As you may suspect, there was a man named Bentley. And, as was often the case in the early days of the automobile, automotive inventors liked speed and they liked to win.
According to BentleyMotors.com, by age 22 W.O. Bentley was already a brilliant engineer with an unusual grasp of the new internal combustion engine. He won motorcycle and automobile hill climb races, a major test of endurance for vehicles in 1912 and beyond.
When World War I came along, Bentley built the rotary engine that powered the Sopwith Camel fighter plane and established air superiority for the allied forces. Most of us know about the Sopwith Camel from reading about Snoopy's battles against the mighty German ace, the Red Baron. Later, Bentley stated he considered that engine his greatest accomplishment.
When the war ended, Bentley again concentrated on building a rich gentlemen's competitive car that could be raced, and he priced it accordingly.
Vallejo resident John DeHaan bought his 1927 Bentley Tourer when he was 21 years old, some 43 years ago.
"I found it in a Motor Trend magazine ad and restored it myself, with a couple of very talented friends. It took us from 1970 to 1976 to complete the job. The body had been replaced in 1936, so I built a correct replica four-seat tourer," DeHaan said.
He said Tourer means there are no side curtains. In fact, he suspects his car may have been a sedan in its early life. He doesn't know the car's history but believes it has had as many as 13 owners. It is powered by a 4-cylinder, 3-liter engine rated at 80 HP.
DeHaan said, when new, the 1927 Bentley chassis sold for 1,700 British pounds. Apparently their target market was for those in the "Downton Abbey" neighborhood, as that is about $5 million in today's dollars. Bentley only made the chassis, which was then sent to a body manufacturer of the customer's choice.
DeHaan paid $3,000 for his Bentley and has invested about $15,000 in restoration and maintenance. Everything works, although there is not much not to work. It is right-hand drive, with the four-speed transmission gear shift lever on the floor to the right of the driver.
I was surprised to find there is no right driver door, as the emergency brake is just outside the driver's compartment and would interfere with a door opening. The driver and passenger get in from the left side of the car. It has a 12-volt electrical system and an electric starter that works efficiently.
There are three floor pedals, with the small round accelerator in between the clutch and brake pedals.
"The brakes are mechanical," DeHaan said, "They are quite good, as they are very large. It is a challenge to steer the 3,300-pound vehicle at low speeds, and shifting requires double clutching, a technique that requires some practice to master."
One unusual feature of this Bentley is the method used to balance the tires. Bentley used a combination of lead and fiber washers located on four positions on each rim.
There is no radiator fan. This Bentley has a very large radiator, and it doesn't seem to overheat unless in slow city traffic.
Things were going well for Bentley until the 1929 stock market crash, followed by the Great Depression.
DeHaan said, "In 1931 the original company went bankrupt. Rolls-Royce had always been a competitor for the high-end market, but they were not a performance car like Bentley. Royal Royce bought the company and their people and did their very best to obliterate the company. The people were under contract and could not work for another car company."
In the 1940s and later, the Bentleys were largely the same as Rolls-Royce models, and there wasn't much difference in price.
DeHaan said there was some hostility among Bentley owners when Rolls-Royce took over Bentley. A Bentley club was formed, and it didn't allow owners of Rolls-Royce-built Bentleys to join.
But now the two car brands are again separated and competitors. Rolls-Royce is owned by BMW, and Bentley is owned by Volkswagen. And you can join the Bentley club regardless of who built your Bentley.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com.