At 100 Years Old, Bentley Still Has a Bright Future

Celebrating the centenary of the British luxury automaker, from the Mediterranean to Manhattan

For any brand to remain in business for a century is impressive, but a small British luxury automaker headquartered in the countryside doing so proves even more so. In their 100th year of existence, Bentley shows no signs of slowing. It’s seemingly been nonstop for the team based in Crewe, England this year: launching new generations of the Continental GT and Flying Spur, showing off the jaw-dropping EXP 100 GT concept and bringing their first plug-in hybrid to market with the Bentayga.

In addition to bringing new vehicles to market and giving us a glimpse of what they think sustainable luxury will look like in 2035, Bentley has shared their rich history throughout the year in grand fashion. The carmaker also achieved the production car record at Pikes Peak this year with the W12 Continental GT.

Later in the summer at the Salon Privé Concours d’Élégance at Blenheim Palace Bentley set another record—this time for the largest gathering of Bentleys in history: 1,312 in total, ranging from the earliest models to the latest. A month later, 100 cars representing key eras cruised through the streets of Manhattan in an all-Bentley parade.

Last month, they oversaw the transition to sourcing power from the world’s largest solar panel installation on a carpark and became the UK’s first luxury automaker to have their headquarters certified by the Carbon Trust to PAS 2060 standards. Having begun the process in 1999 by achieving the ISO 14001 environmental management standard, this announcement positions Bentley as the most progressive manufacturer of pure luxury vehicles in the marketplace.

Having gotten our first taste of what the future of sustainable luxury feels like while driving the Bentayga Hybrid, we look forward to seeing each vehicle in the Bentley product line gain a hybrid variant by 2023, ahead of Bentley’s first fully electric vehicle arriving in 2025. We can only hope to see Bentley implement as many elements of the EXP 100 GT, given its use of upcycled materials wherever possible—such as paint produced from a process using rice-husk ash (a byproduct of the rice industry) or seating surfaces made from Vegea, a 100% organic leather-like material.

While the EXP 100 GT offers a roadmap of where Bentley might like to head, there are also common threads in the 2020 Continental GT and 2020 Flying Spur. Both vehicles have been thoroughly modernized—a welcome change following previous generations that were languishing with outdated technology and lackluster design. The Continental GT is possibly the most impressive 2+2 sport tourer on the market, while the Flying Spur is an incredibly appealing sedan. With elegant sculpted exteriors and gorgeous ergonomic cabins, these two models are positioned to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive market.

They’re interested in manufacturing thoroughly modern cars that are positioned to be future classics. It makes sense then, that during their centenary celebrations they’ve tasked their latest group of trainees in their apprenticeship program to painstakingly restore a 1923 3.0L four-cylinder engine, and had Mulliner (Bentley’s bespoke vehicle division since the 1970s) re-create the 1939 Bentley Corniche that was lost at the outbreak of WWII. The former exemplifies Bentley’s early innovation that would lead to iconic motors like the 4.5-liter Blower. (The latter provides the missing link that brought streamlined design to the brand—resulting in the iconic Bentley R-Type Continental of the ’50s.) In fact, the Mulliner division will build a dozen new 1929 4.5-liter Team Blowers. These vehicles will be the first pre-war continuation models produced by an automaker and will be brought to life by reverse-engineering one of Sir Tim Birkin’s Blowers that’s part of Bentley’s heritage collection.

The brand is undertaking this endeavor because the unique experience of human and analog machine is still worth sharing—something we enjoyed while riding in a 1929 three-liter alongside other pre-war Bentleys around Laguna Seca Raceway during the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. While we’ve had many memorable experiences behind the wheel of a Bentley this past year (plowing through snow in a Bentayga in Vermont, hustling a Continental GT convertible alongside the Pacific in Mendocino county, soaring in the Flying Spur above the Mediterranean) and riding in the the vehicle Ettore Bugatti called “the fastest lorry in the world” at Laguna Seca was simply remarkable. 

An afternoon in a Bentley proves the brand is special and this year especially, historic. There are nods to the past everywhere—from inviting natural wood accents to the knurled dials and analog gauges on the back of the rotating infotainment screens. There’s no doubt one is riding in a proper British luxury car deserving of the flying B mounted above the grille.

Images by Andrew Maness