Bentley is owned by the Porsche family, which also owns the whole Volkswagen Group through the Porsche Automobil Holding SE. Indeed, the entire group comprises three types of brands: volume, premium, and sport. Bentley is part of the premium segment of the Volkswagen Group, and it generated over €2.84 billion in revenue in 2021, within the overall €250 billion in revenue from the whole Volkswagen Group.
Bentley is a British designer and manufacturer of luxury cars and SUVs. The company was started in 1919 by brothers Walter and Horace Bentley, with its vehicles enjoying crucial early successes at several Le Mans races in the 1920s.
In this piece, we’ll take a look at what has transpired at Bentley over the last century or so.
Before the advent of World War I, the Bentley brothers sold vehicles on behalf of French maker Doriot, Flandrin & Parant (DFP) in London. But Walter Bentley – or W.O. as he was known – had the desire to build and sell his own cars.
Whilst at the DFP factory in 1913, Bentley noticed a paperweight made from aluminum and wondered whether the metal could be used to make pistons. At the time, these components were made from much heavier cast iron.
The first Bentley-made aluminum pistons were not fitted to vehicles but to the engines of Sopwith Camels – a single-seat biplane used in World War I.
Bentley is founded
W.O. founded Bentley in a backstreet London garage in 1919 with the mission to “build a fast car, a good car, the best in its class.” Coincidentally or otherwise, Bentley was founded on the same day that the Paris Peace Conference to end the war started.
With the war over, Bentley and a group of engineers set to work on an advanced four-cylinder, three-liter engine with a rolling chassis. Later that year, the first Bentley prototype called the EXP1 was delivered.
The early years of Bentley were characterized by W.O.’s belief that motorsport increased the appeal of his vehicles to wealthy buyers. Bentley vehicles won five of the seven races at Le Mans in the 20s, with the 1929 race featuring Bentleys in the top four spots.
This prompted a substantial investment from Woolf Barnato, a race car driver and also heir to the South African mining empire Kimberly.
Bentley enters receivership
Barnato poured a small fortune into Bentley and became its chairman in 1927, but his capital injection and the success of the luxurious Bentley 8 Litre were not enough to shield the company from the Great Depression.
Bentley went into receivership in 1931 and was acquired by rival Rolls-Royce to remove the competitive threat posed by the 8 Litre to its own Phantom II. Rolls-Royce outbid other suitors under the name British Central Equitable Trust, with the ruse only revealed after the sale was completed.
Rolls Royce closed Bentley’s Cricklewood factory and moved production to Derby, while W.O. left the company as soon as his contract expired in 1935. Every Bentley produced between 1931 and 2004 inherited or shared a Rolls-Royce chassis and adapted Rolls-Royce engines.
Over time, Bentley’s vehicle range became little more than re-badged versions of Rolls-Royce offerings.
Rolls-Royce was nationalized by the British government in 1970 after problems with the RB211 aero engine caused the company to collapse. Vehicle production was housed under a new business called Rolls-Royce Motors Limited which was acquired in 1980 by Vickers plc.
Bentley sales fell to just 5% of total production at the company in the 70s and 80s, but the release of models like the sporty Mulsanne created renewed interest in the brand.
Vickers sold Rolls-Royce Motors to Volkswagen in 1998 for $780 million after the German company outbid compatriot BMW. However, BMW continued to supply engines and other components to Volkswagen until 2003.
While Volkswagen acquired the company’s designs, model nameplates, production facilities, and various trademarks, the deal did not include the rights to use the Rolls-Royce name or logo. Volkswagen later paid Rolls-Royce Holdings £40 million for a license to use the rights and become the sole provider of cars with the Bentley marque.
Bentley has been a subsidiary of Volkswagen ever since and was consolidated under the company’s premium Audi arm in 2022.
- Bentley is a British designer and manufacturer of luxury cars and SUVs. The company was started in 1919 by brothers Walter and Horace Bentley and saw early success as the winner of several Le Mans races in the 1920s.
- W.O. founded Bentley in a backstreet London garage in 1919 with the mission to “build a fast car, a good car, the best in its class.”
- Bentley went into receivership in 1931 and was acquired by rival Rolls-Royce who was interested in removing the company’s competitive threats. Bentley vehicles drifted toward obscurity in the 70s and 80s before the brand was revived by Vickers and later by Volkswagen Group.