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Many of the cars that feature in the Unique Cars and Parts “Heritage” and “Lost Marques” articles would find their way to the race-track and in the early part of last century there was no bigger battle between manufacturers than that between Mercedes and the great Bentley.

The company was founded by Walter Owen (W.O.) Bentley, who had originally trained as an engineer in the Great Northern Railway workshops in Doncaster (UK); W.O. would eventually join the motor trade in London where he would import French DFP cars. His first design achievement was to produce light weight aluminum pistons for the 12/40 model, allowing the engine to rev much faster, and in turn develop more power.

W.O. then went on to become one of the key designers of the rotary engine as used in aircraft of the time, working with the British government during the 1914-1918 war. In 1919 Bentley teamed up with F. T. Burgess (designer the 1914 “TT” Humber’s) and Harry Varley (ex-Vauxhall) with a view to creating his own cars.

It would take nearly 2 years for development to be completed and production to begin, but the wait was well and truly worth it! The first Bentley production car was the 3 litre model; the 3 litres engine made extensive use of aluminum in its construction, and was distinguished by the use of a single overhead camshaft with four valves per cylinder. Peak output was around 70bhp and the car was good for a very respectable top speed between 70 and 80mph (112-129kmh).


Bentley 3 Litre   (1921)

The first of the 3 litres were only fitted with rear brakes (common for cars being manufactured at the time), however to rein in the beast W.O. soon added front wheel brakes (1923) – a move that would bring much praise from commentators of the day and quickly establish the reputation of the marque.

Each and every one of the famous “W O” Bentleys, as these cars came to be known, was developed from this original layout. A 4.5 litre model capable of up to 90mph (145kmh) was announced in 1927, the increased engine capacity obviously giving more power and torque. This engine produced about 100bhp at first, but for some of the select gentry able to afford a Bentley and having the right connections it was possible to obtain a car fitted with an engine good for 130bhp. But there was an even better Bentley – the famous “Blower” model of 1929. The engine had been redesigned by Amherst Villiers following encouragement from the racing driver Sir Henry Birkin.

W.O. himself never liked the concept, but reluctantly allowed a few cars to be built so that the 4.5 litre could be raced as a 'production' car. Interestingly, it was a more standard 130bhp un-blown 4.5 litre that would win the Le Mans 24 hour in 1928 – perhaps giving away reliability issues associated with the supercharger. Bentley decided from the outset of manufacture that they would concentrate on construction of chassis and engines, and would never built their own bodywork.

Bentley 6 1/2 Litre  concept (1926)

This meant that some of their chassis were fitted with cumbersome, heavy and unattractive body styles, but it also meant that there would be a vast number of different styles to be found behind the unmistakable Bentley radiator. The most famous is arguably the Vanden Plas open four-seater sports style – usually painted in British Racing Green.

In 1925 a 6.5 litre six-cylinder engine and chassis were developed, both being extensions of the original design philosophy. Bentley was unashamedly targeting Rolls Royce with this car, hoping to enter what was at the time referred to as the ‘carriage trade’. But Rolls had a firm grip on the upper end of the market, and the Bentley engineering, while excellent, was no match for the refinement to be found in a ‘Roller’.

With considerable developmental costs attributed to the 6.5 litre, Bentley was naturally reluctant to scrap the concept altogether. Instead, he chose to further develop the chassis, and so evolved the “Speed Six” sporting chassis. The engine was now good for an astounding 160bhp in standard form!, and the cars could happily cruise all day at 90mph (145kmh). Racing versions were used by the 'works' team, where they would take out the Le Mans classic in 1929 and again in 1930. A “Speed Six” would also win the Double-12 Hour race at Brooklands.

Bentley Speed Six  concept (1926)

But despite these and many other racing victories, and the associated publicity such victories were creating, the company seemed unable to break free from financial shackles. Woolf Barnato moved into control of the company in 1926, and also continued to be the most successful and consistent of its racing drivers, who collectively became known as the 'Bentley Boys.'


Bentley 8 Litre  concept (1930)

In 1930 the famous 4.5-litre was introduced using a development of the 3 litre engine. Fifty cars were built with the supercharger to meet Le Mans requirements for all competing cars to be available for sale to the public.

By 1931 the company was in financial difficulties and was taken over by Rolls-Royce.

In 1933 the 3.5 litre was announced, being a sports version of the Rolls-Royce 20/25. In 1936 the Rolls-Royce 25/30 engine was fitted and known as the 4.25 litre.


Bentley R Type  concept (1952)

A few cars known as the Mark V were built prior to the Second World War. After the war the Mark VI was introduced and in 1951 was fitted with a 4.5 litre engine and some versions were designated the R-Type.

1955 saw the S-Type with an enlarged six-cylinder engine and a V8 from 1959 to 1965. This engine was used in the T-Series, which was the first Bentley with integral body and chassis.

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