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100 Years of Bentley Leaves a Silver Seraph We’d Like to Forget and a Mulsanne to Always Remember

January 18, 2019 marks the centennial year for Bentley Motors Ltd., and contrary to how things started, they truly do have a lot to celebrate about, starting with their history, and a 2019 Bentley Mulsanne W.O. Mulliner Special Edition I wish I had in my garage, certainly I’ll be looking to add to my diecast car collection.
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Bentley Motors is getting the party started right months ahead of their January birthday by whipping out a gorgeous Bentley Mulsanne W.O. Edition by Mulliner, to commemorate the 100 years they’ve been given, starting with the main founder, Walter Owen Bentley, who lent his name to the company, and to fame. This classy saloon’s accents like the rear center console, has an Art Deco 1930s interior feel with the exterior having just a slight touch of a Rolls Royce-like but the proper traditional Bentley radiator grille, as if it were a tip of a hat to their previous owners, though now hard to admit, as a Bentley was once a Rolls. Bentley’s now in house coachers H.J. Mulliner harken the racing days of the Bentley Brothers, while they designed and built “grand tourers” at Cricklewood you can sit in, relax, pour a drink, and enjoy the ride:

-Brief history as to how Bentley got to the present to now compete with Rolls Royce.
-This special edition Mulsanne is on sale and hurry, only 100 will be made, for each years’ existence
-The car was designed around W.O.’s personal 1930 8 Litre Saloon, “Bentley’s Bentley.”
-The crankshaft of the 1930 car was sacrificed during restoration and sliced into 100 pieces and placed into a frame in the rear seat cup holders.
-An example of the car will be on display at Car Week in Monterrey August 24-26.

100 Years of Bentley

What a remarkable 100 years that’s been given to Bentley Motors Ltd., the storied car company whose historic plant lies on the English countryside of Cheshire Crewe, Great Britain. When the company was founded at the location of their first plant in Cricklewood, not far from London, on January 18, 1919, a 21 year old Walter Owen “W.O.” Bentley and his 2 year senior brother, Horace Millner Bentley, two well heeled boys from Hampstead, London, came straight out of WW I. What else would two boys want coming straight out of a war, other than women, but to race cars? But these two also wanted to build them, which makes their story unique, because they eventually did! By then they were used to building motor car and aircraft engines out of “aluminium,” and taking their engines and using frames made by the Duesenberg Brothers in America (another storied car company name) to race cars on both the European and American race circuits.

W.O. was also into motorcycle racing, as he truly did have the sporting life of an English gentleman. But he wanted to build elegant “grand tourers” with his brother, and even at this late stage in the game by car industry standards, the uphill road was even steeper. They were soon going to face a depression, and companies like Daimler both in the UK and the one in Germany, Ford, Citroen, Peugeot, and GM were well underway, and buying out smaller companies to ensure their existence. Even Rolls Royce at this stage was 20 years into the industry.

Cricklewood: The Beginning 21 Years Before it Ends

The decadent lives the Bentley Brothers had with some good, some bad times, compensates for the pains they went through in the car business. Beautiful cars they made during the Cricklewood Years, like the Blower, the 8 Litre, and the Straight Six would make for fine cars added to well heeled collectors, but also made great racers on the circuits of the Triple Crown of Motor Sports: the 24 Hours at LeMans, the Indianapolis 500, and the Monaco Grand Prix. W.O. loved to build and race cars, as his motto was, "to build a good car, a fast car, the best in class."

One could only imagine what it might have been like to come to Cricklewood to pick up your brand new hand assembled Bentley, to be greeted by this wet behind the ears wonder kid who designed and built it for you! But like most racers who went on to start their own car building business, W.O. was great at building, driving, and racing them, but horrible at the car business thing itself. He continued to run the company, and deep into debt, until Bentley’s Board of Directors had enough of him when they took over, and he went back to design cars for the company toward the end of the Cricklewood Years, which is all he really wanted to do, and did so finally up until his company went into receivership in 1931.

This is where the dark years begin right through the 20th century. There are two sad moments in Bentley Motors Ltd. remarkable history: when the Bentley Brothers had to sell their company to the 1st Baronet Sir Henry Royce of the other storied car company in 1931 (Sir Charles Rolls and first Managing Director Claude “CJ” Johnson were dead by then, Sir Henry died two years later and trust me, he had his doubts about acquiring Bentley before he died).

Little did the Bentley Brothers know when they signed their company papers back in 1919, that sadly 21 years later, they would have no choice really, but to either face extinction or the company’s continued existence as a sub-brand of Rolls Royce, when Rolls Royce would buy their company in 1931. W.O. chose the latter. The company was so deep in debt, W.O. even had to give up his most prized possession, his personal 1930 8 Litre Saloon on which this special edition Mulsanne is based, as part of the deal.

