1910 - 1919
Picture a young man mesmerised by the possibilities of mechanical invention that characterised the early 20th Century.
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 war effort.
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.
All that now remained was to build a car around it.