18 January 1919: Bentley Motors is formed

Walter Owen Bentley was an English engineer who designed, among other things,  the BR1 rotary aircraft engine for the WWI single-seat fighter biplane, the Sopwith Camel.

He had a  business with his brother Horace selling French DFP cars. But he didn’t want to just sell cars, he wanted to build cars. Fast cars.

So on this day in 1919, he and his brother founded Bentley Motors Ltd in Cricklewood, north London, and set about designing their 3-litre sports tourer. In October 1919, Bentley exhibited at the London Motor Show to promote his new brand. The first delivery was scheduled for June 1920, but production took longer than planned, which pushed the finish date to September 1921.

Joel Woolf Barnato, a financier and racing driver, bought his first Bentley in 1924, and went on to win numerous races at the Brooklands racing circuit. And when Bentley ran into financial difficulties, the independently wealthy Barnato stumped up £100,000 to save the business and workforce.

With the company refinanced and clear of creditors WO Bentley was able to manufacture another generation of cars.

But after the Wall Street Crash, demand for Bentley’s expensive cars plummeted. In July 1931 the company and Barnato failed to make the payments for two mortgages resulting in the receiver being called in.

In November 1931 Rolls-Royce bought Bentley for £125,000. Barnato took £42,000 and was appointed to the board of the new Bentley Motors Ltd.

Bentley’s ownership changed once again in 1997 after Vickers announced it would be selling Rolls-Royce Motors. Volkswagen AG acquired the company after it outbid BMW with £430m. A further £500m was invested to modernise the company and increase production at its factory in Crewe.

All the investing paid off. In 2003 demand was so high Bentley’s factory capacity to build 9,500 vehicles per year wasn’t enough. 2007 was the best year as the company sold over 10,000 cars and recorded a profit of €155m. Since then, sales and profits have been up and down, but the car manufacture has recently introduced a new line of models.