Ever since 1998, Bentley is a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen AG and designs, engineers, manufactures and sells it’s exquisite line of luxury automobiles, whereas Rolls Royce cars are built on BMW technology.
A true statement of success, Bentley cars are reserved for a few, very proud owners whose financial success has permitted them with the ability to buy such a fine automobile. Driven by the nobility of modern society, Bentley’s can be found the world over causing motorists and pedestrians nearby to gaze in awe and envy.
This is the story of Bentley. One of the world’s most exceptional automobiles.
The History of Bentley
Bentley Motors has a very storied past. It was originally conceived in Cricklewood near London by a man named Walter Owen Bentley in partnership with his brother Horace Millner Bentley. The year was 1919 and it was the middle of January. Since before the war, the two brothers had been in the business of selling French DFP cars, but W.O. Bentley, as he called himself, had a dream of designing his own range of automobiles bearing his surname. Just a few years before, while visiting a DFP factory in 1913, he noticed an aluminum paperweight on a desk and realized that it would be a brilliant idea to use such a light metal over cast iron to make the engine positions. By January 1919, the Bentley brothers had conceived their idea and founded a company named Bentley Motors Limited.
The first aluminum pistons went into service during World War I in aero engines for the Sopwith Camel fighter plane. By October of 1919 a chassis was exhibited by the brothers at the London Motor Show. By December, a new 4 valve per cylinder engine was in play and order for delivery were beginning to come in. With their immediate success, the brothers promised delivery by June 1920, but due to hiccups in development, the first Bentley cars weren’t ready until September of 1921. However, despite having to wait, the owners of the first automobiles were so impressed with its durability that they earned widespread critical praise.
By 1922, Bentley Motors was ready to compete with the biggest names in the business. They entered the 1922 Indianapolis 500 mile race sending a car with driver Douglas Hawkes and riding mechanic H.S. Browning whom they called Bertie. Despite competing against race cars with Duesenberg chassis, Hawkes managed to complete the entire course in Bentley’s modified road car, finishing the race in 13th place with an average speed of an incredible 74.95mph after starting in 19th position. With such a successful race behind them, Bentley arranged for them to rush back to England where they immediately entered the 1922 RAC Tourist Trophy.
1925 rolled around rather quickly for Bentley and a gentleman by the name of Woolf Barnato purchased his first Bentley, a 3-litre. Highly impressed by his new car, he entered many Brooklands races with it and became a part of what was called The Bentley Boys, a group of wealthy men who became avid fans of the brand. However, Bentley Motors was severely underfunded, and it was in line for bankruptcy. Realizing that the company was in such bad shape, Barnato, through his financing company Baromans Ltd, invested over £100,000 in order to save the company and its workforce. This served as an acquisition of the organization and Barnato became the new chairman of Bentley Motors.
He immediately ordered a financial reorganization of the company which allowed all the existing debt to be paid. The existing shares were devalued to 5% of their original value and Barnato personally held 149,500 of these new shares giving him complete control of the company. Following that, he opted to invest more money into the brand. £35,000 was invested in 1927; £40,000 in 1928; and £25,000 in 1929 which allowed W.O. Bentley to design a second generation of automobiles.
Along with the other Bentley Boys, Barnato kept the spirit of Bentley alive by racing and often winning in many professional races around the world. Because of this club, the brand was introduced to wealthy purchasers the world over.
The Cricklewood Cars
The first model introduced by Bentley was of course, the 3-litre. However, once Bentley realized that its customers were putting stronger bodies on its chassis, they created the larger 4 1/2 liter model which of course gave way to the iconic “Blower Bentley”, a supercharger that projected forwards from the bottom of the grille of the car. Despite this innovative idea, it still wasn’t as strong as racers wanted. This is when they created the 6 1/2 litre.
Bentley was riding high and their newest car, the 8-litre was a monstrous success. However, after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Bentley began to sink and Barnato went broke trying to fund it. By 1931, Barnato could no longer afford to keep the company afloat and two mortgage payments bounced. On July 10th of that year, the courts appointed a receiver to the company. An aerospace company called Napier & Son entered into negotiations with the receiver to buy Bentley Motors. Everything was going well and the deal was expected to be finalized. However, a competing bidder named British Central Equitable Trust offered a proposal to the receiver with a bid of £125,000 that managed to outbid Napier & Son in the sealed bid auction. What came next was unimaginable to Bentley.
The firm that managed to acquire Bentley Motors – British Central Equitable Trust – was none other than a front company for Rolls-Royce. The news shook W.O. Bentley to the core, but it was too late, for Rolls-Royce, his once most fierce competitor, now owned his life’s work, and they did it, simply to prevent Bentley from being able to compete with their Phantom II car.
Barnato, was appointed to the board of the new Bentley Motors (1931) Ltd in 1934 and received just over £42,000 for his shares in the original company. Bentley was obliterated the personal vendetta between Bentley and Rolls-Royce was no more.
In the acquisition, Rolls-Royce also managed to acquire the Bentley showrooms in Cork Street, their service station in Kingsbury and the entire Cricklewood operation. Rolls-Royce trademarked the Bentley logo and stopped production, closing down the Cricklewood factory in 1932.
