Historic Car Brands
Walter Owen Bentley was a London agent for French DPF cars in the early 1900s, but thought that aluminium might make better pistons than cast iron. His first pistons were fitted to the radial engines of Sopwith Camel fighters in WWI. After the War he exhibited his first car model at the 1919 London Motor Show, designed in collaboration with FT Burgess (ex Humber) and Harry Burgess (ex Vauxhall).
Bentley 4.5-litre – Anton van Luijk
Ex-Royal Flying Corps officer, Clive Gallop, designed a three-litre, four-valves-per-cylinder, four-cylinder engine for this car, but development delayed its public availability until 1921.
The first 80hp Bentley models earned racing success and a reputation for durability, although not quite up to racing-car ability to do better than 13th at Indianapolis. The three-litre did much better at Le Mans, winning in 1924.
Bentley 6.5-litre Speed Six Tourer – Lars-Goran-Lundgren
In 1925, a wealthy Captain Woolf Barnato bought a Bentley and own numerous races at Brooklands. Knowing Bentley was in financial difficulties he bought a controlling interest in the company and injected further funds over the next five years.
1929 Bentley 4.5-litre Thrupp Maberly tourer – Craig-Howell
Bentleys failed to finish in the 1925 and 1926 Le Mans events, but racked up four consecutive victories from 1927 to 1930. A three-litre won in 1927, but the new 4.5-litre four won in 1928 and 1929. In 1930 a Speed Six, powered by the 1926-launched 6.5-litre, six-cylinder engine won in 1930.
Possibly the finest compliment paid to Bentley’s racing success was by Ettore Bugatti, who reportedly said that W O Bentley built “…les camions les plus rapides du monde.” (The fastest trucks in the world.)
‘Blue Bentley’ – Tony-Hisgett
Songwriter Cole Porter summed up the Roaring 20s with his Anything Goes lyrics and, in those heady post-War days, some well-off, upper-class Brits were always up for a challenge. One such challenge was racing the famous Blue Train that ran between Calais and the French Riviera. Barnato did exactly that: beating the time set by Rover with its Light Six in a Mulliner-bodied formal saloon 6.5-litre Speed Six.
Parallel with this risky record breaking endeavour a group known as the Bentley Boys – Sir Henry Birkin, steeplechaser George Duller, Aviator Glen Kidson, car journalist ‘Sammy’ Davis and Dr Dudley Benjafield – openly favoured, raced and publicised Bentley cars.
Birkin Bentley 4½-litre ‘Blower’ – Craig Howell
‘Tim’ Birkin developed the supercharged ‘Blower Bentley’ from the naturally-aspirated 4.5-litre four, but W O Bentley strongly disapproved. Birkin produced five racing specials, but they proved unreliable, as WO had predicted.
1930 Eight Litre limousine by Mulliner – Andre-Ritzinger
In 1930, W O Bentley released the eight-litre, six-cylinder engine that threatened Rolls-Royce’s supremacy in the luxury chassis market and, when even Barnato’s pockets proved not to be bottomless, Rolls-Royce bought Bentley, in 1931, to stop Napier acquiring it. Barnato served on the new Bentley Motors board.
W O Bentley worked with the new owners, but left in 1935, to join Lagonda.
The Rolls Royce years
1935-Bentley 3.7-litre cabriolet owned by HRH Aly Kahn -Douglas-Wilkinson
The first joint-project Bentley was a sporting version of the Rolls-Royce 20/25, powered by a 3.7-litre OHV six. Billed as ‘the silent sports car’. W O Bentley approved of this 1932 vehicle that was later upgraded to 4.3-litre capacity, but rusted-on Bentley aficionados dismiss all Rolls-Bentley vehicles.
Despite being badge-engineered Rolls-Royce vehicles, post-1931 Bentleys were beautifully made.
Mark V – Tentenths
The landmark Bentley Mark V was launched on the eve of World War II. It had the same engine displacement, but featured an ‘F-head’, with overhead inlet valves and side exhausts. Also it had much deeper, torsionally-stiffer chassis rails, to suit its new independent front suspension. It also had synchromesh on all but first and reverse, where previous boxes had synchro third and fourth only.
1951 Bentley Mk VI HJM two-door saloon – Anton van Luijk
Wartime production was dominated by the need for Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engines, but, after the War, the Mark V was replaced by the Mark VI, which also was radical departure from previous practice.
Bentleys were always produced as rolling cowl/chassis and sent to bodybuilders for completion to customer specifications. The Mark VI introduced a steel body option, produced by Pressed Steel that was factory-fitted, making the Bentley Mark VI a ready-to-drive car.
Bentley MK VI – Anton-van-Luijk
However, Bentley chassis were available for bodybuilder customisation until 1965, when the monocoque T-Series was introduced.
The R Type replaced the Mark VI in 1952 and was essentially a larger-boot version of its predecessor. The R Type Continentals were designed for fastback coupe bodywork – mainly by Mulliner – and had ‘tweaked’ engines.
After 1954 power came from a bored-out engine with 4.9-litres displacement and higher compression ratio.
Bentley S1 Continental Fastback Coupe – Eric-D
The redesigned S Type came in 1955, powered by the larger-capacity six and built on longer wheelbases. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard.
Bentley S2 – Stephen-Foskett
The S2 arrived in 1959, with V8 power and improved air conditioning and the four-headlight S3 in 1962.
Bentley’s big change came in 1965, with the introduction of the monocoque-bodied T- series. A badge-engineered Rolls-Royce still, the new Bentley actually had a sleeker appearance than the ‘Roller’, because its grille was lower.
The V8 engine was given more grunt and all-independent, self-levelling suspension was fitted. Four-wheel disc brakes and powered front seats were standard.
The T-series came in two four-door wheelbases and two-door coupes were built with Mulliner Park Ward bodies from 1967.
Bentley Brooklands – Jagvar
Rolls-Royce went broke in 1970, thanks to serious aero jet engine problems and Rolls-Royce Motors was spun off. For the next 10 years, Bentley became almost invisible, until Vickers bought out R-R Motors in 1980 and launched the Mulsanne model – more particularly the 1982 Turbo version.
The Mulsanne Turbo R followed in 1985, with fuel injection replacing its SU carburettors. The non-turbo Mulsanne S came in 1987.
The Mulsanne models restored Bentley’s ‘cred’ and, by the early 1990s, it shared sales volume equally with Rolls-Royce.
Bentley development continued through the 1990s, with variations on Continental, Brooklands and Turbo ’S’ ‘R’ ‘RL’ and ‘RT’ models.
Bentley Continental GT II
In 1998, BMW was contracted to supply engines to Rolls-Royce/Bentley: V8 for the Bentley Arnage and V12 for the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph. When Vickers announced its desire to sell Rolls-Royce/Bentley it was expected that BMW would seal the deal, but lost out to Volkswagen AG.
After negotiations, BMW continued to supply engines until 2003, after which VW powerplants reigned. VW poured millions into Bentley and global sales have grown. We’ll monitor post-2000 Bentley models and report on those that look like being classics.