Bentley Motors Limited exists as a British-based automaker that produces luxury SUVs and cars. Their headquarters are located in Crewe, England and they’ve been part of the Volkswagen AG beginning in 1998. They’ve been in business since 1919 when they were founded by W.O. Bentley in Cricklewood, London.
The company is well known for their extensive collection of wins from the 24 Hours of Le Mans. While Bentley sells their vehicles worldwide, their most popular market is in China.
Even today, all of the vehicles are still assembled at their Crewe factory, but a few were made in Germany at the Dresden factory run by Volkswagen, previously. The Continental bodies were also produced in Zwickau, for a short time, while the Bentayga was made at the Bratislava plant run by Volkswagen. Now all production runs through the Crewe plant in the UK.
At one time, Rolls-Royce and Bentley were joined together through a series of acquisitions and mergers. This began in 1931, but in 1971 the Rolls-Royce Company was bound to enter a partnership with the government. Later, in 1998, Rolls-Royce Motors joined with Bentley to become part of Volkswagen AG.
A Brief Bentley History
The Origin Of Bentley Motors Limited
Prior to starting the company, brothers Horace Millner Bentley and Walter Owen Bentley had sold French vehicles in Cricklewood. W.O. (Walter’s nickname) wanted to produce and design his own line of cars. This began at the factory he worked for (DFP) when he took notice of an aluminum paperweight in 1913 and wondered if it was a fair replacement for the cast iron currently used for pistons.
He put this thought into action by creating the first set of aluminum pistons for Bentley. They were paired with Sopwith Camel aero engines for the First World War.
In 1919, he registered the company, Bentley Motors Ltd to start the company. That same year, he attended the London Motor Show to display his car chassis complete with a dummy engine. Clive Gallop, a former Royal Flying Corps officer, joined the team and created an engine that featured four valves in each cylinder.
The original date for delivery was set for June of 1920, but the development ended up taking longer than they planned, so that release date moved to September of the following year. Their initial quality received rave accolades as people found they were more durable and reliable than other brands of the time.
The enterprise found itself often underfunded. After their Le Mans victory in 1924, Captain Woolf Barnato offered to finance the business. This saved the workforce and the company. With their new financial backing, W.O. was able to concentrate on production of a new generation of vehicles.
The Rise of the Bentley Automobile
Barnato was part of a group of UK automobile enthusiasts known as The Bentley Boys. This also included George Duller, a steeplechaser, Glen Kidston, an aviator, S.C.H. “Sammy” Davis an automotive journalist, Dudley Benjafield, and Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin. Most of these men were fond of Bentley vehicles, were wealthy, and also came from a military background.
Their 1931 4-litre began as a three-liter, but customers wanted heavier bodies, so the larger design followed. The most known model during this time was the Blower Bentley, a 4.5-liter that had a supercharger coming forward out of the grille’s bottom.
This model was popular in media as included in James Bond novels. It only had a small part in the movies, but even John Steed from The Avengers showed off a Bentley.
When the company released their eight-liter engine, Barnato’s money began to dwindle away. In 1931, the engine became so successful that Rolls-Royce decided to buy Bentley in order to keep them from competing against the Phantom II.
Liquidating the Company
Bentley’s line of expensive automobiles didn’t do well through the 1929 Crash of Wall Street and Great Depression. Two separate mortgage payments had been scheduled for payment in 1931, but Barnato and the company didn’t have any money.
At first, Napier decided to purchase Bentley, but the British Central Equitable Trust ended up with the top sealed bid of about $160,000. The Trust turned out to be a cover for Rolls-Royce Limited. In fact, Bentley didn’t even know who the purchaser truly was until after they completed the deal.
Barnato received money for his Bentley shares. Then, in 1934, he was appointed as part of the board to Bentley Motors.
Rolls-Royce formed a new subsidiary, Bentley Motors Ltd. They also acquired the Kingsbury service station, Cork Street showrooms, the Cricklewood complex, as well as W.O. Bentley’s services. Bentley then failed to register the trademark, so Rolls-Royce stepped in.
In 1932, they sold off the company’s Cricklewood factory. For two years, production ceased until they began operations again in Derby, at a Rolls-Royce factory. As soon as Bentley’s contract expired in 1935, he left the company and joined on with Lagonda.
In 1933, they released the Bentley 3 ½-litre. The sporty design disappointed many of their traditional customers but was liked by some new clients. It turned out to be a variant of the 20/25 from Rolls-Royce. The slogan used to describe it was, “the silent sports car.” This slogan lived on through the 1950s.
