In an age of Instagram and influencers, casual admirers might draw a closer association between Bentley and Premiership footballers rather than speed, a defined pedigree in motorsport and sheer engineering finesse. But they’d be completely wrong.

Under the steadfast efforts of W.O. Bentley, the first motorcar to bear his name was revealed to the public in London, 1919. This would be the initial step in a relentless, century-long pursuit of unparalleled excellence.

Born in 1888, the youngest of nine siblings, Walter Owen Bentley (W.O.) gave early signs to a love of engineering and all things in-motion. Spending his youth disassembling bicycles, his interest quickly developed to steam-powered locomotives and trains. He would go on to complete an apprenticeship with the Great Northern Railway, before achieving a childhood dream of operating a steam locomotive of his own. But his curiosities would then escalate again, this time, to the road.

After many successful years building and racing motorcycles, W.O. went into business with one of his brothers in 1912, importing Doriot, Flandrin & Parant (DFP) cars from across the Channel in France. During this time, W.O. began to gain true momentum with his mastery of engineering – developing the world’s first ever aluminium pistons. He refined these new bespoke pistons and added them to DFP cars. This was the catalyst that truly put W.O. on the racing map, landing him several victories at Brooklands and enabling him to set a new 89.7 mph world record for the flying mile.

His experimental accomplishments with aluminium in motorcars didn’t stop there. During the First World War, W.O. served as a Captain in the Royal Naval Air Service where he deployed his innovative aluminium components within a whole new niche – military aviation. W.O. used his skills and experience to create an engine for fighter aircraft, making them more powerful and more reliable than ever before. The first Bentley Rotary engine was then born and went on to make the now iconic Sopwith Camel the most successful British fighter plane of the great war.

New Dawn

After the war had come to its bloody conclusion, W.O. Bentley’s efforts in the great struggle were recognised by the prestigious merit of an MBE in 1919. He was also given a grant by the Commission of Awards to Inventors. This meant he now had the financial viability to fulfil his dream and start his own motor company. And on 10th July 1919, he did just that.

First up in Bentley’s esteemed catalogue, was the Bentley 3-Litre. Making it into production between 1921 and 1929, the 3-Litre dominated countless races and motoring events, most notably winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1924 and then again in 1927. The success of the 3-Litre can still be felt in cars that make up the company’s modern line-up – engines that develop huge amounts of torque from very low rpms. Horsepower headlines sell cars, but it’s torque that wins races.

Following the continued success of the 3-Litre on track, and with numerous orders coming thick and fast from the London aristocracy and even members of the royal family, W.O. began working on a larger, six-cylinder 6.5 litre variant – known affectionately as the Big Six, later the Speed Six. Both a 4.5-litre and a huge 8-litre variant would also see production up until 1930. Designed primarily as road cars, these larger Monoblock motors also saw great podium-finish successes on track.

The 8-Litre would go on to be the last car ever delivered by W.O., a vehicle many consider his masterpiece. Only 100 were ever made due to the unfortunate global financial turn after the Wall Street Crash. But the design philosophy of the 8-Litre has survived the test of time and lives on in the company’s ethos today.

Bentley would then take a 73 year-long hiatus from racing but returned in spectacular fashion with the Bentley Speed 8. The car debuted in 2001 and went on to a dominant victory at Le Mans in 2003 – a true return to form. The marque now enjoys continued thunderous success in GT class racing thanks to its spectacular Continental GT3 motorsport derivative.

The Centenary

As the marque celebrates its century anniversary year, a complete refresh of some of the brands most iconic vehicles has taken place. The flagship Continental GT, which has seen continuous production since 2003, has received a full makeover. With a stunning new superformed shape and brand-new potent powertrain, the new Continental GT is a true grand touring heavyweight. Bentley’s signature W12 engine returns, but in an all new guise.

The fresh twin-turbo, 6-litre 12-cylinder motor now generates a staggering 626 bhp and 664 lbs-ft of torque. That’s enough to shove the 2.2 tonne titan to 100 km/h in a mere 3.7 seconds and onto a top speed of 333 km/h – true super GT levels of performance. And harping back to Bentley’s motorsport roots, in this huge milestone year, the new Continental GT now holds the record as the fastest production car ever to race up the summit of the infamous Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado.

Bentley also debuted the rejuvenated Flying Spur – a new pinnacle in the luxury saloon class. Powered by the same W12 twin-turbo configuration as the Continental, the new Flying Spur offers an incomparable calibre and delivers an assertive, regal presence on road. The revised exterior offers exquisite chrome detailing, highlighting the ultra-wide proportions of the nose and long hood. But the most notable update is the opportunity for customers to specify the new Flying B mascot on the bonnet. It’s the first time since the 1950s that the Flying B will be offered to customers and is an option that is sure to set future collectable models apart. This subtle nod to the past is sure to keep the rich heritage of Bentley alive.

Bentleys of today and their motors of old share such a beautiful, delicate and distinguished character, paired with muscular, powerful engines. There is a certain low-volume, hand-crafted quality that can’t be matched, and is rare to find in any other marque, regardless of class. The look of every hand-stitched panel, the smell of the waxy leather hides, the texture of each hand-sewn Bentley emblem in the headrest of every single seat. Bentley cars embody something fine. Something undeniably, quintessentially British and it’s a pure joy to behold, to feel under your fingertips and to hear as you carve your way across continents in any pick of the modern Bentley range.

Evolution of Extraordinary Journeys

To usher Bentley through its rich past century and into the modern era in spectacular contemporary fashion, the EXP 100 GT Concept was shown to an eager public for the very first time – 100 years to the day that W.O. founded the world-renowned motoring superlative. The EXP 100 GT explores how grand touring could evolve with the next generation and beyond. This electrifying look into the future boasts design cues that clearly take influence from models present and past; from the gaping front grille, diamond-like circular headlights and an unmistakably Bentley silhouette.

The EXP 100 GT’s outer shell appears brawny and thick. The scale of the thing is as dramatic as its styling, measuring a staggering 5.8 meters from front to tail and boasting two-meter wide doors that open upward to arouse a true sense of theatre and occasion.

The interior exhibits similarly futuristic features. Designers claim the car will showcase next-level artificial intelligence in order to tailor the entire driving experience to suit the mood of those in the car, with modes to effect lighting, sound and even smells within the cabin. Bentley claim it will create a ‘wellness-enriching’ driving environment with never before seen ‘adaptable biometric seating’.

Whatever the future holds for these marvellous, meticulously hand-crafted machines, I am certainly excited to see what comes next and hope these opulent cars from Crewe continue to be built for generations to come. For me, Bentley truly represents the perfect blend of speed and luxury. Performance and opulence. And I remain in a constant state of awe whenever I’m in the presence of the results of this century-long endeavour.


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