Entry-level Bentley sounds like post hoc ergo propter hoc – if you plan an SUV Bentley you must follow it with a small one. Paris Motor Show gossip suggests Bentley is working on it. So just as Bentleys changed when the company went bust in 1930 and Rolls-Bentleys had to change (much for the better) when the Germans took over, as Bentley approaches 100 everything will have to change again. A well-appointed 3 Litre Bentley would still do 150mph and boasting of self-evidently absurd speeds for road cars nowadays is vanity.
They still have to finish the SUV. Autocar’s Mark Tisshaw quotes Wolfgang Durheimer CEO: “A smaller car is a very powerful idea in parallel to the Continental, and is one of our areas of research. There is also room for derivatives of models we have; the Mulsanne and Continental could get brothers and sisters. An SUV opens up more ideas.”
Regular readers, and there are some, will recall from November 21 2012 Lanchester Luxury, my certitude about a market for well-equipped well-appointed luxury cars of modest power and much refinement. A small Bentley could be a plug-in hybrid with no need to compromise on price or exclusiveness. Not everybody wants to flaunt multi-cylinders and unusable top speeds. There is no need to compromise on build quality. Bentleys have always been well-made. There’s no need to compromise on style or even self-indulgent interiors.
Rolls-Royce invented the Silent Sports Car in the 1930s. It had the prestige of a Bentley without the raciness. Rolls-Royce reluctantly engaged WO Bentley when it set up Bentley Motors (1931) Ltd to keep him under control. He never got on with Royce, never forgave what he regarded as deceit when forbidden from designing a Bentley, yet he stayed three years. He eventually agreed that the Rolls-Bentley was what he would have got round to himself.
WO never forgot Royce’s petulant, “I believe you’re a commercial man Mr Bentley?” WO’s response was “Well not really. Primarily I suppose I’m a technical specialist,” but what irked him more was, “You’re not an engineer then, are you?” Whereupon he reminded Royce that they had both been railway engineers: “I think you were a boy in the Great Northern Railway running sheds at Peterborough before I was a premium apprentice at Doncaster.” But “Premium” was an edgy term. It meant that Bentley’s parents had paid for him to work there, while an aunt had supported Royce’s apprenticeship until penury intervened.
WO’s engineering was not like Royce’s. Even in an age when empiricists outnumbered theorists Royce was severely practical. Both had been engaged on railway locomotives beside which cars were akin to watchmaking. WO was a motivator, a proposer and he was, furthermore 25 years younger. He had the appearance and affectations of his rich, playboy racing-driver friends and could afford to invest £2,000 for importing French DFPs before the War. Royce, ailing, hard-working since an impoverished childhood, was unkempt, coarse in his language and described himself as a mechanic.
In fact, as The Complete Bentley recounts, neither of them could be called commercial, cost-conscious or even businesslike. Bentley had been a failure running his company and Rolls-Royce used Royce’s ill-health as an excuse to prevent him meddling day-to-day.