The Dark Years: At Derby Pre WW 2 Bentley takes the Back Seat to Rolls Royce

From the glory of the Cricklewood Years would come the afterthought Derby Years at Rolls’ pre-war plant right on through to the post war Crewe Years until 2002. Bentley would become an after-thought market brand to Rolls Royce, the second string wicked step sister nobody really wanted compared to a Rolls, unless you wanted plain Jane. If you didn’t want a Rolls Royce with “bling,” you chose Bentley. It seems with human nature, however, that wanting and having are always two separate things.

All things come back to Bentley though, as the British base luxury standard for the world, that nobody seems to not want to drive, that everyone drove anyway. James Bond is always known to drive an Aston Martin, that the company that makes them reminds everyone in movie product placement and special editions they make for him, but Mr. Bond’s main steady car was always a faithful Bentley. Don’t forget, John Steed was also a Bentley man. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 2004 Royal State Car she presently uses is a Bentley, not a Rolls.

The Post War Crewe Years: Keeping it Real, Separate, Rare, and Labeled

Rolls succeeded for a while going through the middle of the 20th century, in trying to keep things separate from Bentley as long as they had different platforms to go on top of the same Silver Cloud/S Series chassis. But as they were becoming more of a cash losing operation with fewer options through the years, things became even more muddled when they had no choice but to use the same mono-shell car, with the 1966 roll-out of the Silver Shadow, and Bentley’s variant, the T Series.

Badges, What Badges? I Don’t Need No Stinking Badges!

This is where from the 60s through the 90s you had to get glasses or squint hard moving forward to tell what you were looking at. That’s when they started name badging the boot lids, so you can tell which model was which, because with all kinds of Spurs, Spirits, Silvers, Marks, and Continentals, some Turbos, some not, some R’s S’s or T’s, some not, some Flying, some not, the first Mulsanne was a Turbo, then not, Azure was an Azure, maybe not, with red label and black label, Mulliner, Park, and Ward, then Park Ward, then just Mulliner, and then Mulliner Park Ward, all three then and then just both having their two cents, ah, that’s the same Mulliner with Park Ward, sometimes even all together on the same car in the same edition with the same plate on the back to wonder if they ran out of space to label it, to remind yourself HEY what ever happened to James Young, Hooper, and Barker Coachbuilders? You couldn’t even tell which was a Bentley or a Rolls, or both(?). It would’ve been nice if an SUV ot two broke things up a bit here, and not 40 years later. Give us a production shooting brake finally, please!

In the 1970’s so few Bentleys were made, that those models are the more sought after than the Rolls variant, because of their rarity. The 1980’s saw a surge in popularity with Bentleys as they became more chic with their understatedness than a Rolls. The Turbo R and the Mulsanne Turbo were hotcake models in the 80’s. In the 80s and 90s, there were sheiks and emirs who capitalized on Bentley rarity for them to fund Bentley to collaborate with Land Rover, to make the rarest Bentley Range Rover SUV Hybrids (in a design sense not an engine sense) probably to never see the light of day in a museum, probably confined forever in private collection. So Bentley even made an SUV or two, long before that thing they call Bentayga.

Bentley was still on a journey with destiny through rest of the 20th century, both the man until after he died, his namesake and legacy thereafter, and the company that bears his name. His cars would eventually be driven or be ridden in by bankers, captains of industry, celebrities, and heads of state somewhere, that little did anyone or even did his customers know when they came to visit him at his tiny factory at Cricklewood, what was standing in front of them, the wonder kid as young as he once was, but experienced as he became with hard knocks and lessons learned, to not know what the future was holding for him. Mr. Bentley died relatively not long ago in 1971, his widow, in 1989, his older brother, in 1967, for me to wonder what the brothers thought about what happened to their company, their brand, and what they would think of what’s being done to it now, Rolls Royce ripped away to make his company forefront, a takeover by a company whose country fought against his, as he’d probably think they would be the last company on earth to take his over!

The VW BMW Race for Aquisition

This is where Volkswagen of all companies, the maker of the Bug, became the faithful caretaker of the Bentley. They say the car industry makes for strange bedfellows.Those moments of destiny also finally fell into place when Volkswagen’s attempt to buy Rolls Royce, that also eventually went into receivership from Vickers in 1998, was botched, and BMW gave a lower bid to lose the sale to VW. So when everybody realized they bought everything including Bentley’s trademarks, they also realized they didn’t have Rolls Royce’s. That belonged to the power plant Rolls Royce PLC people. So everyone and their lawyers raced across the English countryside quickly to Derby and Rolls Royce PLC, once the parent company of Motor Cars and owner of the trademarks. You see, at the time nobody wanted to build just Bentleys, who would want to at the time? They wanted to make the cream of the crop, and that was a Rolls Royce, and in this case, BMW beat VW to it to lease the RR trademarks first this time, creating a mess.

