Bentley has been around forever, of course, and today is synonymous with extreme, uncompromising luxury — but did you know their history is chock-full of really fast cars, playboys, and… James Bond? We checked with Bentley, then dove way deep into their archives to find 23 things you probably didn’t know.
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1. Their racing team, known as “The Bentley Boys,” were legendary partiers. The 1929 Le Mans victory celebration party consisted of dinner, dancing, and “fair drinking” until six in the morning, at which point the three prettiest girls were awarded the “prize” of taking a “ride down the driveway” in the “Bentley” with the driver of their choice." Crash helmets” were mandatory.
2. Bentley didn’t want to race at Le Mans in the first place. In 1923, a couple of Bentley’s customers called (or sent a carrier pigeon/telegraph/smoke signal), and asked if the company would support them during some 24-hour race that the French were holding at a middle-of-nowhere place called Le Mans. Bentley (that’s him in the middle) eventually agreed, and John Duff and Frank Clement finished fourth place in the first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans. The following year, those same guys won.
3. The famous “Winged B” hood ornament was designed with forgers in mind. As a counter to the red-hot faux hood ornament market, there’s actually a different number of feathers on each side, in the hopes that forgers wouldn’t notice.
4. W.O. Bentley would have loved American muscle cars. He coined the slogan “There’s no replacement for displacement” for the Bentley 4.5 Liter engine, which was much larger and more powerful than the 3 Liter. It was a criticism against supercharging, and it became the mantra of American muscle car enthusiasts for decades.
5. Ironically, supercharged Bentleys dominated Le Mans for years. Bentleys with huge superchargers hanging off the front of the car owned Le Mans in the late 1920s and early 30s. The superchargers weren’t allowed to be installed on top of the engine because Bentley thought that “to supercharge a Bentley engine was to pervert its design and corrupt its performance.”
6. They were called Blower Bentleys. Impressively, that actually wasn’t slang for a 1920s flapper with an oral fixation and a nice car.
7. One of their racers, Glen Kidston, was one of the most badass men you’ve never heard of. Prior to racing for Bentley, he was a naval officer whose submarine became stuck in the sea floor thanks to faulty gauges. He somehow then got it unstuck. Years later, he was the sole survivor of a plane crash; he kicked through the fuselage while he was on fire, then put himself out, tried to rescue a prince, ran a mile through a forest for help while still smoking, then took a quick flight to calm his nerves, before going to the hospital for his burns. The following year he won Le Mans. He only died when his plane literally fell apart during a dust storm in South Africa, at which point several high-society women in London supposedly fainted.
8. Bentley had a boss named Woolf. Woolf Barnato was a wealthy playboy who raced cars for fun. He ran at Le Man three times, winning all three, then took over as CEO from W.O. Bentley after Rolls-Royce took over the company.
9. He won the very first Top Gear-style stunt race, many decades prior to Top Gear. The Blue Train was very fast, very blue, and very French. It could run from the Mediterranean coast to Calais in northern France in under a day, and Woolf boasted over dinner that he could get to London before it got to Calais. He won by four minutes, then was heavily fined by French authorities for racing.
10. The car that he “won that race in” wasn’t actually the car that he won that race in. Legend, Bentley’s press materials, vintage art, and Woolf’s own daughter all state that he was driving a car with a Gurney Nutting Coupe body. He actually drove a sedan, and purchased the coupe months later to celebrate, and named it the Blue Train Special.
11. The 2005 Arnage Blue Train is a homage to the famed coupe. The coupe’s silhouette is engraved on a plaque on the dashboard. Even though by 2002 they knew he didn’t drive the coupe. Legends die hard.
12. They let their 1927 Le Mans-winning car join them for dinner at The Savoy. As often happens at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the car, called Old No. Seven, was pretty banged up during an overnight incident that took out nearly a third of the field. The mechanics strapped a flashlight to the windshield in lieu of a headlight, and it managed to win, so the team sat around the car for an eleven course meal to celebrate.
13. James Bond drove Bentleys, not Aston Martins. In the books, James drove a 4.5 Liter, as well as a few later sedans.
14. The last time they won Le Mans was 2003. They set a record for going 73 years between wins.
15. There is a Bentley Ice Driving School. If you’ve ever wanted to race a 200 mph car on ice, they’ll teach you how. Just go to Finland.
16. And yes, a Bentley Continental GT can go 200 mph on ice. It was the first car to ever accomplish the feat, in 2007 at the hands of Finnish rally legend Juha Kankkunen.
17. To celebrate the Ice Speed Record set by the Continental Supersports convertible, they gave out free watches. They teamed with Breitling to make a special-edition watch, and it was completely free… if you purchased the also-special-edition Supersports Ice Speed Record convertible.
18. They make a safe. Like, an Oceans Twelve, Italian Job, where-do-I-keep-my-gold-bullion, safe. It’s kind of insane, too: it’ll even keep your Breitling wound for you while you’re away.
19. You can decorate just about every room in your house with Bentley furniture. Of course, it’ll cost more than your car. Nice though.
20. The nicest barbershop in the world uses Bentley seats. Pankhurst Barbershop in London uses Bentley barber seats and is fully Bentley-themed. Shave and a haircut? Way more than 2 bits.
21. They have the largest solar panel rooftop in the United Kingdom. It can provide up to 40% of their factory’s total electricity needs, when it’s sunny. In Britain.
22. zai for Bentley skis are possibly the best skis in the world. They’re made from carbon fiber-wrapped cedarwood, with a steel structure to increase control mid-corner. The surface is coated in a special rubberized polymer that, on its own, costs more than most skis you’ll see in the Olympics.
23. This is the best possible way to take advantage of Bentley’s all wheel drive system. It’s called ski joring. It’s technically a Norwegian tradition, but it should be done by anyone with a Bentley and snow/ice. All the time.