In October 1919, in a small workshop on a London side street, an EXP 1 engine roared to life for the first time. This was the beginning, though no one present at the time could know it—not Walter Owen Bentley, not his small team of engineers and not even the nurse who stormed over from the neighboring care home to scold the men for causing such a racket—of what would go on to become the definitive British luxury car brand known the world over as Bentley.
From 1919’s EXP 1 and the Le Mans 3-Litre, the first Bentley to win the famed Le Mans race, to 2003’s Continental GT and the EXP 100 GT, a concept car celebrating the brand’s 100th anniversary, Bentley’s storied and sometimes troublesome century-long history is chronicled in The Impossible Collection Of Bentley: The 100 At 100 (Assouline). One hundred of the brand’s most significant cars are rediscovered within the coffee table book’s pages, and the story that accompanies them is one of resilience, one that proves W.O. Bentley’s singular vision—“to build a fast car, a good car, the best in its class”—is one that transcends individual people, company ownership and, in fact, time itself.
Back in that legendary London workshop, when the nurse came over to complain about the noise, her reason for concern was that she had a man dying in her care. The response given by the group of men, the forefathers of the Bentley brand, certainly still rings true for anyone proud to get behind the wheel of a car with wings on its nose: “As sounds to die to go, few could be sweeter than this.”
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of Horsepower magazine, a publication produced by Saratoga Living Arts in partnership with the Saratoga Automobile Museum.