100 Years of Extraordinary
July 2019 marks Bentley’s 100th year.
July 2019 marks Bentley’s 100th year.
One hundred years since Walter Owen (W.O.) Bentley set out with a simple objective: to build “a fast car, a good car, the best in its class”.
This guiding principle has driven Bentley ever since, pushing the brand forward from modest beginnings, moving from strength to strength in its pursuit of luxury and performance.
Born in 1888, W.O. Bentley grew up as an engineer enthusiast. He despised the cars of the late 19th and early 20th century, considering them dangerous, unsophisticated and noisy. So it was no surprise to the people around him that W.O. turned his attention to building cars that would satisfy his own high expectations as a driver, an engineer and as a gentleman.
By October 1919 Bentley Motors was established and by September 1921 the first production Bentley left the factory. The car’s owner, Noel van Raalte, purchased it for £1,050. A sign of the attention to detail that would set W.O. Bentley apart, even that first car carried Bentley's hallmark radiator casing and flying 'B' insignia.
The Bentleys of the 1920s are some of the most distinctive cars of the vintage era. W.O. Bentley became a fan of developing a racing engine which resulted in the creation of the first 3-litre, (85hp) Bentley engine, providing a top speed of 80mph.
Numerous speed and endurance records were successfully set at Indianapolis, the Isle of Man and Brooklands. Not forgetting the legendary achievements of the Bentley Boys, attaining victories at Le Mans in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930. Bentley’s racing domination in that decade echoed around the motoring world.
The 1930s brought many challenges for the marque. Despite Bentley’s racing records and new public acclaim, Bentley Motors was beset by financial difficulty and in 1931 Rolls-Royce stepped in to buy the company. Production moved to Derby where a new 3.5-litre ‘Silent Sports Car’ was produced, mixing the best attributes of both brands – agility with luxury, power with silence.
Bentley moved north after World War II, to Crewe in Cheshire. The relocation provided access to a community of highly skilled engineers and mechanics who had migrated during the war to this busy industrial hub. With advanced technologies and a new approach to manufacturing, Bentley for the first time was able to build a motor car complete and ready to be driven to its limits. One of the first to be built not just as the standard chassis and coach-built body but as a Bentley was the Mark VI.
The advancements that came with the move to Crewe in the 1940s allowed for Bentley Motors to transform good cars into luxury, high performance grand tourers.
In 1952 the Bentley R-Type Continental made its debut; a Mulliner-bodied coupe with a top speed of just less than 120mph. This made it the fastest four-seater car in the world and very quickly earned a reputation as the ultimate in high-speed luxury. It was also the last Bentley to be built with no equivalent Rolls-Royce model alongside for 30 years.
By 1957 Bentley had launched a new four-door Bentley Continental Flying Spur and the Bentley S2 was announced in 1959. It used an all-new 6.2-litre aluminium V8 engine, replacing the six-cylinder unit originally developed for Rolls-Royce models in the 1920s.
In 1965 the Bentley T series was launched and displayed for the first time at the Paris Motor Show, before it was renamed the Bentley Corniche in 1971. In 1984 it became the Continental, as we know it today. Known for being gracious in its design and smooth in its performance, the T series was seen by Bentley enthusiasts as a revolution in the marque’s sporting heritage.
The 1970s is a landmark decade in the history of Bentley Motors, although things got off to a solemn start with the passing of W.O. who died in 1971 at the age of 82. During the remainder of the decade though, the association with Rolls-Royce and coach building partners such as Mulliner was to leave an indelible mark of refined luxury in Bentley’s DNA, one W.O. himself would have approved of.
During the 1980s Bentley’s Le Mans heritage is echoed in the name of the new T series, the Mulsanne, benefiting from a new rear suspension design. By 1982 a highperformance ‘Turbo’ Mulsanne is launched, capable of 0 to 60mph in seven seconds. By 1985 the Mulsanne is developed once again to become the Turbo R, the fastest roadgoing Bentley of the age.
By 1989 half of the cars emerging from Crewe were Bentleys. Ten years after the introduction of the Mulsanne Turbo, Bentley began to outsell Rolls-Royce two-to-one.
The biggest shift in the company’s long history came in 1998 when the Volkswagen Group acquired Bentley. With added resource, new technologies and even greater impetus to market momentum on a global scale, this would effectively be something of a renaissance for the storied brand. And after 67 years together, it was also announced that Bentley and Rolls-Royce would be separate companies once again.
Then, in 2003, the Continental GT was launched – the first car of the modern Bentley era. Inspired by the R-Type, the first Continental GT established an entirely new market segment – the modern luxury Grand Tourer. It would become an instant smash hit, selling more examples than any other Bentley before it, with almost 70,000 Continental GTs across three model generations now delivered to customers in search of the definitive Grand Tourer.
In 2015, Bentley also launched the Bentayga –Bentley’s fourth model line and its first SUV. Touted as the fastest, most powerful and most luxurious SUV in the world, the Bentayga is proof positive of a car company able to mix tradition with new technology like no other.
Sure, it delivers the sort of numbers usually reserved for a serious sports car, but until now, I’d always considered the Bentley Bentayga’s performance capabilities as something academic.
Following the brand’s hugely successful Blower Continuation Series, 12 new Bentley Speed Six models will be handcrafted by Mulliner.
The newly revealed S versions of the iconic Continental GT and GTC bring driving pleasure, sharp looks and a new V8 sports exhaust baritone to Bentley’s grand tourer.