Rolls-Royce worked with British Government officials to prepare for the war and find a location to produce some aero-engines. They decided on Crewe which offered a superior road plus various rail links. It was also situated on the northwest end, away from the bombing occurring in Europe’s mainland.
In addition, Crewe offered vast farming land. The construction began in 1938 on their 60-acre plot. It has been part of Merrill’s Farm and initially was potato fields. Five months later, the first Merlin aero-engine came off the company’s production line. At its peak level of production, the company manufactured 25,000 engines for the war. Their factory even employed 10,000 people.
Once the war ended, they turned their focus toward jet engines. They used the Derby facility to concentrate on the aero engine production while all automobile operations ended up in Crewe.
For quite a while after the war, most higher-end automobile manufacturers supplied the parts for cars, instead of full vehicles. This included both Rolls-Royce and Bentley. They produced and sold numerous rolling chassis, even with an instrument panel. Then, they were delivered to the builder selected by a buyer. Some of the specialist companies used the coachbuilder to supply standard designs that would be waiting in stock for the customer.
The UK government continued to pressure the companies to export their product and build an overseas currency. That’s when Rolls-Royce created their all-steel body to make their first ready-to-drive saloon car. Their first model was known as the Bentley Mark VI. Then, the Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn that used the steel Bentley design but added the Rolls-Royce grille for an additional charge. Chassis were produced for the coachbuilders through 1965 until the Bentley S3 ceased being available.
Birth of the Continental
Initially, the Continental coupe was designed for the UK market. The prototype was a right-hand drive design. They produced the chassis in the Crewe factory and used many parts interchangeably between the R type.
Aside from that, the R-Type was one of the cars delivered as a rolling chassis to various coachbuilders. The coachwork was completed by H. J. Mulliner & Co. Other work was supplied by Park Ward, later creating the drophead coupe, Franay, Graber, Köng, and Pininfarina.
The early models of the R Type Continental had the same engine that their standard-version R Type contained, but with a modified carburation. They also had new induction and exhaust manifolds as well as some higher gear ratios. In 1954, they fitted the vehicle with an engine that had a 4.9-liter displacement.
Separating the Companies
As Rolls-Royce continued to focus on the development of aero engines, the financial collapse of their business loomed overhead in 1970. Their motorcar division turned into its own business, which remained independent until Vickers purchased it in 1980. This time also marked a period when Bentley sales dropped dramatically.
Vickers set forth to help Bentley regain their high-performance heritage. This led to the creation of the Bentley Mulsanne in 1980. This caused the company’s sales to begin to rise again. By the early-1990s, sales between Rolls-Royce and Bentley were relatively even.
In 1997, Vickers decided to sell off the company. BMW wanted to purchase the group, and that seemed logical. They were already supplying the components and engines to both Rolls-Royce and Bentley. They made an offer of about $436 million but were outbid by Volkswagen. The winning sales price was around $552 million. In the deal, Volkswagen acquired the model names, administrative facilities, vehicle designs, production plants, Rolls-Royce grill shape, and the Spirit of Ecstasy. What they didn’t receive the rights to was the Rolls-Royce logo or name, which is still owned by the company.
In 1998, BMW worked to supply components for the newest line of vehicles. The most common was the V8 and V12 engines
BMW paid a premium to license the logo and name from Rolls-Royce. After some negotiations, they were allowed to have temporary use from 1998 through 2002 if they supplied the components and engines. Once that agreement was over, in 2003, they stopped producing engines for the luxury brands.
From 2003 to the present, Volkswagen became the only provider to use the Bentley marque. BMW, created their own entity, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited.
Volkswagen invested in modernizing the company’s Crewe factory to increase the production ability. From 1998 through 2010, they increased the number of employees from 1,500 to 3,500.
The Modern Age
In 2002, Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a State Limousine from Bentley to celebrate the Golden Jubilee. A year later, the Azure, the company’s two-door convertible ceased production while they introduced the Bentley Continental GT. This large coupe came equipped with a W12 engine.
Demand for the new vehicles became so high, that the Crewe factory was unable to satisfy all the orders, even though they upgraded capacity. There was still a long waiting list for the cars to see delivery. That’s when they reassigned some of the Bentley Flying Spur production to Germany, where the VW Phaeton was created. In 2006, they brought the Flying Spur back to the Crewe factory.