Then, just two years later, Rolls-Royce resumed production of the Bentley lineup at their home factory in Derby. By April of 1935, W.O. Bentley was forced out of the company altogether and joined their competitor Lagonda.
When their next car was released, it was given the slogan of “the silent sports car” and that tag line remained in use until the early 1950s. From the moment that Rolls-Royce took over the brand until 2004, all Bentley cars used Rolls-Royce chassis and adapted Rolls-Royce engines.
By May of 1938, with the anticipated war on the horizon, the British government acquired a 60 acre site for Rolls-Royce in Crewe, Cheshire enabling the company to build aircraft engines for the military. As the war ended, Rolls-Royce opted to move its aero-engine business to its factories in Derby, and moved the motorcar companies to Crewe.
It wasn’t actually until the end of the war that Bentley and Rolls-Royce made complete cars. Prior to that, they simply made near complete chassis from the instrument panel forward. Those chassis were then delivered to a coach builder of the buyer’s choosing who designed the actual look of the vehicle. However, after the war, with new demands and pressure from exporters overseas, Rolls-Royce was forced into designing an all-steel body made of pressed steel which created their first ever, ready to drive saloon car. The very first of which was the Bentley Mark VI which began to ship from the factory in 1946. When Rolls-Royce launched the Silver Dawn model, it was really only a Bentley with a modified grille for a higher cost. Still, the company didn’t enjoy making full automobiles and continued to supply chassis to coach builders until the Bentley S3 was released.
By 1970, problems had began to emerge with Bentley’s ownership and the company went into financial hardship. Rolls-Royce completely separated itself from Bentley and remained a separate company until they were acquired in 1980 by Vickers Plc.
The Bentley sales continued to decline until this sale with less than 5% of production actually carrying the Bentley name. Once Vickers took over, Bentley was able to begin regaining its meaningful history as one of the world’s finest performance cars. This gave birth to the Mulsanne and people began to notice. By 1991, Rolls-Royce was being sold at par with Bentley Motors.
Just a few short years later, Vickers announced that it was ready to sell Rolls-Royce Motors. As suspected, BMW stepped forward with an offer to purchase of £340,000,000. Critics believed they were a solid choice since they had already supplied engines for both Rolls-Royce and Bentley automobiles. However, at the last minute Volkswagon stepped forward, offering £430,000,000 which successfully won them the sale. Volkswagon AG acquired the vehicle designs, nameplates, facilities, Spirit of Ecstasy and grille designs, but not the ability to use the Rolls-Royce name or logo.
In 1998, BMW began to supply Volkswagen with components for their new lineup of Rolls-Royce and Bentley automobiles, including the engine for the Bentley Arnage.
BMW, realizing that Volkswagen didn’t have rights to the name, offered Rolls-Royce plc (the owner of the rights), £40,000,000 to license the name and logo. Using this as leverage, they brokered a new deal with Volkswagen to continue supplying engines and components for the cars until 2002 in exchange for temporary use of the Rolls-Royce name and logo.
When January 1st, 2003 hit, Bentley and Rolls-Royce were separated for the first time in many years. Volkswagen became the sole maker of Bentley cars and BMW established the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited company, moving the company to their factories in Goodwood, England.
After acquiring the sole use of Bentley Motors, Volkswagen spent $845,000,000 to upgrade their factories in Crewe and increase production. The staff at Bentley Motors in Crewe has doubled since then and Volkswagen has continued to support the brand investing a little more than two billion dollars since that date. Today, the parts for Bentley cars are made in Germany, and are painted before being shipped over to Crewe for final assembly.
The New Lineup of Bentley Motorcars
Since 2003, Bentley has undergone a world of change, ceasing production of its once popular Bentley Azure and introducing the Bentley Continental GT. Demand for the new models has flourished and Crewe meets annual orders of just under 10,000 new vehicles each year.
In addition to the GT, Bentley also introduced a new Flying Spur, their four-door version of the Continental GT coupe.
By 2005, a new lineup of the Azure was introduced, this time as a four-seat convertible that was derived from the Arnage Drophead Coupe. In addition, a Continental GTC was also released, which is a convertible version of the GT.
When 2007 hit, the 10,000 cars per year goal was broken with a record profit of €155,000,000.
By 2009, Bentley had announced a new version of the Continental at the Geneva Auto Show called the Continental Supersport. It was a culmination of incredible power with the environmental FlexFuel technology which is capable of using gasoline and ethanol.
Unfortunately, that year marked a plunge in sales and Bentley dipped 50% making just over 4500 cars in 2009. It was such a drastic drop in sales that production at Crewe ceased for the months of March and April.
Since then, sales have gradually increased and for the first time since 2008, Bentley saw a profit in 2011.
Today Bentley has a small contingent of models in its line up.
Bentley brought back the 1992 Mulsanne nameplate to replace it’s Arnage lineup. The new range of Mulsanne cars was initially unveiled at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The Mulsanne is Bentley’s largest, full-size saloon. It is the epitome of elegance and similar to the Arnage, it uses a 6.75L OHV V8 engine that’s modified in order to meet emission regulations. The engine is extremely light and features multiple fuel efficient technologies including a cylinder deactivation and variable cam phasing.
