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Car of the Month - January 2019
Walter Owen Bentley's early career
The start of Bentley Motors
in January 1919
Bentley 3-Litre Prototype, Chassis-No. #EXP1. The first incarnation of
what W.O. Bentley had planned: "To build a fast car, a good car, the
best in its class."
In 2019 Bentley Motors will celebrate their 100th Anniversary. The
appropriate date for the foundation of Bentley Motors is 18th January
1919 when "...Bentley Motors' … Certification of Incorporation was
signed by the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies..." From 1919 onward a
team of designers led by Walter Owen Bentley worked on development of
Bentley Motors' first model, i.e. the Bentley 3
Litre that was launched at the November 1919 Olympia Show.
Walter Owen Bentley was a highly talented engineer and at fairly young
age had impressive achievements to his credit. An apprenticeship in
railway engineering at G.N.R. in Doncaster had been followed by a brief
period at King's College London, studying theoretical engineering. In
his first employment with the National Motor Cab Co. he supervised
service and overhaul of a fleet of some 400 UNIC taxis. In 1912 with his
brother H.M. Bentley a motor car dealership was acquired which held a
concession for the French DFP. DFP did mean Doriot, Flandrin & Parant, a
motor car manufacturer from Courbevoie, France. The Bentley brothers’
business soon did flourish so well the French motor car manufacturer
arranged for their M. Leroux to act as liaison with the French factory.
Leroux did tune cars that W.O. Bentley entered successfully in
competitive events. An early example so to speak of the idiom "Win on
Sunday, Sell on Monday".
Bentley with a 1912 DFP 2-Litre with a streamlined aluminium single
seater body by Hutchinsons. At Brooklands racecourse that car, prepared
by Leroux and driven by Bentley took the ten lap record at 66.78 mph.
A tremendous advantage was that W.O. Bentley increased his engines'
power and reliability by using light alloy pistons. Stress on bearings
was reduced due to less weight of aluminium pistons compared to iron
ones. A major bonus was light alloys’ better heat dissipation reducing
risks of distortion. Having found a superior alternative to pistons made
from cast iron or steel was kept secret by Bentley & Bentley – and it
appears went unnoticed by other manufacturers. W.O. Bentley behind the
steering wheel of relatively small DFP cars fitted with high-performance
engines became a fierce competition for race-cars of greater engine
Bentley and Leroux with a DFP 12/40 H.P. during the 5th International
Tourist Trophy race in the Isle of Man, 10th/11th June 1914. Out of 23
starters only six finished. Although Bentley completed the course with a
time gap behind William Guinness in the winning Sunbeam it made good
publicity because competitors’ cars were powered by engines of greater
That made for good publicity along the lines of 'David versus Goliath'.
The installation of area dealerships and a modest advertising campaign
were first steps to exploit the Bentley brothers’ business success.
However the activities came to a standstill with the outbreak of World
War I. W.O. Bentley became an officer and had to concentrate entirely on
war-related tasks. Nonetheless the roots of the success of Bentley
Motors founded in January 1919 can be tracked to the early career from
the pre-war period.