In 2005, the company presented a convertible, the Continental GTC. Workers at the Crewe location started to become restless and began protesting. They weren’t happy about the mandatory Friday workday and overtime needed during each week.
Most recently, the company produced five vehicle lines: the Continental, Mulsanne, Flying Spur, New Continental, and Bentayga.
Bentley Safety and Crash Ratings
Despite the lack of testing, there is a wild array of safety equipment available to protect occupants. Most Bentley vehicles come with a full suite of safety features. These include the City Safeguard program which detects potential collisions and then applies the brakes where needed to avoid an accident. They also provide Lane Assist which adjusts the driver’s steering when the car begins to drift from its lane.
The Advanced Night Vision puts the entire driver’s key information on the head-up display so that any potential road hazards are avoided during the night. There’s also a rearview camera, traffic sign recognition, top-view camera, reverse traffic warnings, and adaptive cruise control.
Bentley Safety Recalls
Wards Auto doesn’t list the Bentley brand by itself during rankings, but we can see how well Volkswagen is performing. Compared with all the other major manufacturers, they’ve ranked the worse when it comes to recalls. The good news is that they are rated favorably on the chart that says only 77% of their recalls could have resulted in death, injury, crash, accident, or fire. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to handle most of their recalls voluntarily, but instead, choose to let the NHTSA force them into it.
In 2013, Bentley Motors recalled 2007 – 2011 Continental GT, GTC, and Flying Spur vehicles with carbon fiber brake discs. In the event of an issue, the stainless steel screws which secure the car’s brake rotors might fail if they were exposed to salty weather.
Then, in 2015, another 7,778 Continental GT, GTC, and Flying Spur vehicles were recalled again. This time it was for the years 2011 – 2014. The bolted connection for the battery cable joint might be loose where it passed through the front bulkhead. This led to four incidents where the electrical joint overheated, but no reports of injury.
Consumer Satisfaction Reports & Dependability Ratings
Neither Consumer Reports nor J.D. Power evaluates the Bentley brand, so we are once again left with a slight conundrum. To get to the bottom of it, this requires reading actual customer reviews which can be slightly biased as well.
While the name Bentley is synonymous with luxury and prestige, they aren’t known for their longevity. In Britain, they are known to be one of the most unreliable cars on the road. Not only do they last for fewer miles than most brands, but each repair is also quite expensive.
Of course, for some people, driving a Bentley is just about the impression they want to give off and has nothing to do with if they are reliable or dependable.
While the company is known for winning a decent amount of the awards, many of them don’t include the American-based vehicles. Here are some of their accolades from the past couple of years.
- 2017 Bentley Bentayga Diesel received the Star Award at the 2017 Autocar Awards.
- 2017 Continental GT was awarded the title of ‘Best Grand Touring Sports Car’ from the Robb Report.
- Interior Design Magazine found the 2017 new Continental’s a winner for ‘Automotive Overall Design’ in its prestigious ‘Best of the Year’ awards.
- Robb Report US named the 2016 Bentayga the ‘Best of the Best.’
- Car and Driver China awarded the 2016 Bentayga the Jury’s Special Award.
- Esquire Car of the Year, October 2016
Princess Yachts Partnership
There is a partnership between Bentley and Princess Yachts which allows these two British companies to accent each other’s performance, luxury, elegance, leading-edge technology, and high-class craftsmanship. Bentley even makes a few vehicles that are inspired by the Princess Yachts.
Bentley Motors believes in giving back to the community. That’s why they run several programs that benefit the lives of others.
They are a member of the Cheshire Community Foundation. This organization provides funding for various community projects that struggle to receive the financial backing they need. In 2016, they offered a grant to the New Vic Theatre which works to improve the literacy of disadvantaged children.
In addition to ongoing financial support for various groups, Bentley also believes in volunteering. Part of the training to become an employee for the company is centered around volunteer work. They encourage every person working for them to spend time volunteering.
To further improve education, the automaker also offers over 150 work experience placements for students to gain a deeper insight into the business.
They also work hard to care for the environment. In addition, they produce vehicles with responsibly sourced materials and strive to reduce their environmental impact. They also focus on enhancing fuel economy, reducing emissions, and developing sustainable high-tech drive system for the future.
Bentley Motors takes the health of their employees seriously as well. They believe that a healthy workforce is a productive one so they work to enhance the mental and physical wellbeing of their staff through various strategies.
