FOUNDED ALMOST 100 YEARS AGO, THE LUXURY BRAND BENTLEY HAS GONE FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH SINCE BEING TAKEN OVER BY THE VOLKSWAGEN group. LAST YEAR FOR THE FIRST TIME OVER 11,000 MODELS OF THE «SILENT SPORTS CAR» WERE PRODUCED IN THE NORTHERN ENGLISH CITY OF CREWE. ADAM INTERVIEWED BENTLEY EXPERT RICHARD CHARLESWORTH.
Mr. Charlesworth, in what way has Bentley enhanced your life?
I was lucky enough to work for 40 years for a company that builds the car I love. I also enjoyed meeting a number of interesting people during my career including customers, employees and journalists.
How did Bentley enter your life?
I grew up in Crewe. My parents were farmers and we could see the factory, where Bentley and Rolls Royce were built at the time, from our field. So I went over to the neighbours, knocked on their door and asked if they maybe had a job for me, then I started to work in the sales and marketing department.
What was the reason for the merger between Bentley and Rolls Royce in 1931?
The engineers at Bentley and Royce both gained their first experience at the railway and applied this expertise later in the construction of their cars. They focused on large volume engines, which deliver maximum performance with low resolutions. Bentley built excellent sports cars but had economic problems, which gave Royce the opportunity to incorporate the threatening competitor.
Why was this extremely British brand taken over by a German group in 1998?
Due to the fact that Rolls Royce and Bentley consistently lagged behind their competitors in the luxury class on a technological level and did not have the resources to be able to invest enough in research, the British concern Vickers had to sell their shares. VW won the bidding war against BMW, which nevertheless was able to secure the rights to the trademark Rolls Royce.
Was it clear from the outset that Bentley would stay in the North English city of Crewe?
Naturally the workforce feared that VW could relocate production to Germany, but two days after the deal the chairman of the board at the time, Dr. Piëch, came into the plant and reassured us: «We bought Bentley because we love what you do. We have great respect for your work. There are things that we cannot improve on, others we can. We want to support you in improving them and consequently polish the new jewel in VW’s crown.»
How did he manage to do that?
Two months later VW promised an investment of 500 million pounds to modernise the plant and to develop a new model, the Continental GT. Bentley shines today not only because of the most modern technology, it has also added more luxury to its range. For example double the amount of wood is built into our cars as in the 70s.
Bentley has even advanced to become the official vehicle for Queen Elisabeth II. Why?
When her father, George VI. was King, the Royals still drove Daimlers. Then she received a Phantom IV as a wedding present in 1947. Rolls Royce subsequently became the official state car. As it was already certain in 2002 that soon only Bentleys would be built in Crewe, the Queen received a model for the first time on the occasion of her golden jubilee. The entire royal family are now only seen in Bentleys, both in a business and private capacity.
Even the «green» Prince Charles?
Yes, as he strongly advocates environmental protection, two Mulsannes with an 8-cylinder engine were converted especially for him so they could run on bioethanol.
Ettore Bugatti once described Bentley as «the fastest truck in the world». How true is that today?
His statement, which was intended as an insult to his rival in motorsports, can be considered as a compliment. We always built big cars and do not have to apologise for that. If you want to buy a small car, don’t buy a Bentley! A Mulsanne or Flying Spur have five comfortable seats, sufficient legroom and if necessary can reach speeds of 300 kilometres per hour!
What are Bentley’s ambitions in automobile sport?
Following the double victory in the 24 hour Le Mans in 2003 with the Speed 8 sports car we are now successfull with the Bentley Continental, which delivers 608 PS in the GT3 street version, in the touring car series.
Photos Copyrights: Bentley