It’s the first car in Bentley’s lineup to be independently designed by Bentley in almost eighty years, separated from the Rolls-Royce chassis it once shared.
However, like Rolls-Royce cars, the Mulsanne is capable of being tailored to meet the buyers wishes and can be completely outfitted to meet their personal style.
There have been a number of special editions released, and Bentley now offers a new Speed model that provides the driver with greater performance and more features. The Speed offers a 6.75L, twin-turbocharged V8 engine that takes the large sedan from 0-62mph in just 4.9 seconds with a top speed of 190mph.
The Bentley Continental
The Continental range was originally launched back in 1952 and has since carried on its legacy over the years. However, the new range of Continental cars is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
Since 2003, four new models have been added to the Continental series including the Bentley Continental GT in 2003, the Flying Spur in 2005, the GTC in 2006 and the Supersports in 2009.
The one thing all of these cars have in common is that they’re all luxury cars and they’re all performance vehicles. This is something Bentley has always been proud of because very few manufacturers can boast that there cars are both luxurious and sporty. Generally, they’re thought of as one or the other. It wasn’t until Rolls-Royce released the Wraith that they had competition in this micro-industry of luxury sports cars.
The Continental GT is the car that made Bentley popular around the world. Often driven by celebrities, it’s a grand tourer coupe that unlike other Bentley’s was designed for mass production. Initially unveiled at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show, followed by Le Mans, the GT is the most popular car made by Bentley. It’s the perfect blend of power and performance with a graceful elegance unseen in any other sports car.
With nine different models to choose from today, each one encompasses the heart and passion of the original GT with various benefits and changes. Some of them offer retractable roofs whereas others are four-seaters with the power of the GT engine behind it. The base model offers a six litre W12 twin-turbo engine with a 6-speed ZF 6H026A tiptronic automatic transmission. The car is fast, it’s powerful, but it is also, undoubtedly, one of the finest luxury automobiles ever created.
The Flying Spur
Despite being called the Flying Spur, the car is actually just another model of the Continental. It’s a large four door grand tourer that has the performance capabilities of the smaller sports coupe. It’s often compared to the Rolls-Royce Ghost and offers many of the same luxury features as the Mulsanne at a slightly lower price point.
The Flying Spur is another lineup that’s available in two versions, the base W12 and the V8.
Bentley touts it as being born of the belief that nothing is impossible; that the twin objectives of power and luxury can, if relentlessly pursued, be achieved. In 2014, a new version of the Flying Spur was introduced to the market featuring a new design and improved fuel economy, although a 12 cylinder engine is hardly ever economical.
The Bentley SUV
The future of Bentley is looking promising for once and recently Bentley announced an SUV that is currently under development. Little is known about this remarkably luxurious SUV that’s in the works but based on press pictures it looks like it will make the Range Rover look like a Ford in comparison.
Buying a Bentley
Most people who are in the market for a Bentley are perfectly fine to spend north of $200,000 on a new car. However, it must be mentioned that there is also a used market for these cars, and often you often, you can save 70% – 85% of the retail price if you opt for a 7 to 8 year old car, that only ran for 25,000 miles. Often times, they are well maintained by a single owner. Of course, repairs, maintenance, insurance etc. will cost you more than your average make but that’s to be expected from a luxury car. With all the German engineering under the hood, you should get a well crafted car that is built to last at a good price. If you think you can’t afford a Bentley – think again.
Bentley Driver’s Club
Although Bentleys are rather exclusive, you are not alone and considering the number of stunning vintage Bentleys in existence today it is no surprise that The Bentley Drivers Club counts more than 3,700 members around the world. At their regular events, you will be able to meet other owners with Bentleys from all age groups and have a good time. Best of all, you can drive your car to the event destinations. The membership dues are minimal and instead of buying just a car, you can sign up for a great experience and explore new and vintage Bentleys first hand.
To me that sounds like a lot of fun!.
For any watch lover like myself, I can’t discuss Bentley without mentioning the Breitling for Bentley watch collection. Combining style and performance, the lineup of watches created for Bentley drivers by Breitling is a mirrored reflection of the elegance and refinement of Bentley, with it’s uncompromising speed and agility. Chronometer certified, the Swiss watch brand has developed an ever-changing line of luxury watches specifically geared to Bentley owners but available to Bentley fans. It is an undeniable alliance between the art of British auto manufacturing and exceptional Swiss watchmaking.
Bentley has had its ups and its downs. There’s no doubt about it. However, it remains one of the most iconic luxury automakers in the world. It has a global network of customers that support the company and are exceptionally loyal to the brand, and even organize fun events evolving around the cars. During a recent trip to Beverly Hills, I counted far more Bentley’s on the road than I did Rolls-Royce’. They are revered and they are superlative and if you are in the market for an Audi A8, BMW 7 series or Mercedes S Class, you might as well look at a pre-owned Bentley Flying Spur which should be a notch or two above of these well known premium cars.
What is your experience with Bentley? Do you have a favorite model? Would you buy it again?