Bentley: the story behind an icon
March 9, 2018
The story of Bentley begins with the Great Depression that came about following the Wall Street crash. This advent hit luxury car manufacturers hard, forcing Rolls Royce to shift its focus onto designing a new smaller car. The aim was to develop this smaller car without losing any of the luxury and refinement their brand is known for, focusing on the superb reception of the 20.25 model.
With this in mind, a new car was conceived and underwent the design process under the codename ‘Peregrine’. This car would have a brand new engine with a capacity of about 2.5 litres, and it would be capable of carrying up to four passengers in total. The car performed and handled very well when it underwent testing in 1932, but the general feeling was that production of this car could not yield a market price that would appeal to the target market. At least, not without making some concessions in terms of quality.
Seizing an opportunity
During this period, Rolls Royce acquired the diminishing Bentley Motors company in November of 1931. Bentley had been dealt a crippling blow by the collapse of the market for luxury cars. Neither their eight-litre chassis nor its four-litre alternative was succeeding in restoring their previous good fortune. The Bentley name had built up some prestige through the publicity brought in by its racing programme, but this had actually been very financially damaging to the company. The move by Rolls Royce to acquire Bentley was actually a preventative action to ward off interest from rivals Napier. The services of W. O. Bentley were also secured, and in 1931 the new company Bentley Motors Ltd. was formed.
It is unclear whether Rolls Royce was purely trying to ward of Napier by acquiring Bentley, or whether it always planned to produce a new car with the Bentley name. In any case, it was not long before Rolls Royce saw that there was an opportunity too good to be missed. There was an ensuing debate as to how the Peregrine could be modified into a car worthy of sporting the Bentley moniker.
There was consideration given to supercharging the old Peregrine engine, but this was ultimately discounted over fears of reliability. In the meantime, there had been the development of a new derivative of the 20/25 engine, called the J1. It featured a cross-flow cylinder head, complete with six inlet ports, twin SU carburetors and a modified camshaft. In October 1932, it was agreed that mating the J1 engine to the 20/25 gearbox could allow it to be fitted to the Peregrine chassis. The wheelbase of the chassis had to be increased to accommodate this larger engine and gearbox.
A new dawn
The first Bentley 3 1/2L went to the presses at the end of September in 1933. This was the culmination of 12 months of intensive development and testing work, during which a number of improvements were added to the original concept. The motoring press received it with great aplomb, and it went on show at the 1933 Motor Show in Olympia. The car’s elegant proportions would become the hallmark of the Derby Bentley, and a number of stunning body styles came about throughout the period of its production.
The final combination of performance with refinement would become another major selling point as the Bentley earned the title ‘The Silent Sportscar’ in 1934. The involvement in racing was another big departure from Rolls Royce company policy, as they supported the 1934 entry of Eddie Hall in the Ulster TT. This venture enabled testing under extreme conditions, as more innovative modifications were considered. The Derby Bentley continued to put on a respectable performance at the Ulster TT and also Le Mans in 1950.
Engine capacity would increase as time went on, which would change the standard models as they were embraced. Eventually, extensive changes had to be made as new driving demands were brought on by the advent of things like the autobahn. To meet these new demands, the crankshaft oiling system and new bearing materials had to be looked at extremely closely, and big change came about.
The Bentley name has since grown to the forefront of the luxury car industry and is a great brand to loan against. It is synonymous with elegance and innovation, and the name itself adds significant weight to the already-superb design features every class of Bentley boasts. If you are looking to sell your Bentley vehicle to a broker that will appreciate its true value, then look no further than NBSP. We understand the iconic status of the cars, and we will always make a fair and just offer to make sure you are getting the very best value from your vehicle.