Walter Owen Bentley craved power and speed. A motorcycle racer on the Isle of Man and the Brooklands Circuit instilled in him the need for bigger and better racing machines, but he also understood the value of luxury.
Bentley focused his desires on automobiles after he and his brother purchased acquired the French company Doriot, Flandrin & Parant (DFP). It was from this company that Bentley learned the qualities needed to create his namesake, Bentley Motors.
In 1919, after a great deal of work and the discovery of using aluminum to make lighter, faster pistons, W.O. Bentley revved the first 3-liter engine that would power the great beginning of the Bentleys.
The Many Owners of Bentley
W.O. Bentley had some early struggles getting his brand off the ground, and though Bentley had its diehard fans, the financial struggles were too great in the early years. In 1925, Woolf Barnato one of the “Bentley Boys” became a financer for Bentley Motors, and as such, became the chairman of the company.
Woolf Barnato was a child of luxury. His father owned the diamond dynasty in South Africa, and Woolf inherited a large sum of money from him at the young age of 19. When he bought into Bentley, his ownership would be short lived. The stock market crash of 1929 took a toll on the success of the luxury car industry, and as a new and still relatively unestablished brand, Bentley suffered greatly.
In 1931, under the guise of the British Central Equitable Trust, Bentley was purchased from Barnato when the big was taken away from Napier and Son. The British Central Equitable Trust later was found out to be Rolls-Royce and they were the primary owner of Bentley until they were bought out by the German VW group in 1998.
The Bentley at Le Mans
Bentleys began making instant history. In their first ever run at the 24-hour Le Mans, (also the first year for the historic race) the team driving the Bentley pulled in a very respectable fourth place.
The next year, Captain John F. Duff and Frank Clement took the Bentley 3-Liter Sport across the finishing line of the 24-hour Le Mans in first place. The Bentley struggled through the next few years of the race, but managed to take another title in 1927. In that same race, two other Bentleys finished in 15th and 17th.
When Woolf Barnato took over the racing team in 1928, he drove the car himself, in partnership with Bernard Rubin. The pair took first place with a Bentley 4 ½ Liter “Old Mother Gun”. The secondary Bentley team took 5th place that year. Barnato had a repeat success in 1929, with Bentleys finishing in the top four spots. In 1930, Barnato won yet again, this time driving a newer model Speed Six “Old Number One”.
After the victory in 1930, Bentley withdrew from the race for several decades. In fact, it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that Bentley re-entered to compete for the title. Bentley re-entered in 2001, but didn’t win a title until 2003 when the two Bentley teams came in first (Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Guy Smith) and second (Mark Blundell, David Brabham and Johnny Herbert).
2003 when Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Guy Smith came in first before Mark Blundell, David Brabham and Johnny Herbert who were driving the second Bentley at the race.
Recent Developments for Bentley
After the turn of the century, the future of the Bentley was uncertain, and many doubted Volkswagen’s commitment to maintain the luxurious history of the brand. Those who doubted were soon proven wrong when designs for the Bentley State Limousine were commissioned for use by the Queen during her Golden Jubilee.
The recent years have also seen the development of a mid-sized Bentley, and the development of the new racing giant, the 600bhp Bentley Speed 8, also known as the GT Coupe. This 600bhp Speed 8 is the car that brought a Le Mans victory back to Bentley after so many years of silence. The Speed 8 also finished third and fourth at the 12-hour Sebring in Florida.
In 2008, Bentley rose up to meet the global challenges of climate change and the search for renewable fuels by committing to slashing their CO2 emissions in half by 2012. Bentley began this journey by releasing the Continental Supersport, the fastest and most powerful Bentley ever, with the FlexFuel performance option.
What Bentley does next remains to be seen, but it is certain that luxury, power and speed will not be compromised on any level. Though Bentley’s history has been rocky and their ownership has never been steady, their fans are dedicated and the brand has been preserved.
Protect Your Bentley
Though the history of Bentley may have been questionable at times, owners of these luxury cars know how important it is to preserve the beauty and power of the Bentley, guaranteeing it will be around for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
If you are the proud owner of a classic Bentley, don’t leave it under-protected with insufficient insurance coverage. Call the luxury car insurance experts at Classic Auto today for a free, instant quote and find out how we can save you money, but also protect your car with the highest level of care and value. Call our classic car insurance representatives at 888-901-1338.
About the Author
Drew Yagodnik is Vice President of Classic Automobile Insurance Agency, Inc. Classic Automobile Insurance Agency has been protecting collector, classic and exotics since 1992.