© 2018 by The Sir Henry Royce Foundation. 

Fostering the engineering excellence of Sir Henry Royce into the 21st century

Walter Owen Bentley

Born:    16 September 1888, Hampstead, England
Died:    13 August 1971 (aged 82), Woking, England

Nationality:   English
Occupation:   Engineer

 

In 1931 Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley, the small sports/racing car maker and potential rival, after the latter's finances failed to weather the onset of the Great Depression. Rolls-Royce stopped production of the new big Bentley 8 Litre, which was threatening sales of their current Phantom, disposed of remaining Bentley assets and made use of just the Bentley name and its repute.

After some years of development Rolls-Royce produced a new quite different ultra-civilised medium-size range of Bentleys advertising them as "the silent sports car". They were very much in the Rolls-Royce mould. From soon after World War II until 2002 standard Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars were often very nearly identical apart from the radiator grille and minor details.

Interesting snippets ....
 

  • The famous “Winged B” hood ornament was designed with forgers in mind. As a counter to the red-hot faux hood ornament market, there’s actually a different number of feathers on each side, in the hopes that forgers wouldn’t notice.

 

  • Headquartered in Crewe, England, the company was founded as Bentley Motors Limited by W. O. Bentley in 1919 in Cricklewood, North London—and became widely known for winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, and 2003.
     

  • Woolf Barnato was a wealthy playboy who raced cars for fun. He ran at Le Man three times, winning all three, then took over as CEO from W.O. Bentley after Rolls-Royce took over the company.
     

  • Rolls-Royce took over the assets of Bentley Motors (1919) Ltd and formed a subsidiary, Bentley Motors (1931) Ltd. Rolls-Royce had acquired the Bentley showrooms in Cork Street, the service station at Kingsbury, the complex at Cricklewood and the services of Bentley himself.
     

  • Bentley had neglected to register their trademark so Rolls-Royce immediately did so. They also sold the Cricklewood factory in 1932. Production stopped for two years, before resuming at the Rolls-Royce works in Derby. 
     

  • The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression throttled the demand for Bentley's expensive motor cars. On 10 July 1931 a receiver was appointed. The British Central Equitable Trust made a winning sealed bid of £125,000. British Central Equitable Trust later proved to be a front for Rolls-Royce Limited.
     

  • In 1934 Barnato was appointed to the board of the new Bentley Motors (1931) Ltd. 
     

  • Until some time after World War II, most high-end motorcar manufacturers like Bentley and Rolls-Royce did not supply complete cars. They sold rolling chassis, near-complete from the instrument panel forward. Each chassis was delivered to the coach builder of the buyer's choice. The biggest specialist car dealerships had coachbuilders build standard designs for them which were held in stock awaiting potential buyers.
     

  • All Bentleys produced from 1931 to 2004 used inherited or shared Rolls-Royce chassis, and adapted Rolls-Royce engines, and are described by critics as badge-engineered Rolls-Royces.
     

  • W. O. Bentley was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1995.
     

  • " . . . In the eyes of those who own, have owned, or aspire to own, one of the 3,040 Bentley cars designed and built by the 'old' Bentley company under the leadership of "W. O." he was admired and respected—indeed, I think, loved is not too strong a word—for to know his cars was to know him. During his working life "W. O." suffered a series of ups and downs which might have broken a lesser man. It certainly marked him and it was a disillusioned "W. O." I first met 25 years ago [1946]. . . . "W. O." has said that the pleasure he derived in the post-war years from Club activities; from making new friends among its members; and from seeing the loving care bestowed upon 'his' cars has more than compensated for all his earlier disappointments."
     

  • "The six years during which I worked for "W. O." were a period of education and pleasure. His modesty, lack of pretension, mental honesty and reasonableness endeared him to those in contact with him, and his over-riding interest in the improvement of the car provided the education in a period which included the post-war ​2 1⁄2-litre Lagonda development, schemes for 4 and 8 cylinder derivatives, for the pursuit of shorter strokes in engines, for a small transverse-engined front wheel drive car and for a performance engine for the Morris Minor in place of the 850cc side valve engine it then endured.

    Though normally of reflective habit his experience showed him when swift action was necessary, and he could be very determined in pursuing it. Big enough to admit mistakes when they had occurred, he also knew when to modify and when to start afresh in remedying them.
    It is a pity that circumstances prevented his influence on car development from being greater than it was. Though motoring and motor cars were his life he retained a keen interest in locomotives." Mr Donald Bastow.