An Introduction to Bentley for Dummies

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What is Bentley, and when did it start making cars?

Bentley makes some of the most expensive and sought-after cars in the world, competing with companies like Rolls-Royce to meet the needs of the world’s wealthiest drivers. There are no cheap hatchbacks or family crossovers here. If there isn’t a billionaire in the back seat and a chauffeur driving, you probably aren’t looking at a Bentley. Unless, as we’ll find out, it’s being timed,

The company was started by Walter Owen Bentley in 1919. He prefers to be called W.O., and his journey began when he was nine years old and bought and then took apart a bicycle just to see how it worked. After that, he worked as an apprentice for the Great Northern Railway. When the First World War broke out, W.O. put his knowledge to good use in the Royal Naval Air Service by putting aluminium pistons in the engines of fighter planes to make them much more powerful and reliable.

When the war was over, W.O. was given an MBE and won £8,000 (RM46,000) from the Commission of Awards to Inventors. This gave him the money to start his own car company. Bentley Motors was started, and its founder’s goal was to make “a fast car, a good car, the best in its class.”

And boy did he do that. After developing the EXP 1 and EXP 2, the Bentley 3-Litre went into production in 1921. Three years later, it won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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Where are Bentleys built, and how many are made each year?
Fast forward 100 years, and Bentley now employs more than 4,000 people. Even though it has been owned by Volkswagen Group since 1998, every new Bentley is built at the company’s headquarters in Crewe.

In 2020, Bentley sold 11,206 cars all over the world. This was a record for the company, made even more impressive by the fact that it happened right in the middle of the You-Know-What-19 pandemic. Last year, 27% of all cars sold were in the Americas, but China was a close second with 26% of all cars sold. As for the UK, only 10% of the Bentleys built in 2020 went to homes there.

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What cars does Bentley make?
The Bentley line-up consists of three cars right now, but there are versions of each that are almost as good as their own models. Nearly.

The most popular of the three is the Bentley Bentayga, an SUV that went into production at the end of 2015. The entry-level model is the Bentayga Hybrid, which is not available in Malaysia. It has a 3.0-liter V6 turbo engine and plug-in hybrid technology. Then there is the V8, which uses the power of – you guessed it – a V8 to make 542bhp. The S model, which is also not available in Malaysia, has the same engine but a sportier chassis. It’s worth mentioning that a limited-edition V8 First Edition was sold in Malaysia at the end of last year. At the high end of the price range is the Speed, which just came out for the Malaysian market. It has a powerful W12 engine with 626bhp that can go from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds and has a top speed of 306 km/h.

The Continental GT is Bentley’s grand tourer. You can get it as a coupe or convertible, with V8, Speed (not available in Malaysia), and Mulliner versions of each. The Speed unlocks a highly tuned version of Bentley’s W12 engine that makes 650bhp and 900Nm of torque, going from 0 to 100kph in 3.5 seconds and reaching a dizzying top speed of 335kph. On the other hand, the Mulliner is the best choice if you want to put the most emphasis on beautiful, hand-built details.

Last but not least is the Bentley Flying Spur, which is essentially a four-door version of the Continental GT. Again, there are V8 and W12 options, but the top speed is 333kph, which is a little slower than the Continental GT. How will you cope.

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What’s the cheapest car Bentley makes? And what is the most expensive?
“Bentley” and “cheap” don’t belong in the same sentence. But since you asked, the least expensive car that Bentley makes is the Bentayga. The Hybrid and V8 models cost just shy of £150,000. (RM859k).

The most expensive is the Continental GT Mulliner, which costs over £200,000 (RM1.1 million). But you can easily break that limit on a standard car by messing around with the options list, as we found out a couple of years ago when we were let loose in Bentley’s Commissioning Suite in Crewe.

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What is the fastest Bentley ever built?
It depends on how you define the word “fast.” The Bentley Speed 8 prototype that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003 had a top speed of 346kph. It was powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine made by Audi.

If you like your speed tests to focus more on turning, acceleration, and not falling off a cliff, then the limited edition version of the Continental GT that broke the production car record at Pikes Peak in 2019 is hard to ignore.

