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Bentley Company History

Published: 24th Mar 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


Bentley Archive

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In 1919 W. O. Bentley produced his first car, a three litre model which was displayed at the London Motor Show. However, already the founder of the company bearing his name had also designed rotary engines for aircraft, and had imported D.F.P. cars. In addition he was a trailblazer in the world of aluminium pistons. Under the bonnet of the 3-litre Bentley was an overhead camshaft, four-cylinder engine, with a fixed cylinder head. The car was highly competitive in motor-sport, particularly in endurance runs, including the 1922 T.T. and the Le Mans events of 1924 and 1927. Different versions were designated by coloured enamel on their radiator badges. The ‘Red Label’ depicted a short chassis machine, the ‘Blue Label’ indicated a long chassis model, and the ‘Green Label’ identified a special short chassis variant.

During the mid-1920s the firm experimented with larger cars, including a 6.5-litre model which was developed into the famous ‘Speed 6’ of 1929 - providing Bentley with Le Mans wins in 1929 and 1930. In 1931, by which time financial troubles were very serious, and Rolls-Royce outbid Napier for the ailing Bentley company, and in 1933 introduced its own interpretation of a Bentley. ‘The Silent Sports Car’ was a saloon fitted with the 3.7-litre Rolls-Royce 20-25 engine and the die was cast for the future. In 1939 the short-lived ‘Mark V’ arrived, and after the War the steel-bodied Mark VI (together with the almost identical Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn) was a beautifully furnished, well-built car, which commanded much respect in its time.

During the following years, most models from Bentley and Rolls-Royce were variations of the same base vehicle, differing mainly in terms of the radiator grille. However, there were some rare exceptions, notably the long, sleek and fast 1952 Bentley Continental, featuring bodywork by H J Mulliner and a top speed of a heady 120mph. Bentleys gained V8 engines for 1960, but the cars were still traditional in terms of build, with separate chassis frames. This all changed in 1965, with the introduction of the unitary construction ‘T’ Type (plus the equivalent Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow). The newcomer was totally up to date and was rightly hailed as the best car in the world. Through the following decades the Bentley range evolved as described in our individual model sections, and generally fell in line with the equivalent Rolls-Royce variants. However, as the years passed, Bentley models once again gained some some of its past character, producing individualistic, luxurious cars with an inherent sporting feel that the Rolls-Royce versions lacked. Examples include the Brooklands (1992) and the Continental R (1991). Like all specialist carmakers, Rolls-Royce couldn’t survive on its own and after a partnership of almost 70 years the brands separated. Although coming under the Volkswagen umbrella in 1998, originally Rolls-Royce and Bentley were both due to go to VW, but Rolls-Royce was snapped up by rival BMW, who had been providing more modern engines for the company during the 1990s. That said, the old school V8, which was first introduced back in 1959, is still in use after half a century! Naturally for such a traditional British company that’s become an institution, the thought of these brands going to Germans was initially met with indignation, if not outrage. Happily however, both are thriving and Bentleys have never been so popular.

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