The Fit for Life program gives employees information on nutrition and provides guidance over their fitness activity and mental wellbeing. They run the Legends Health and Fitness Centre with 16 different sports sections.
They also have Health Check kiosks located around the Crewe plant that allow their workforce to track blood pressure, weight, heart rate, body mass index, body-fat percentage, and heart age. To further improve health of the employees, they offer access to the Bupa Boost mobile app which allows them to track nutrition goals, mindfulness, fitness, and relaxation.
The company holds regular workshops to teach workers about mental health, stress, and restful sleep.
Their Healthy Eating plan teaches about the importance of a balanced diet. The onsite restaurant offers many healthy choices and uses electronic displays to show the nutritional values of every item.
Safety is also a primary concern at the plants. The BeSafe Briefings focus on different topics each time. Discussions are encouraged and the upper management works to address any issue promptly. Bentley also has a First Response Team to treat any emergencies on the spot.
Snapshot of the Company
Since January 18, 1919, Bentley Motors Limited has been in business. It started as a dream of the Bentley brothers and continues to live on today. In 1931, they were acquired by Rolls-Royce and later taken over in 1980 by Vickers. Finally, in 1998, the Volkswagen Group became the owner and that’s how it remains to this day.
Crewe, England provides the headquarters for the company. Adrian Hallmark works as the automobile manufacturer’s Chairman and CEO. In 2013, they had 3,600 employees worldwide.
Volkswagen AG holds #16 in the Forbes Global 2000 List. They also rank #5 in Sales, #25 in Profit, #90 as the World’s Most Valuable Brands, and #15 as World’s Best Employers.
In 2017, Bentley Motors dropped slightly in sales. They distributed 10,566 vehicles worldwide which was down from 11,298 in 2016. The highest demand came from the Bentayga.
United States sales declined by 6.8% which is the brand’s largest single market. In Asia-Pacific, they grew 15.7% plus another 1.5% in Europe.
The Volkswagen Group owns several automakers, including Audi, Bentley, Bugatti and Ducati. Throughout all their ownership changes, Bentley maintained the same headquarters since the 1940s. Crewe, England houses the production of all modern-day automobiles.
In previous days, they built some models in other locations just to keep up with demand. In 2002, the Flying Spur made its home in Germany, alongside the Phaeton sedan from Volkswagen. This only lasted through 2006.
Every vehicle from the brand contains some distinguishing characteristics. They are hand-built and several parts like the upholstery and engine are signed by the person who put them together. This takes more time than most automakers. For example, the Bentley Continental GT takes about 150 hours to manufacture.
Bentley chooses to maintain a simple logo design. It features two wings and a “B” in the middle. Over the years, there haven’t been many changes. It’s been tweaked slightly to keep up with modern appeal.
The “B” stands merely for Bentley and the wings represent speed. They continue to showcase the classic look with the logo, but it has a sense of sophistication that makes it a favorite brand for the higher class.
One of the most significant ways that Bentley advertises is actually for free. When celebrities, musicians, and athletes drive the cars and post them to social media, others want to buy one. Aside from that, they’ve also had a lot of success in motorsports which has further enhanced their image.
The average customer is a billionaire typically 40-60 years old. They have a passion for living a finer life.
The company’s first major racing event occurred in 1922 at the Indianapolis 500. At the time, the race featured specialized cars that had a Duesenberg racing chassis. Bentley entered a road car that was slightly modified, driven by Douglas Hawkes. He completed all 500 miles and ended in 13th place. He started in 19th position and had an average speed of almost 75 miles per hour.
Captain Woolf Barnato, otherwise known as Babe, acquired his first Bentley in 1925. He used it to win several Brooklands races and then purchased the company a year later.
Then, in 1929, they developed the 4.5-liter Blower Bentley plus an additional five racing specials. These were optimized for the Brooklands circuit.
In 1930, Barnato drove the Blue Train Races after beating Le Train Bleu. He took his 6.5-liter Speed Six and raced a train from Cannes to Calais, a ferry to Dover, and then to London. He was victorious.
After their Le Mans win in 1930, Bentley withdrew from all motor racing. Their reasoning for it was that they had learned enough about reliability and speed. Then, they won again in 2003, setting the record for 73 years between wins.
In 2014, the Continental GT3 won the Silverstone round of the Blancpain Endurance Series. This was their first entry since the 1930 RAC Tourist Trophy.
