The Lap of Luxury
January 18, 1919: Bentley Motors Limited is founded. Brothers HM (Horace Millner) Bentley and WO (Walter Owen) Bentley sold DFP (Doroit, Flandrin, & Parant) cars in France prior to World War I. WO dreamed of designing his own cars to sell which would proudly display the family name. He founded the company and by August 1919, Bentley Motors Ltd. was registered and a chassis without an engine was exhibited at the London Motor Show a few months later. By December Clive Gallop, previously with the Royal Flying Corps, had designed a new engine with 4 valves per cylinder. Orders were taken and it was hoped that cars could be delivered beginning in June 1920. It took much longer than that and cars finally were ready by September 1921.
The cars were not only luxurious, but fast. The first event to see a Bentley race was the 1922 Indianapolis 500 where Douglas Hawkes drove to finish the entire race in 13th place. He had started in 19th place and managed an average speed of 74.95 mph. They rushed back to the UK to race in the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) Tourist Trophy. The next year, Bentleys were part of the 24 hours of Le Mans Grand Prix Endurance race. They raced each year between 1923 and 1930. In 1925 and 1926, the cars did not finish the race. However, between 1927 and 1930, Bentley took at least first place each year. In 1929, Bentleys were in first, second, third, and fourth place.
Woolf Barnato bought his first Bentley in 1925 and a year later he bought the company. He was one of a group of wealthy Britons who preferred the British car and the entire group was known as the Bentley Boys. The company was habitually underfunded and Barnato initially brought more than £100,000 to the company. The creditors were paid off and the company was saved. It took another £35,000 the next year, £40,000 the year after, and £25,000 in 1929 to keep the cars coming. This gave WO time to design a new generation of cars. Cars were made at the Cricklewood plant outside London until 1931.
In July 1931 with the Great Depression cutting into sales, there were two mortgage payments due which were unable to be made. The company went into receivership. Napier & Son negotiated for the company and it seemed like the deal was clinched when a bid from British Central Equitable Trust offered a counter-proposal. This was eventually taken and after the deal was closed it was found out that it was a front for Rolls-Royce which now owned Bentley. The company went through other iterations and today is made under the Volkswagen AG banner. In 2012, there were 8,510 Bentleys sold with the majority of them purchased in the Americas (2,457) and China (2,253). There were 9,107 of them made. There were nearly 1200 cars built but not sold in the years 2011 and 2012.
The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury. – Charlie Chaplin
Living in the lap of luxury isn’t bad except that you never know when luxury is going to stand up. – Orson Welles
Every luxury must be paid for, and everything is a luxury, starting with being in this world. – Cesare Pavese
The greatest luxury of riches is that they enable you to escape so much good advice. – Arthur Helps
Also on this day: Rudyard Kipling – In 1936, Rudyard Kipling died.
Botany Bay – In 1788, HMS Supply reached Botany Bay.
Daredevil Success – In 1911, the first plane was landed on a ship at sea.
Dr. William Price – In 1884, Price attempted to cremate his deceased infant son.