Just before Christmas, I used this column to celebrate the unassailable greatness of the Rolex brand. Now, I want to reveal what, surprisingly, remains a little known fact about another magnificent brand – this time British: Bentley will be marking its centenary in about a fortnight.
As great a luxury marque as ever it was, this astonishing manufacturer started out in Cricklewood of all places, where its founder, W.O. Bentley, set up shop on January 18, 1919, a mere five years before his car won its first Le mans 24-hour race.
W.O. started as an apprentice railway engineer on the Great Northern, even working as fireman on the footplate, shovelling a total of seven tons of coal on one particularly long day.
What really got him started in the car business, though, was a bit of inspiration from a paperweight made of aluminium alloy, the metal he adapted fro use in making pistons for a modified camshaft. Sound too technical? Well it’s what helped him set a number of new records at Brooklands, and the rest is history.
The auction record for a Bentley? £5m paid for the 1929 Birkin Bentley at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2012.