So, BMW and VW sat down again, when each side realized they had the other, that neither side would acquiesce, and they decided to get along and hash out a deal. History will remember this moment as the time when Bentley Motors was truly born onto its own, to become a premier British luxury bespoke hand assembled car company, as a true competitor and as an equal to Rolls Royce. I do not see either buying the other ever again, but it would be interesting to see Bentley buy Rolls for revenge!

The Ilucid Silver Seraph Out, the Arnage Bentley Would Like to Forget

When the last Rolls Royce Silver Seraph rolled off the line at what was then known as the Rolls Royce Motor Cars Assembly Plant at Crewe in 2002, some of the plant workers were in tears, as this was the last Rolls the plant will ever make, to ironically not see what their new owners Volkswagen would do for the brand they already had. Incidentally that Silver Seraph we’d like to forget because it wasn’t all that good and its time too brief, only saw 1500 examples made over 4 years, which makes it the rarest production Rolls Royce ever built. Let me put this into context.

In comparison, there were only about 7500 Silver Ghosts ever made in its 20 year production, from 1906-1926, and that was considered rare. Car collectors, start doing your math to wait for time... That 1998 agreement Volkswagen AG, the new owners of the plant, had with BMW AG, the holders of the RR trademark, tinkerbell and all, came to an end, and in many ways, two totally different luxury car companies would emerge.

So VW Crewe production of a Rolls Royce stopped forever, so that BMW could two years later start building their own Rolls Royce car at their all new plant at Goodwood, the all new Phantom Centenary, as it was known then, or Phantom 7, known now. I’m sure there were tears on both days in 1931 and 2002 for nobody to see decades or years later, that everyone should have been cheering, because destiny was proceeding in a trajectory that would give Bentley Motors their days of glory again, not seen since the Cricklewood years. Those moments are finally here and well deserved.

VW: A Great Caretaker of the Bentley Brand and British National Car Heritage

So this is how a Bentley became a Volkswagen and a Rolls Royce became a BMW. What we are seeing here I believe, are two different visions of where BMW and VW would have taken the Rolls Royce brand had either one of them won both the out-of-receivership bid and acquired the RR trademarks. In this case VW using Bentley for its same vision, and doing a fantastic job executing it without having the actual RR brand. And in that, this is how the 2005 Bentley Continental Flying Spur, the most sales successful Bentley ever made, was born and went on to framework its bigger sister, the Bentley Mulsanne you see here.

I don’t think the Bentley Brothers would have liked the idea of a German takeover given their distinguished WW I service to the Royal Naval Air Service, and VW is aware of this. This is not only about jobs, the economy, and the car industry. This is also about British culture, and VW recognized it needed to be careful and respectful of the British feelings about the workers and cars. VW has been most helpful and respectful toward Bentley history and British car industry heritage. You could see not only did they had to, but they wanted to. VW gets it, oh man they do. Let me explain.

For those of you who are not British, particularly us Yanks it may be harder to understand because the Brits see their jobs more as an institution more than we do, not just as only a job. When we Americans get laid off or fired we move on. Not the Brits. The workers invest more of themselves in their company as the company does in them, than Americans do, at least now as opposed to when our American fathers and grandfathers were working. The best way I can describe this, is when you become a Bentley or Rolls Royce employee like a metal worker, it’s like becoming a cop or a fireman, or a military man or woman in the states. You join an institution, it’s not just about you or your job. Most likely you’re picking up where your Dad, Mom, or uncle, or granddad left off. This is how it’s been for centuries in the Kingdoms of the UK, why even some families adopted the names of what they did for a living.

So for those regardless of where you are in the world, who are tradesman, craftsman, draftsman, metal workers, upholsterers, textile workers, or any kind of professional like an engineer that works with their hands as a craft and skill that was trained, and apprenticed and you work at places like Bentley or Rolls Royce, it’s about taking pride in your country, your company, and your industry. This is British National Industrial Heritage, and why it was important that Concorde the plane do a flypast along in formation with the RAF and the RNAS at the Trooping of the Colors (Oops, Colours, my apologies my British cousins for the misspell). And why the country almost went into a national state of mourning when it was retired from service. It is about taking pride in how the plane was built as it passed by. And why when Rolls Royce the 1970s empire collapsed the government nationalized the company. This is why it is important, that when Her Majesty the Queen pulls up at an event to walk the rope line, she better do so stepping out of a British car, like her Royal Bentley State Car, at minimum a Jaguar or her Range Rover, and it better be something British; calls will be made to Buckingham Palace to explain why that wasn’t so. It is about getting a glimpse of Her Majesty then taking pride that her Bentley or whatever British car was made by an uncle or one’s mum from the factory. Rolls Royce, at least the one that calls itself that now, need not apply, for a while. No Brit worth their wages could seriously afford to fly Concorde or buy a Bentley. Who cares? That’s not the point. It’s about who and how the thing was made. Get it?

