Motoring | Features

Walter Owen Bentley

W. O. Bentley’s dream was to drive his own locomotive. Instead, he gave the world one-way tickets to opulent performance: his Bentley cars

  • By Dejan Jovanovic, wheels
  • Published: 15:31 January 27, 2013
  • Wheels

Walter Owen Bentley
  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Walter Owen Bentley may have departed 42 years ago, but his name’s still on some of the best cars in the world.

It was January 18, 1919, when Bentley Motors was founded in London by Walter Owen Bentley who declared his vision to produce “a fast car, a good car, the best in its class.” Ninety four years later, almost to the day, his vision still holds true, mere days after Crewe released the fastest four-door convertible in the world with plans to return to its racing roots and its adopted home, Le Mans.

Walter Owen Bentley may have departed 42 years ago, but his name’s still on some of the best cars in the world. A railway engineer by trade, he dreamt of driving his own locomotive one day, but when the British aeronautical industry caught wind of his engineering innovations, his aluminium pistons ended up being used in the engines of a major aerospace player — none other than Rolls-Royce.

Just as things quieted down after the Great War, Bentley founded his car company in London (it was only after the Second World War that Bentley settled in Crewe where its craftsmen still ply their trade today) and designed his own 3.0-litre engine to power the legendary Bentley 3 Litre.

With speed and power in his blood, it was only a matter of a couple of years for Bentley to start competing in motorsport events around the world, leaving its mark at Brooklands, Indianapolis, and remarkably with the 3 Litre and its successors winning the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1924, repeating the feat in succession from 1927 to 1930.

Even with these soaring successes, W. O. Bentley’s life was filled with challenges, be they family tragedies or financial pressures, yet he lived to the ripe old age of 83 leaving behind a lasting impression on all who worked for him and with him.

Although he never did get to drive his own train in the end, at least he fulfils the dreams of many, whenever a new owner walks past his Continental GT Speed for the first time, caresses the flying B, fires up the W12, and feels the power of a locomotive barrelling down the rails. That’s got to count for something.

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BENTLEY MOTOR'S KEY MOMENTS

1919 - Bentley Motors is established and the first Bentley 3 Litre is built, powered by a four-cylinder 65bhp engine.

1921 – Bentley’s first win comes at Brooklands, and the first production vehicle is sold at a price of £1,050.

1923 – Bentley 3 Litre places fourth at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

1924 – The first outright win at Le Mans for Bentley.

1927 – A badly damaged 3 Litre makes it to the chequered flag in first place at Le Mans, and Bentley keeps on winning all the way to 1930.

1931 – Rolls-Royce buys the Bentley Motors business.

1933 – Based on a Rolls-Royce 20/25, the first Bentley under the new ownership is produced.

1939 – The Embiricos Bentley, named for its Greek owner, displays and inspires the company’s new design language.

1946 – Bentley moves to its new Crewe factory.

1952 – Bentley launches its R-Type Continental, and adds coupé and sports saloon body styles two years later.

1959 – An all-new 6.2-litre aluminium V8 engine replaces the company’s ageing straight-six.

1965 – The Bentley T Series is released, featuring a one-piece body, independent suspension and disc brakes.

1970 – The V8 engine grows to 6.75-litres, and remains the same size for four decades.

1971 – WO Bentley dies.

1980 – Crewe launches the Bentley Mulsanne, echoing its Le Mans heritage (the name is derived from the famous race track’s long straight).

1982 – Bentley turbocharges its Mulsanne, capable of 0-100kph in seven seconds. Three years later, the more explosive Turbo R follows.

1998 – Volkswagen AG buys Rolls-Royce Motor Cars for £480 million (Dh2.8 billion). But since BMW bought the rights to the Rolls-Royce name, the two British carmakers once again becomes separate companies, after 67 years together. VW immediately invests £500 million into Bentley.

2002 – Bentley debuts the Continental GT, the most important new model since
the original 3 Litre of 1919.

2003 – Bentley wins Le Mans after a gap of over seven decades.

2007 - A Bentley Continental GT, driven by Juha Kankkunen, smashes the world ice speed record reaching 321.65kph.

2009 – The fastest production model, the Continental Supersport, is showcased.

2010 – Bentley releases the second generation Continental GT, and unveils the GTC the following year.

2012 – Bentley launches the controversial EXP 9F SUV concept.

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