Many think of pure luxury when the name Bentley is mentioned. Some conjure a picture of Queen Elizabeth’s official state car during the Golden Jubilee in 2002 with its mounted crest representing Her Majesty’s Royal Standard, and its rear seats made of lambswool sateen cloth by the British Hield Brothers.
The founder, W.O. Bentley was a man possessed by the idea of building cars that would perform at top-speed, yet suit a true gentleman. The first Bentley to leave his factory in 1919 cost only 1,050 British pounds, yet it bore the signature radiator casing and flying ‘B’ insignia.
Bentley cars rose to fame in the 1920s for setting new speed records. In 1924, the Bentley 3 Litre Sport won Le Mans. From 1927 to 1930 Bentley won the race each year.
After soaring to such great heights, Bentley profits were hit hard by the Stock Market Crash of 1929, and subsequently by the Great Depression that followed.
In 1931, Rolls-Royce purchased Bentley motors to save the company from financial ruin. While there were numerous developments throughout the years, it wasn’t until the Volkswagen Group acquired Bentley in 1998 that a true renaissance took place. After Volkswagen invested 500 million pounds, the Bentley Marquee was streamlined and given a more contemporary feel. But the world of racing still wasn’t over, and in 2001 Bentley competed at Le Mans again, finishing third and, after 71 years, returning to the podium.
W.O. Bentley summarized it best when he said his intention was “to build a fast car, a good car, the best in its class.”
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