Located in Crewe, England since 1946 and owned since 1998 by Volkswagen AG. Bentley builds highend exotic luxury
motorcars that continues classical design and exquisite craftsmanship in the production of our high performance cars in the luxury segment. With over 2,500 employees, Bentley develops and sells more than 1,800
cars each year.
Bentley Motors Limited Headquarters
Bentley Motors Limited North America
3800 Hamlin Rd.
Auburn Hills, MI 48326
In 1998, Volkswagen AG bought Rolls-Royce & Bentley Motor Cars at Crewe, while Rolls-Royce plc sold its car marque to BMW. It was announced that from midnight on December 31st 2002, Bentley and Rolls-Royce will be separate companies once again, after 67 years together. BMW would take the Rolls-Royce brand and Volkswagen would keep the Bentley brand.
Bentley was founded by Walter Owen Bentley, known to all as "W.O." He was a born engineer, but his first experience was not with motor cars - it
was trains. In 1905, aged 16, he set off on his bicycle to work at the Great Northern Railway Locomotive Works in Doncaster, northern England.
Off duty, he soon abandoned the push-bike in favour of motor cycling and with his brother took to racing. In their first event, the London to Edinburgh
Trial, they won a gold medal. W.O. raced at the Isle of Man TT event and Brooklands race track, near London.
The internal combustion engine made sweeter music to his ears than steam trains and in 1912 Bentley's family found funds enough to buy a small company importing French DFP sports cars.
It was on a visit to the DFP factory in 1913 that W.O. noticed an aluminium paperweight - and had the inspired idea of using the lightweight metal
instead of cast iron to make engine pistons. The first such Bentley pistons went into service in aero engines for the Sopwith Camel, in service during the Great War.
After it, Bentley revived his motor car interests and in London set about development of a racing engine - Experimental Bentley No 1. "I wanted to
make a fast car, a good car: the best in its class."
And he did. In the '20s, with the 3-litre, 85bhp engine providing speeds of 80 mph and more, Bentley Motors set numerous speed and endurance
records, competed successfully at Indianapolis, the Isle of Man, and Brooklands - and became inextricably linked with the history of the famous 24 hour race at Le Mans. In the hands of the legendary Bentley Boys,
Bentleys achieved Le Mans victories in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1930 - taking first four places in 1929.
Yet despite its racing record and public acclaim, Bentley Motors was beset by financial difficulty. By 1931 the golden age was over, but as closure
loomed, Rolls-Royce stepped in to save the Bentley name - and a new era began.
- Of 3024 production Bentley vintage chassis, nearly 1500 are thought to be still in existence
- Vintage Bentley cars were guaranteed for five years
- Production peaked in 1929 at 414 chassis
- In 1929 the firm made its only substantial profit, of £28,467
- In 1931 the firm lost £84,174
- Rolls-Royce paid £125,275 for Bentley Motors in November 1931
In mid-1919, with the design of the new 3-litre Bentley well underway - curiously, much of it carried out in an office above No.16 Conduit Street,
sometime Rolls-Royce showroom - W O Bentley's thoughts turned to the need for a manufacturing facility. Above all, W O was keen that Bentley Motors should be a motor manufacturing concern in their own right, so he
resisted attempts by early shareholders to turn the company into a design agency while they took over the manufacturing process itself. Fiercely
independent, W O was determined that Bentley Motors should stand on its own two feet. Only thus, he thought, could he ensure that his designs were turned, uncompromisingly, into the cars that he wanted to build.
The fledgling company almost bought Tangmere aerodrome, a decision that would have been financially suicidal, before W O bought a plot of land in
Cricklewood, north London, near the Welsh Harp (now less romantically known as the Brent reservoir). On the corner of Oxgate Lane and Edgware Road (the A5), the area was then still undeveloped. A brick building was
soon put up on this site, and the whole of the company moved in. With fewer than twenty employees, it was a small tight-knit group that built the
second, third and fourth experimental 3-litre Bentleys. These cars were test-beds to iron out design problems and develop the 3-litre Bentley into
production form. This process took nearly two years, a period beset by constant financial anxieties. In fact the company lived from hand to mouth
until 1926, when Woolf Barnato's millions provided, for the first time, some financial security.
