When you talk about Bentley you cannot separate the man from his machine. Born before the invention of the automobile in 1888, W. O. Bentley, the founder of Bentley and the engineer of the world renown brand, attended King’s College in London. His specialty was in engine design, and extended beyond cars to airplanes as well. The company he founded, Bentley Motors Ltd., had its beginnings in Cricklewood, England, a town not far from the city of London.
In this list you will find odds and ends about both the person and the company, and a lot about their cars. Even the famous Bentley logo and hood ornament has a story behind it. One thing that is unmistakable is the Bentley brand is and will always be a symbol of the country of Great Britain.
1. From its creation, the “Winged B” logo was ahead of its time.
This may sound odd when considering it’s simply a hood ornament, but even back during its inception the company was thinking way ahead. This design was chosen as it was intended to keep the counterfeiters away. Nowadays counterfeiting is all the rage, but Bentley recognized that success brings with it the envious. If you look closely at the ornament, you will see there are an odd number of feathers on each wing. This is no longer a secret, but the original hope was that forgers would overlook this detail.
2. Bentley had a boss who was also a playboy.
His name, Woolf Barnato, was both wealthy and a playboy whose number one way of having fun was racing cars. Wolff would run at the Le Mans three times in his lifetime, won all three, then proceeded to take over as CEO from W. O. Bentley once Rolls-Royce would take over the company.
3. There was a race against the French (other than Le Mans) which Bentley won.
Woolf was not only wealthy, he was competitive, likely a natural extension of his playboy personality. The French had the Blue Train, which was proven to run from the Mediterranean Coast to Calais, France in less than a day. Once over dinner, Woolf made the claim that he could best that speed, in a car no less. Instead of dueling pistols at 10 paces, the race was on, and Woolf won by 4 minutes. The French, naturally being good sports, would then fine Woolf heavily – for racing.
4. Common knowledge is not so common when it came to James Bond and Bentleys.
The truth is, James Bond drove Bentleys, not the commonly thought of Aston Martin. Well, that is true in the book version of the Bond adventures. It was stereotypically British and makes perfect sense by keeping everything Bond related held to the highest British standards. Bond’s primary Bentley model ran with a 4.5 liter engine, and later a few sedans were added to the mix.
5. Le Mans Bentley driver, Glen Kidston, Part One
Kidston was no ordinary racer. He had a unique personal history, beginning with being a British Naval Officer. Once, his submarine got stuck on the bottom of the ocean floor, not due to any fault of his own. Using his experience and determination, he somehow managed to get the sub off the floor and rescue the entire crew through his efforts.
6. Le Mans Bentley driver, Glen Kidston, Part Two.
Not restricting himself to submarine engines, Kidston would end up as the sole survivor of a plane crash by kicking his way through the fuselage, then tried to rescue a prince who remained in the burning heap. During this time he was still on fire, and when finally free of the wreckage he ran for help, body still smoking. It was only after all this he sought medical attention at a hospital. The Kidston-W. O. Bentley connection may have been a natural one. He finally met his end in an airplane no less, which fell apart during flight in a dust storm in South Africa.
7. There is a Bentley Ice Driving School
This is true, and may be either for the person looking for an insanely unique experience or has an insatiable desire to take risks. As the Bentley can easily go more than 200 miles per hour, you can be taught to handle their car on ice – if you are willing to fly to Finland. This seems to be very useful for people who live in ice coated countries, like Finland.
8. There is proof of this automobile version of the Ice Capades
The good news is that you can go to the Arctic Circle instead of Antarctica to have serious space to hone your ice driving skills. Juha Kankkunen proved that such a feat was possible by driving a
Bentley Continental GT on ice at a speed of 200 miles per hour. That was just over a decade ago, and it took Finnish rally legend Juha Kankkunen to prove it was just more than the claim was more than a lot of hot air.
9. What naturally followed was the sport of ski joring.
Some spell it skijoring, others ski-joring, but however you spell it the sport remains the same. If you have heard of the Iditarod where teams of sled dogs race sleds in Alaska, then this is its auto version. For Bentley lovers, this is the best way to test the renowned 4 wheel drive system. This ski joring thing is currently an actual thing, traditionally held in Norway - which is close to Finland.
10. Your desire to ski jore would have earned you a Breitling watch.
Breitling made a special edition watch for Bentley as a memento of Bentley setting the Ice Speed record. The feat was done in 2011 in a Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible (odd that it was done in a convertible, no?) and all you had to do to get one of the Breitling watches was to buy a special edition Supersports Ice Speed Record (ISR) convertible. There were only 100 made, and the base price for the standard Continental Supersports convertible was just over $250,000, so our guess is that you have to have at least 7 figures stashed away if you hope on getting one for your very own.
