Bentley Motors Unlimited
W.O. Bentley worked as an engineer at Great Northern Railway in Yorkshire
WORK WITH BROTHER
W.O. Bentley joined his brother, H.M. Bentley, at a company called Bentley & Bentley
W.O. Bentley established Bentley Motors Limited in Cricklewood, North London
The Bentley 3 Litre sports car was produced for consumers
Bentley raced in the 1922 Indianapolis 500
DECLINE IN SALES
The Great Depression slowed the luxury car market and sales plummeted
Bentley went into receivership and Rolls Royce purchased the company
VW outbid BMW and became the sole provider of Bentley cars
Most Luxurious of the Luxury Cars since 1920.
The “First” Bentley
In 1919, W.O. Bentley founded Bentley Motors Limited in Cricklewood, North London. W.O.*, an engineer, had previously designed engines for cars and airplanes. He got his engineering start early – at age 16 – when he began an apprenticeship with the Great Northern Railway in Yorkshire. In 1912, he went to work with his brother, H.M. (Horace Millner) at Bentley and Bentley; they sold DFPs, a French-built car.
World War I Aero Engines
At the outbreak of World War I, W.O. was convinced that the aluminum alloy pistons he had developed for the DFPs could benefit the military. He was commissioned in the Royal Naval Air Service, and consulted with both Rolls-Royce and Sunbeam to develop engines for their planes.
W.O.’s motto, “To build a good car, a fast car, the best in class,” was realized in the Bentley 3 Litre car delivered in 1921. The first race featuring a Bentley was the 1922 Indianapolis 500; they finished in 13th place with an average speed of 75 mph**. Unfortunately, the Bentley company remained cash-strapped. Captain Woolf “Babe” Barnato (a 1920s heavyweight boxer) bailed them out, which allowed car production to continue into the early 1930s.
The Great Depression Initiates Succession of New Owners
As the luxury market crashed in 1929, so did the desire (and money) for the luxury car. Bentley went into receivership and was ultimately purchased by a front company for Rolls Royce Limited and its founder Ernest Hives***. W.O. eventually left the company due to his opposition to Hives’ business style. Rolls-Royce owned Bentley until the bankruptcy of its business in 1970. At that time, sales were low, and Rolls’ new owner, Vickers plc, worked to regain the high-prestige/high-performance reputation. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Bentley sales increased as they played on the sporting image of luxury car driving. It got more complicated in the 1990s when both BMW AG and Volkswagen AG got involved in purchasing various portions of the Rolls-Royce brand. Ultimately, in 2003, Volkswagen became the provider of everything Bentley – from logo to tires.
Can You Test Drive a Bentley?
You can purchase a 2017 Bentley beginning at a quarter of a million dollars. However, test driving one might be more your speed. But, after much research, this car aficionado finally found a dealership that would let me schedule a test drive, after filling out an online form, in a $373,205 2017 Bentley Mulsanne****.
Did You Know?
- Bentley sponsored a racing team in the 1920s, The Bentley Boys, who seemed to be known more for their partying than their driving – although they won the 24-hour Le Mans four years in a row. The next win came in 2003.
- In order to thwart forgers, the Bentley Winged B hood ornament has a different number of feathers on each of the two sides.
- In Ian Fleming’s books, James Bond drove a Bentley, not an Aston Martin.
- Bentley’s solar panel rooftop is the largest in the United Kingdom.
- You can decorate your home with Bentley furniture.
* Everyone knew who W.O. was; no need to add “Bentley”.
** The winning average speed in 2016 was almost 167 mph.
*** The same Ernest Hives for whom W.O. had first built aero engines.
*** I suspect that my zip code would be scrutinized before I was approved.
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