Classic Auto Insurance: A History of the Bentley Brand
The origin of the Bentley brand start as many automakers do; in a small town by a man who was obsessed with engineering, design and speed. This particular entity was founded in January of 1919 by an English engineer named Walter Owen Bentley. Known to most as “W.O.”, Bentley got his start selling French automobiles with his brother. During a trip to an auto factory in 1913, Bentley came up with the idea of using the lightweight metal instead of cast iron to make engine pistons as a lighter weight alternative to the cast iron standards of the day.
During World War I, Bentley struck out on his own and began manufacturing the aluminum pistons he dreamed up which were incorporated into aero engines for military vehicles. After the war, Bentley continued making auto parts and in 1919 he build his first chassis for the London Motor Show and later that year the first car to bear his name pulled out onto the streets of London. With the assistance of aviation engineer Clive Gallop early Bentley models featured an unique multi-valve engine designed with 4 valves per cylinder for greater power and speed. Even from the beginning Bentley was committed to luxury, quality and speed.
Despite early successes, the company was financially unstable, underfunded and struggling. In the mid-1920s Racer and motorsport enthusiast Woolf Barnato became a major investor and restructured the operation. With a new financier and his strong values, W. O. Bentley was able to produce a new line of vehicles ultimately leading to five victories at Le Mans in the 1920s.
By the 1930’s early Bentley models gained such prestige that they were being incorporated into contemporary culture and media. The 4½-litre model would later become famous as the vehicle of choice of James Bond in the original novels, however they were not so popular in the film adaptations. The 19301 8-litre engine was a huge success, and it is commonly believed that Rolls-Royce purchased Bentley Motors to prevent it competing with their Phantom II. W. O. Bentley remained with the company until 1935, after which time he left to join Lagonda.
Rolls-Royce’s advertised Bentley vehicles as the “the silent sports cars”, in reference to their luxurious ride and speed emphasis, until the 1950s. During World War II Rolls-Royce and Bentley shifted production focus to aircraft engines in a new factory. For a long time after World War II, most high-end motorcar manufacturers like Bentley and Rolls-Royce did not supply complete cars. Instead the automakers sold “rolling chassis” composed of engines and many of control elements. Auto buyers would order their vehicles through a separate body and coach manufacturer. To compete in overseas markets and with American manufacturers Rolls-Royce began releasing fully complete models and Bentley brand models in the mid twentieth century. In the 1950s Bentley released the R-Type Continental which the company claims to be “this was quite possibly the finest motor car available to humanity, combining speed, performance, luxury, elegance, exclusivity and the evocative Bentley name.”
Rolls-Royce eventually collapsed as a corporate entity in the 1970s, leaving the Bentley marquee floundering. It wasn’t until the brand was picked up by German automakers Volkswagen that the Bentley name was on the road to recovery. Today Bentley has reclaimed much of their status as a world class leader in luxury vehicles and sports cars.
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