It beat the previous record set by the Porsche 911 Turbo S by 8.4 seconds, going an average of 112kph up the 12.42-mile hillclimb in Colorado, USA. This happened a year after the Bentayga had set the record for the fastest SUV up the course. In 2021, Bentley plans to try for a hat trick with a modified Continental GT3. Yes, it turns out that not every Bentley has a chauffeur after all…

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What’s been Bentley’s best moment?
It’s hard to forget any of the times Bentley has won Le Mans, especially those early victories in the 1920s, which helped set the brand’s course for the next 100 years.

In 1924, when the race was only in its second year, a 3.0-Litre Sport driven by John Duff and Frank Clement beat a nearly all-French field after 120 laps.

After not finishing the race for a few years, Bentley came back and won it four times in a row between 1927 and 1930. In 1929, it took the top four spots in the race.

Some of the drivers were Henry “Tim” Birkin, Glen Kidston, Dudley Benjafield, Sammy Davis, and Woolf Barnato. These men and others were known as the Bentley Boys. All of the Bentley Boys came from different parts of British high society, and W.O. Bentley said that their actions on and off the track “attracted the public’s attention and added a touch of colour, of vicarious glamour, and excitement to dull lives.”

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What has been Bentley’s worst moment?
Few car companies that have been around for more than 100 years have never come close to going out of business. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Bentley couldn’t make its payments, and Rolls-Royce bought the company.

Then, in 1970, the part of Rolls-Royce that made aeroplane engines went out of business. As a result, the part that made cars split off into a separate company. This was bought by Vickers in 1980 and later sold to Volkswagen in 1998.

But while Volkswagen got the Rolls-Royce factory and the rights to the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot, the brand name and logo were still owned by the separate Rolls-Royce aero-engine business. This company sold these rights to BMW, and after a standoff, it was decided that from 2003 on, only BMW could build cars with the Rolls-Royce name, and only VW could sell cars with the Bentley name. So, the Bentley of today is a combination of the Bentley and Rolls-Royce of the past, while Rolls-Royce as we know it now is a completely different company that started in 1998.

Confused? Us too.

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What is Bentley’s most surprising moment?
Imagine starting your own car company today from scratch, with only some engineering experience, an idea, and not much else. Then, after a few years of working hard on your first car, the Queen calls you up and asks if she can buy it. That would be… unplanned.

But that’s basically what happened to Bentley in its early years. Among its wealthy customers were the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, who later became King Edward VIII and King George VI.

When you have future kings and queens on your order books, you know you’re doing something right.

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What’s the best idea Bentley built?
Even though Bentley is known for its history, you could argue that its best concept car ever is one that looks to the future. After all, every Bentley built after 2026 will be fully electric or a plug-in hybrid.

The EXP 100 GT was Bentley’s way of celebrating its 100th birthday in 2019, showing what its cars could look like in 2035. The thing that stands out the most is the front grille, which isn’t really a grille at all because the car is fully electric and doesn’t need cooling. It’s made of clear acrylic that holds hundreds of LEDs that change pattern depending on which driving mode is chosen.

The scissor doors are dramatic, and the interior is exactly what you’d expect from a Bentley: the wood inside is 5,000 years old. So no veneer in ‘ere.

The electric powertrain could take you almost silently for 692 kilometres. And if you told your driver to put his or her foot down, Bentley says the EXP 100 GT could go from 0 to 97kph in 2.5 seconds and hit a top speed of 299kph.

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Interesting fact about Bentley
Rolls-Royce has the Spirit of Ecstasy. Bentley has the Flying B. The mascot was created by the artist F. Gordon Crosby, and it first appeared on the company’s cars in the 1920s. In the 1930s, a focus on quiet performance led to the creation of a sleeker, single-winged design, but it wasn’t popular, so a two-winged version was made instead.

In the 1970s, when new health and safety laws banned ornaments on the grounds that driving around with a metal spike on your hood wasn’t a great idea, it seemed like the Flying B was gone for good. But in 2006, it made a long-awaited comeback when the company found a way to make the Flying B fully retractable.

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