VW has served Bentley Motors well and should be praised. VW gets it, and have been mindful of this since the inadvertent haphazard Bentley acquisition. Volkswagen realized what few people elsewhere saw, that while BMW walked away with the trademarks and a fresh start to build a Rolls Royce the way they wanted to, VW still had the soul, the guts, the history, the traditions, the heritage and most importantly the now former Rolls Royce now only Bentley workers. These were and still are all the things that made a Rolls Royce up to that day the brand died at Crewe, a quintessential Rolls Royce. VW always had Rolls Royce. They had to give up the name, that’s all. So while BMW Rolls just rebirthed, Bentley had to grieve and accept an end and a beginning.

Over the years VW painstakingly helped Bentley develop its first VW era saloon which was the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, the first Bentley VW production car, and a hotcake seller, by developing the Volkswagen Phaeton variant first, a great car as well, but a sales dud at the expense of the Spur. VW even had the forethought as a nod to the Brits, knowing the dark side of Anglo-Germanic history, to put its tourist attracted premier saloon assembly plant, the “Glass Factory,” in Dresden, in the heart of the House of Hanover, ancestral home to the sitting British Royal Family, in the German State of Saxony, where the famous (or infamous) Dukes of Saxony come from. Nothing can be more more British, especially when it comes from Germany, like a Saxony Bentley, draped in British Royal and British car heritage. And Dresden is where VW assembles Bentleys when they become backordered at Crewe. Yes Bentleys do backorder to sell like hotcakes, expensive as they are.

About the W.O. Edition by H.J. Mulliner:

And so will this Mulsanne W.O. Mulliner Special Edition, it’s no after-thought Rolls, that it actually in a small way tips its hat to not forget its Rolls heritage, and it’s certainly no slouch. This car gives a modern interpretation of what it must have been like to go to Cricklewood to take delivery of a newly hand assembled Bentley saloon that you custom ordered, and a very young Mr. Bentley himself oversaw. Things have come full circle. This Mulliner interpretation takes design cues of Mr. Bentley’s personal prized 1930 8 Litre saloon he had to give up at the 1931 receivership.

Although he would continue to test drive cars for Rolls Royce during the Derby years, this was the last car he would design himself without input, and had sentimental value to him. He never got the car back. It was re-purchased by the company in 2006 and painstakingly restored for display. During the 2006 restoration, the engine’s crankshaft was removed and sacrificed. For this edition that crankshaft was carefully cut into 100 pieces for each of the limited production 100 cars, and then framed inside the rear center console next to the rear cup holders.

I’ve always been more of a Bentley fan than Rolls as I love both, but it is the understatedness of a Bentley that’s a selling point for me, and this car does it all, the Bentley way. From the Art Deco-ish trimmings and accents in this Mulliner version of Mulsanne taken from Mr. Bentley’s 8 Litre, the vertically slated chrome grille based from its origins at Cricklewood, that by coincidence tips its hat to Rolls recognizing its Rolls heritage in those 100 years, the Onyx paint and blacked out wheels, are all tastefully capped with four kinds of wooden veneers and wool that dresses the gorgeous dark red Connelly hides, on which the factory embroiders Mr. Bentley’s iconic signature onto the seats. In a Churchillian sense, this is British automotive at its finest hour.

Only 100 examples will be made, 1 car for every year of Bentley’s existence for better or worse, making this version a Mulsanne to be remembered compared to the Bentleys and Rolls we’d like to forget from the past: rare and eventually making this car a collectible if well cared for. Its choices for platforms and power plant enhancements will be in three variations: SWB, LWB, and in the Speed variant. An example will be on display at Car Week in Monterrey August 24-26. That’s Bentley 100 in a nutshell, and a Mulsanne to last an eternity. Thank you Mr. Bentley (and as an afterthought you too, Baronet Sir Royce).

“To build a good car, a fast car, the best in class." - W.O. Bentley

What’s your take on 100 years of Bentley Motors Ltd? Where do you think Bentley is heading v. where they’ve been? And what do you make of this new Bentley Mulsanne W.O. Edition by H.J. Mulliner? Hopefully, no more boot lid badging? Let us know in the comments section.


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Comments

Thanks Dean. If only Mr. Bentley were here to see your kind words. The book, the story, the play, the movie to see, read, and watch is not of Rolls Royce, it is of Mr. Bentley, the wonder kid of Hampstead who built cars for London Bankers and captains of industry in the roaring 20s. To put it nicely, yes, Bentley was also seen as the “Genteman’s GT.” If you wanted to drive yourself you left your Rolls saloon in the mews, and had the staff fetch your Bentley to tell your driver he had the night off.