In 1920, the first production shops were built. These were steel-framed
breezeblock buildings, put up quickly and cheaply. They nevertheless lasted over sixty years, occupied for many years after 1931 by Smiths Industries.
A wooden building housed the design and office staff, and the original brick building became the engine test shop. By 1921, though, Bentley Motors
were less motor car manufacturers than designers, assemblers and testers. Castings and forgings were bought in, and all machining work was sub-contracted. Chassis frames were made by Mechans of Glasgow and
shipped to Cricklewood. Bentleys used a whole range of suppliers; ENV for gears, Sterling Metals for castings, G Turton Platts for forgings, Automotive
Engineering for machining, Gallay for radiators, and so on. Unlike other "assembled" cars made from proprietary parts, Bentleys designed all the
parts of their cars, buying in only instruments, electrical equipment and (after 1926) Spicer propeller shafts.
At Cricklewood, individual sections in the assembly shops built up the main
assemblies; axles, gearboxes, steering columns. The heart of the company was the engine assembly shop. Each engine was built up by a fitter and his mate, and then sent through to the engine test shop. There was a
considerable degree of rivalry between fitters to see who could build the most powerful engine. Engines and other assemblies were then taken to the
chassis shop, where the complete rolling chassis was put together, again by a fitter and his mate. Once completed, the wiring was put in by the
electricians and the rolling chassis pushed through to the running shop. Here a set of wheels and tyres would be fitted, a temporary scuttle and front
seat, and the chassis taken out on the road by one of the road testers. All faults were noted and dealt with, before the chassis was passed off by the running shop and then sent out to the coachbuilder.
Bentley Motors did not build bodies themselves. All chassis were despatched to outside firms, notably Vanden Plas, who built virtually all the bodies on
the racing cars and numerous sports four seaters on production cars. Most of the closed cars were bodied by H J Mulliner, Park Ward, Gurney Nutting,
Freestone & Webb or Harrison. Many of these were built as "Bentley Standard Coachwork", to designs agreed between Bentley Motors and the
coachbuilders. The coachbuilders were issued with drawings showing clearances around the gearlever, over the back axle, for the wheels on lock and suspension travel. In the early twenties, some of the lesser
coachbuilders, particularly provincial firms, produced bodies that were far too heavy, and far too rigid for the flexible Bentley chassis. It was not
unknown for bodies to be built with the sidemembers around the handbrake, making it practically impossible to replace the ratchets and pawls, and with
the floor so difficult to remove that changing the gearbox oil represented a whole day's work.
Bentley Motors' solution to this was to issue the five-year guarantee only
after the completed car had been returned to Cricklewood and passed by the finished cars test shop. Here the bodies were checked over, and in later
years, the Bentleys weighed and fitted with appropriately-rated rear springs. Once passed, the guarantee was issued, covering the new owner against any defects in workmanship or materials for five years. The
guarantee was a very effective marketing tool, as well as a source of revenue. This was because the guarantee was only transferred to subsequent owners after the car had been through Bentley Motors' service
department at Kingsbury and any problems with the car put right, at the owner's expense. The guarantee was, though, fairly operated, and most Bentley customers were pleased with the service they received.
Demonstrating the company's faith in its own products undoubtedly helped to get the new firm off the ground.
Even with Barnato's money, after 1926, Cricklewood remained an assembly
and test shop until 1929. The most successful year of trading for the company, a profit of nearly ?29,000 was ploughed back into new buildings and an up-to-date machining shop. In the end, though, this was probably
only used on the unlamented 4-litre car, and by the time it was operational Bentley Motors had been swamped by financial difficulties. Production effectively ceased in June 1931, a month before the firm went into