One hundred years on the Bentley marque is as strong as ever, associated as it is with luxury, status and British innovation at its best.
Now in its Centennial year H&H Classics
, the leading classic car auctioneer, is honouring the great W.O. Bentley, who started it all from a humble set of premises in Cricklewood under the name Bentley Motors on January 18, 1919.
H&H Classics chairman Simon Hope, whose own company celebrated its silver jubilee in 2018, says: Its extraordinary when you think about what a pull the Bentley name still has after a century.
Just looking at what H&H have sold over the years 397 Bentleys and counting - and what is available even now through our catalogues, the range of collectables is a testimony to the magic of the Bentley name.
As well as the cars themselves, bidders at auction compete for things as humble as a Bentley gear lever or steering wheel. And the celebrated winged B Mascot that sits proudly atop the front fender as recognisable as Rolls Royces Spirit of Ecstasy, remains a must-have for enthusiasts and can sell for hundreds of pounds.
Early sales brochures and handbooks, signed photographs and even a wonderful Bentley decanter modelled on the famous front grille have passed through H&H Classics hands.
At the companys Imperial War Museum Duxford auction on October 17, Simon Hope brought down the hammer at £855,000 on a 1929 Bentley 4.5 Litre Le Mans style tourer.
An extraordinary car, he says, not just because it registered by the company within eight years of the first workshops opening in Cricklewood, but because it once belonged to Captain Woolf Barnato, one of the Bentley Boys of the 1920s who won three consecutive 24-hour Le Mans races from 1928-30, buying his first Bentley in 1925 just a year before he also bought the business itself. It was Barnatos investment in the firm that allowed W.O. to design a whole new generation of cars.
As for W.O., he had started life on the footplate of a LNER steam engine as an apprentice engineer and fireman, often shovelling tons of coal a day for engines that raced between London and the North.
Initially, he went into business in 1912 with his brother HM Bentley, selling French cars but becoming dissatisfied with their performance, while fixating on racing competitions as the best way of marketing them.
Legend has it that it was a paperweight that inspired him to have pistons made for the engine in aluminium alloy, and it was this innovation and a modified camshaft that made all the difference, with the cars going on to set several records at Brooklands in 1913 and 1914.
Following the war, W.O. was able to set up Bentley Motors and within five years they had their first Le Mans 24-hour winner.
The superlatives came thick and fast, says Hope. The Bentley marque may have changed hands a number of times over the years (it is now owned by VW along with Rolls Royce), but that initial touch of genius has never left it and its a name that conjures up everything you want to get you hands on if you are a motor sport or classic car enthusiast, as we all are here.
The record price for a Bentley is £5 million, set at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2012, by the famous Birkin Bentley.