MANY HAPPY RETURNS, BENTLEY!

A century of the famous brand’s life told through some of its most iconic models. And a video.

An expression of luxury and British style, Bentley’s creations have left a mark with their innovations, courageous interpretive decisions and great attention to detail and workmanship. Models that were able to best portray the Bentley philosophy, a combination of research and perfection and the passion for absolute beauty, purity of shape, love of speed, comfort, safety and originality. To celebrate its one hundred years of life, we will tell a small part of the Crewe-based company’s story through some of its most interesting vehicles.
It all began with the legendary 3-litre. The two-door prototype, released in 1920 by the workshops in Mews Street, London, the car manufacturer’s original premises, founded in 1919 by automobile-lover Walter Owley Bentley, had an aluminium, 4-cylinder engine and was quite fast but, above all, comfortable. In 1921 production moved to Cricklewood. A 3-litre, very aggressive sports version arrived which had a particular charm and was able to reach 160km/h, a record that made it the fastest car of the moment.

The car was delivered to the customers as a running chassis and many of them went to the Vanden Plas coachbuilders to have the standard bodies fitted, as foreseen by Bentley. The cubic capacity was 2,996cc with a straight-4 engine. In the following year, a passion for racing led W.O., as the Bentley engineer was known, to take part in the Indianapolis 500-mile race and then in the Le Mans 24h race a year later, which he won in 1924.
These repeated sports successes began to make Bentley’s creations increasingly more popular among car lovers and they became a lot more common even if, at that time, only among the elite. It was also thanks to the Bentley Boys, a group of enthusiastic automobile buffs and supporters of the brand which included journalists, members of the nobility, aeronautical engineers, military figures and many others, that the Brand’s name became more and more popular. The modern lines and powerful engines were well liked, especially in cars such as the Supersport Brooklands model.
Another car that aroused attention and success was the 1924 3/8-litre roadster which normally came in the most classic English green.
In 1928, using the 6½ L as the base, Bentley produced a sports car called Speed Six. It had an innovative 200 horsepower aluminium engine and six gears. The following year, the Bentley Speed Six achieved first and second place at the Le Mans 24h.
1929 saw the arrival of a sports version of the 4½ litre for Le Mans as well as the Blower, a supercharged version that was an authentic force of nature built at Henry Birkin’s workshops in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Only 500 models were made, each with an enormous volumetric compressor and 175 horsepower.
In addition to that 4½-litre racer, an open tour version was also produced which became popular in the media due to James Bond: in the original novels, the secret agent drove a grey one with Marchiar headlights and an Amherst Villiers volumetric compressor, which the cinema version featured in the films Casino Royale, Mooonraker and Live and Let Die. It also appeared on television as the car driven by John Steel in the 1970s British TV series The Avengers.
The 8-litre was the largest and most luxurious car produced by Bentley. During the years of its commercialization, it was, in terms of size, the biggest car produced in the United Kingdom. It had a capacity of 7983cc and a straight-six engine in iron with 4 valves each with twin-spark ignition. It had a short wheelbase chassis of 3,658 mm as well as a long 3,962 mm one. The model contributed to globally consecrating Bentley as a supreme luxury car manufacturer.
In 1938, coachbuilders Vanden Plas furbished several examples of a cabriolet version of the 4¼-litre in different colours. This car, produced from 1936 to 1939, replaced the previous 3½-litre. The weight of the bodywork was increased while still maintaining its sporty character. The engine power was raised to 4,257cc with an 88.mm bore. It featured an overdrive gear and steering by Merles. A total of 1,234 cars were assembled. A “stylish” car for leisure driving, but not only. The doors, fitted to follow the final curve of the car, were extremely elegant.

One of the most coveted and admired models was the Corniche. Conceived as a high-performance version of the MkV sedan, it was a gem of technology that was to be presented at the 1939 Paris Show. However, the original version was destroyed during the bombing of Dieppe at the beginning of the Second World War. Long considered lost, it can now be admired thanks to the restoration work of skilled artisans at Mulliner, the department specifically for Bentley personalization, who followed the original designs for the bodywork and the chassis, the only surviving part of the prototype, as well as various original mechanical components of the time. A work of love and passion, typical of all Mulliner’s customization processes. And which features in every creation by the Crewe producer.