11. Bentley is actually an environmentally friendly business.
Despite the apparent mistreatment of the Arctic air by the skijoring, when you stop by the company headquarters you will find it is capped by the largest solar powered rooftop in the United Kingdom. Though the weather is rumored to be cloudy all day in Britain, this set of solar panels is said to provide more than 40 percent of the factory’s total electrical needs on any given day – even when it isn’t sunny.
12. One final cold weather note.
The Bentley brand has been applied to skis. The zai for Bentley brand skis are said to be the best skis in the world, bar none. Their construction is carbon fiber-wrapped cedarwood, and they have a steel structure that is designed to increase control mid-corner. Their surface is coated with a unique rubberized polymer that by itself costs more than the majority of skis you will see being used in the Olympics.
13. W.O. Bentley would have done more than appreciate the early American muscle cars.
We haven’t forgotten about the founder of Bentley. Famous for coining the slogan, “There’s no replacement for displacement” when creating the Bentley 4.5 liter engine, he opposed supercharging engines. That slogan became the mantra for the American muscle cars such as:
- 1964 Pontiac GTO Tri-Power
- 1971 Buick GSX With Stage-1 Performance Pack
- 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302
- 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
- 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
- 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda
- 1969 Dodge Charger R/T-SE
- 1968 Shelby Mustang Gt500-KR
- 1969 Pontiac Firebird 400 Coupe
- 1970 Plymouth Road Runner
We believe W.O. would absolutely love these cars.
14. Le Mans was dominated by Bentley supercharges cars for years.
Wait. If W. O. was so opposed to supercharging, how did Bentley racers manage to run their engines supercharged? The superchargers were hung off the front of the cars instead of on top of the engines, apparently placating W. O. However, he stuck to his guiding principle that supercharging a Bentley was equivalent to perverting its intended design and would negatively impact its performance. As they said, winning cures most ills.
15. Was W. O. an early version of the party animal?
The Bentley racing team was known as “The Bentley Boys” which may have been a euphemism for party animals. The legend of their partiness extends even to today, and the record shows their 1929 Le Mans victory celebration included dinner, dancing, and “fair drinking” (a phrase from the historical record) until 6 the next morning. What, or rather who, followed was the three prettiest girls left standing were awarded a “prize” – each was allowed to “ride down the driveway” in the winning “Bentley” with a driver of their choosing. All of this is a matter of history, of course.
16. The actual car which won the 1927 24 Hours of Le Mans race joined the team at dinner.
As the story goes, the winning Bentley would finish the race significantly banged up, including having reportedly taken out about a third of the field. The Old Number Seven, as it was affectionately called, ended up having a flashlight strapped on to its windshield, as apparently the rules of racing were more relaxed back in the old days. No more deserving a car was there, and the team decided to take it out to dinner at the Savoy, which is currently a 5 star hotel located in London, England. Back in 1927 it was a world renowned hotel, first being built in 1889 and the first to have electric lights throughout its hotel.
17. The Bentley brand in odd places – Part 1.
When people think of Bentley the first thing that comes to mind is cars, particularly racing cars. But excellence cannot be contained, and to that end it turns out Bentley also makes a brand of safe – the kind you keep jewels and such in. Rumor has it that their particular brand of safe will keep your Breitling brand watch wound while you are away racing, though this might just be an urban legend. Maybe.
18. The Bentley brand in odd places – Part 2.
If not in your car, why not sleep in a Bentley bed? Of course, their middlin’ priced bed goes for just under $15,000 which is about the price of your car. So why not sleep in comfort? They have a Premier Collection which exceeds the annual income of the average person, but if there’s a simple sampler piece you can afford to say that you have a Bentley in your house, there is the Harlow director’s style chair for just over $9,000. You can sleep in it too.
19. The Bentley brand in odd places – The Hair Raising Finale.
The location: Pankhurst Barbershop in London. The Bentley brand: the barber seats. We don’t dare call them merely chairs, as the entire barbershop is Bentley-themed. Said to be among the best barbershops on the planet, a simple haircut will cost you just under $75 – without tip. To not tip just might result in any future reservations becoming unavailable, but this is only s rumor. Naturally, in the spirit of the 21st century their brand can be found on all the major social media networks.
20. A true Le Mans story.
It is only fitting that the list ends with a Le Mans story. Actually, it is a story about Bentley not even wanting to be involved with the whole Le Mans racing thing. As the story goes, Bentley didn’t want anything to do with Le Mans. Back in the day, Le Mans was just a dusty race track in the middle of almost-nowhere. That day was 1923, and a couple of Bentley customers wanted to take their racing version to Le Mans, hoping to get some financial support from the company.
Those two customers, John Duff and Frank Clement, would change the course of Bentley history, though they were completely unaware of it at the time. Bentley first resisted, then finally agreed to the support. The team of Duff and Clement would only place 4th in what would become the first 24 Hours of Le Mans race, but would place 1st the following year. The rest is history.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker