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Bentley — the history of the famous car producer

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“W O”, as he was universally known, was born the youngest of nine children of a comfortably-off late Victorian family. He began his working life at sixteen years of age as a premium apprentice at the Doncaster Locomotive Works of the Great Northern Railway in 1905. For the next three and a half years of ‘sweat and dirt’ (as he described them), W O learnt his engineering skills. By 1909 he was ready to experience his burning childhood ambition to get onto the footplate of a steam locomotive. Eventually he was firing express locomotives out of Kings Cross.

n 1906, W O acquired his first motor-cycle, a 3hp Quadrant. By 1907 the ‘lure of speed’ as he later described it, expressed itself when he entered the 400-mile London to Edinburgh Trial, staged by the Motor Cycling Club. After dealing en route with various problems endemic to early motor cycles, he reached Edinburgh just before his scheduled deadline, and so qualified for a Gold Medal in his first sporting trial.

From this modest beginning came W O’s life-long love of motor sport, soon to evidence itself again in the D.F.P. car, for which he and his brother H M bought the UK agency in 1912. The new company, called Bentley and Bentley, eventually established a modest niche in the motoring world with their much-improved D.F.P. 12/15 model. In 1913 came the aluminium piston, which W O is credited with developing for automotive purposes. The 12/40 D.F.P. Speed model, with aluminium alloy pistons, brought the brothers commercial and competition success, including Brooklands Class records, before World War One brought their business life to an abrupt temporary halt.

Lieutenant W.O. Bentley RNVR served his country well in World War One. His BR1 and BR2 rotary aeroplane engines, designed and built with his friends at Humber, proved to be some of the best aero-engines of their day, with the BR2 continuing in RAF service well into the 1920’s.