History of Bentley

Bentley imageWalter Owen Bentley (WO to his friends) and his brother HM bought Lecoq and Fernie, a French auto company, renaming it Bentley and Bentley, with headquarters in Mayfair. In 1919, after a stint making airplane engines during WWI, the company was resurrected as Bentley Motors.

The first Flying B insignia appeared on the 1920 Bentley 3 1/2 Liter test car, which was built near Baker Street in London, and the first production car, another 3 1/2 Liter, was delivered to Bentley's first customer in 1921.

1921 - 1930 Bentley sees its first win at Brooklands in 1921, then enters its only Indianapolis 500 in 1922, where it qualified and finished last. A privately owned Bentley took 4th place in the first-ever Le Mans in 1923, prompting W.O. Bentley to support a factory team. (He called it "the best race I had ever seen," according to Bentley: The Story.) Engines grew ever larger in Roaring Twenties, with a 6 1/2 Liter, a 4 1/2 Liter, a supercharged Speed Six, and an 8 Liter that weighed two and a half tons rolling out of the Cricklewood factory. Driver Tim Birkin gets private financing to build the supercharged Birkin Blowers.

Rolls-Royce Buys Bentley: 1930 - 1939 Walter Owen's dedication to quality created beautiful cars -- and a financial mess. In 1926, he was demoted to managing director to make room for Woolf Barnato to become chairman. By 1931, things were no better. Rolls-Royce bought the company and kept WO on, if only to keep him from creating a new company that could compete with R-R. The first Rolls-produced Bentley, the 3.5 Liter, debuted in 1933, and WO left the company for Lagonda in 1935. In 1939, the Bentley factory at Crewe opened.

1940 - 1982 Bentley: The Story calls Bentley's period of Rolls-Royce ownership "the blackest of all." The MkVI of 1946 was the first Bentley to be built using Rolls components, and the 1952 R-Type Continental was the last Bentley built without a Rolls equivalent. Bentleys and Rolls-Royces were built side-by-side at the Crewe facility, with a Bentley-badged clone for every Rolls that rolled off the assembly line. WO Bentley died during this time, in 1971 at age 83.

1981 - 1998 The tide turned for Bentley with the introduction of the 1982 Bentley Mulsanne Turbo, named for the straight at Le Mans. In 1984, the Bentley Corniche was renamed the Continental, harkening back to the company's roots. The Continental R, which debuted in 1991, was the first Bentley to have its own dedicated body since 1954. With Bentley outselling Rolls by the early '90s, the companies celebrated 50 years of partnership by using a green background on the Flying B for all 1993 models. The next year, Rolls made a deal with BMW to the German company to supply engines for the two British marques.

1998 - current Volkswagen bought Rolls-Royce in 1998, including Bentley. BMW then bought the rights to the Rolls-Royce name and announced that as of December 31, 2002, Rolls and Bentley would be two separate companies after 67 years of barely tolerating each other. VW announced that it would invest nearly $1 billion (in today's dollars) to revive Bentley. The Hunaudieres concept car debuted in Geneva in 1999 and proved to be a step in the direction of the new Continental. In 2001, Bentley returned to Le Mans, then dropped out again in 2003. The 2006 Azure became the resurrected Bentley's flagship luxury sedan.

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