The first Bentley may have turned its wheels over a century ago in Cricklewood, London, but it is the company’s factory in Crewe, in England’s northwest that has been responsible for building 97 per cent of these British bruisers.
Now celebrating 75 years of continuous car production since the Mark VI of 1946, the plant has built almost 200,000 cars and Bentley claims that 80 per cent of those are still on the roads.
Peter Bosch, Bentley’s Member of the Board for Manufacturing, says: “For 75 years Crewe has been synonymous with luxury car manufacturing – a global showcase of craftsmanship and quality. In that time, our colleagues have produced some of the world’s most iconic and desirable products, including cars for global royalty and unique personal commissions.”
Bentleys are also, of course, associated with speed, so let’s take a look back at some of the most ballistic Bentleys of the last 75 years: Crewe’s missiles.
The Standard Steel Bentley Mark VI of 1946 was the first post-war Bentley and the first to built at Crewe. Sharing its chassis and 4 3/4-litre straight-six engine with the Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith it was also the first Bentley with all-steel coachwork straight from the factory. The Mark VI had a top speed of 100mph and could accelerate to 60mph in 15 seconds.
1950s: R-Type Continental
In 1952 the Bentley R-Type Continental could claim to be the fastest four-seater car in the world. Despite sharing running gear with the Mark VI the R-Type was able to reach 100mph in 36 seconds and go on to 120mph top speed thanks to a revised exhaust system, altered gearing, and most significantly its aerodynamic H.J. Mulliner fastback bodywork which was developed in Rolls-Royce’s wind tunnel. It also had the honour of being Britain’s most expensive car.
Bentley had already introduced its famous V8 in the S-series Continentals, but the T1 of 1965 was lighter and could do more with the 205bhp, 6230 cc engine so its top speed was 118mph. Disc brakes all around and self-levelling suspension delivered appropriate stopping power and a sumptuous ride.
The Seventies was something of a slow decade for Bentley with the T-series soldiering on with few changes. In 1970 Bentley did up the capacity of the V8 to the now-legendary 6 3/4 litres, raising its power output to 221bhp, but despite the increase in oomph the T2 of 1977 still topped out at 118mph.
1980s: Turbo R
1982 was the year the turbocharger arrived in Crewe when the Mulsanne Turbo became the first forced-induction Bentley since the famous Blowers of the 1930s. The hike to over 300bhp was significant to say the least, powering the car to beyond 130mph. Soon even that speed was relegated to history with the Turbo R pulling 146mph courtesy of an additional 60 horses.
1990s: Continental R
An iconic nameplate made its return at the 1991 Geneva Motor Show in the form of the 325bhp two-door Continental R. Its claimed 0-60 mph time of 6.6seconds and a 145mph top end would improve significantly over the next 12 years of production, reaching a pinnacle with the shorter wheelbase Continental T which topped 170mph.
2000s: EXP Speed 8
Now under VW Group ownership, Bentley launched its fastest road car to date – the 196.6 mph W12-powered Continental GT. However, the British brand’s boldest move was its return to Le Mans with the EXP Speed 8 Prototype. After a 68-year hiatus Bentley was back at La Sarthe in 2001, finishing third behind a pair of Audis and taking outright victory in 2003. Along the way the V8 powered racer would achieve 217mph.
2010s: Continental GT3
The Continental GT proved to be the most successful race car since Ettore Bugatti famously complained about “the world’s fastest lorry.” The first-generation Continental GT3, launched in 2013, scored over 120 podiums and 45 race wins all over the world. In lieu of the weighty W12, the GT3 was fitted with a twin-turbo 4-litre V8, producing around 500bhp. Top speed? Theoretically north of 200 mph, depending on the circuit and gearing.
2020s: Continental GT Speed
Sitting at the top of the Bentley tree in 2021 is the Continental GT Speed. This circa £180,000, 659bhp W12-driven machine will haul itself from 0-60 mph in just 3.5 seconds and power on to a 208 mph top end. Sounds like a Crewe’s Missile to us.
Via Hagerty US