A twenty-two year old obsessed by speed and its potential for changing the world. An engineering genius with an intuitive grasp of the dynamics of the amazing new internal combustion engine. Put those images together with a precocious visionary who believed nothing was impossible and you have some sense of W.O. Bentley on the brink of creating a legend in his name. And just one more thing. He liked to win.
Competitive motorcycle racing at the Isle of Man and the newly-opened
Brooklands circuit gave him his taste for speed but couldn’t satisfy his hunger
for power. That was to come in 1912 when he and his brother, H.M. Bentley,
acquired the UK agency for the French Doriot, Flandrin & Parant (DFP). On
his first run in the Aston-Clinton hill-climb, W.O. broke the class record –
with his wife Leonie in the passenger seat. The DFP was “quick, robust, sporting
in character and of the highest quality”, the very qualities that were to become
the foundations of the cars he went on to produce.
On a trip to the DFP factory in France he noticed an aluminium piston being
used as a paperweight by one of the company directors. He adapted his own DFPs
with this revolutionary material and drove them to one racing triumph after
another. Indeed, these lightweight pistons quickly became the “secret
ingredient” of Bentley success with his conservative competitors continuing to
regard aluminium as too weak to withstand the inferno of the engine block.
The beginning of the Great War brought new challenges. The frivolities of the
DFP era were over. W.O. turned his attention to more serious affairs, creating
the Bentley Rotary I (BR1) following an Admiralty Commission to power the
Sopwith Camel, and with it, Allied dominance of the air.
The BR1 and the subsequent BR2 epitomised Bentley’s ability to transform raw
design ingredients into masterpieces of power and reliability. In his later life
he admitted that nothing had given him more pride than this contribution to the
In 1919, with the war over and British industry booming, W.O. turned his
attention to the dream he’d been cherishing these long seven years, building the
car that would satisfy his own extraordinarily high expectations as a driver, as
an engineer, as a competitor and as a gentleman.
Luck and good judgement helped him to recruit the finest available talent.
Sheer persistence and the will to succeed rewarded him, in October 1919 at his
service shop in New Street Mews, with the deafening bellow of the very first
Bentley engine, the awesome 3-litre.