The Bentley Motors Factory Tour is located in the Crewe facility. This experience is reserved for customers only and for a limited basis. The tour consists of a complete viewing of the factory guided by knowledgeable, experienced hosts.
The CW1 House has been open since 2014 and is also located in Crewe. This showroom isn’t necessarily a museum, but a dedicated area complete with the entire Bentley range of vehicles and special personalization area. There’s even a boutique on-site and a bespoke Mulliner room.
Bentley Financial Services
For those looking to purchase a Bentley for sale, their financial program is available to help. Even for customers interested in a Bentley for hire, there are some options they offer. At the dealerships, they allow consumers to personalize every aspect of the process. The company doesn’t believe that should end once you’ve picked your car, but should continue into the financing department.
They’ve specifically tailored numerous packages to offer freedom so you can get behind the wheel. The competitive packages come handcrafted just like the cars.
There are also several Bentley Protection Plans available to maintain the new vehicle. With Bentley Premier Tire and Wheel Protection, the parts touching the ground remain under warranty. There’s also a Dent Protection program that takes care of dents to improve the resale or trade-in value. With the Windshield Protection, coverage extends to minor chips and cracks . Through the Key Protection coverage, consumers don’t worry over their lost keys which cost a good amount otherwise.
They also have Guaranteed Auto Protection, otherwise known as GAP. If the Bentley is declared a total loss as a result of an accident, natural disaster, or theft, the protection plan covers anything over what the insurance company offers. The Lease-End Protection takes care of customers when the lease is over. They also provide Prepaid Maintenance which includes all the routine care.
There are 61 Bentley dealerships in the United States, but many more around the world. Other locations around the globe include South America, Africa, Australia, China, The Middle East, and of course in the United Kingdom. Showrooms within the United States are found in major metropolitan cities.
When visiting a Bentley dealer, the customer receives the opportunity to create their vehicle the way they desire. To ensure the personalization of each car, each detail remains customizable. This includes the thread color used for cross-stitching. Half the pleasure of owning a Bentley comes from knowing the owner created it.
6 Interesting Facts about Bentley
1 – James Bond got behind the wheel of Bentleys, not Aston Martins as many believe. If you read the books, you’ll know that Bond enjoyed driving a 4.5-liter coupe and a few sedans as well. The books are always better than the movies.
2 – Head to Finland where there’s a Bentley Ice Driving School. They’ll teach you to race around on ice while going 200 mph.
3 – We know it’s possible to drive 200 mph on ice because Juha Kankkunen did it first. In 2007, he became the first driver to accomplish it in a Bentley Continental GT.
4 – It’s possible to decorate your entire home with Bentley furniture, but it might cost a small fortune.
5 – Pankhurst Barbershop based out of London, features barber seats made by Bentley. The entire theme of the shop dedicates itself to the car brand. You don’t want to know what a haircut and shave runs.
6 – Bentley has the largest solar panel rooftop in all of the UK. It supplies up to 40% of the factory’s electricity when the weather is beautiful.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Bentley a Rolls Royce? Bentley fell under Rolls-Royce leadership for quite some time. In 1931, Rolls Royce purchased Bentley, through the name British Central Equitable Trust. At the time, Bentley didn’t realize the other luxury line of vehicles was the purchaser. They worked together through 1980 when Vickers ended up taking over. Since 1997, Volkswagen AG has been the parent company for Bentley.
Where Are Bentleys Made? The Crewe factory in the UK provides the location for all their production. At one time, a small number of cars came from the Dresden factory in Germany alongside VW. Some Bentayga’s also saw manufacturing at the Bratislava plant run by VW, but now everything runs through the UK factory.
Does Bentley Make an SUV? Their SUV is the Bentley Bentayga. In 2016, the manufacturer claimed the vehicle was the fastest in the world. The W12 engine produced a top speed of 187 mph and was able to hit 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds.
Are Bentleys Reliable? Bentley stands for prestige and luxury, so it’s easy to assume that their vehicles remain durable, but that’s not the case. Consumers in Britain know that the line is unreliable. They don’t last as long as most other brands, plus the repairs are expensive.
When Was Bentley Founded? Horace Millner Bentley and Walter Owen Bentley began the company together in 1919. Previously they worked at a factory selling French vehicles. W.O. spotted some aluminum paperweights and wondered if they would make a replacement for the cast iron material currently in pistons. That’s when he created the first set of aluminum pistons.