors ’.
“To build a fast car, a good car, the best in its class” W.O. Bentley – Founder of Bentley Motors Ltd