British Motor Museums

10th July 2019

Bentley Centenary

The 10th of July 2019 marks Bentley’s 100th year. From modest beginnings, Bentley has moved from strength. Bentley’s victories at Le Mans in the 1920s echoed around the world, and returned once again in the 21st century.

In 1919 Walter Owen (W.O.) Bentley created a company with a simple objective: to build “a fast car, a good car, the best in its class”.

Born in 1888, W.O. Bentley grew up as an engineer enthusiast. By October 1919 Bentley Motors was established and by September 1921 the first production Bentley left the factory and was delivered to its owner, Noel van Raalte, costing him £1,050. The 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. Numerous speed and endurance records were achieved. There were legendary achievements by the Bentley Boys. Attaining victories at Le Mans in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930; where Bentley’s racing domination echoed around the motoring world.

Bentley Motors was beset by financial difficulty and in 1931 Rolls-Royce stepped in to buy Bentley Motors. 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.

The move to Crewe in 1946 after World War II provided access to a community of skilled engineers and mechanics. Advanced technologies and a new approach to manufacturing, enabled Bentley to build a motor car complete and ready to be driven to its limits. One of the first to be built as a Bentley was the Mark VI

In 1952 the Bentley R-Type Continental made its debut, a Mulliner-bodied coupe with a top speed of just less than 120 mph. This made it the fastest four-seater car in the world and very quickly earned a reputation as the ultimate in high-speed luxury. By 1957 Bentley had launched the new highly anticipated 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.

The 1960's brought continuous development to the Bentley Motors family. In 1965 the Bentley T series was launched before it was renamed in 1971 to the Bentley Corniche and again in 1984 to become the Continental, as we know it today.

The founder W.O. Bentley, died aged 82 in August 1971.During the ‘70s, the famous V8 engine was re-engineered to increase the capacity to 6.75 litres – the size it has remained to this day. More financial troubles were caused by the Aero Engine side having major difficulties with Lockheed RB211 engines. This caused the firm to have Receivers appointed. Out of the ashes two new firms were created, Rolls Royce Ltd which made Aero engines and Rolls Royce Motors Ltd which made cars including Bentleys.

1980’s saw the Bentley identity developed and the beginning of the Bentley range and model line we know today. The Bentley Corniche was renamed the Continental in 1984 which became one of the bestselling models to date.

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 acquisition of Bentley by the Volkswagen Group in 1998 added resource, new technologies and even greater impetus to the momentum of the Bentley renaissance. It was announced Bentley and Rolls-Royce would be separate companies once again, after 67 years together. Volkswagen AG announced it would invest £500 million in the Bentley marque, its Crewe factory and the building of an all-new Bentley.

By 2001, Bentley relived its heritage with a return to competition at Le Mans, entering two EXP Speed 8s. The team finished third, bringing Bentley back to the podium for the first time in 71 years. In 2001 Bentley announced it would build the first bespoke design Bentley State Limousine, commissioned through Bentley Mulliner, for Her Majesty The Queen on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee. This was the first Bentley to be used for state occasions.

In 2015, Bentley launched the Bentayga – the first luxury SUV. The fastest, most powerful, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world.

2018 saw the launch of the all-new third generation Continental GT. Sharper, lighter, faster and more refined than before, the third generation Continental GT is the definitive Grand Tourer. Since 2003, Bentley has delivered almost 70,000 Continental GTs to customers, making it the most successful Bentley in history.

Since the Volkswagen Group acquired the company in 1998, the number of Colleagues working at their Crewe site has increased from 1,500 to more than 5,000 today. The Company has an enviable record with their Apprenticeship programmes; these are keenly sought after positions.


Photos courtesy of Bentley Motors

Bentley R Type Saloon
1991 Bentley Limousine
1930 Bentley

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