Founded in the year 1919 by Walter Owen Bentley, Bentley Motors Limited is a British luxury car manufacturer with a long and prestigious history. Bentley, known as W.O. for short, was known for his expertise in the aero-engine industry during World War I. The most renowned of these engines was the Bentley BR1 which was subsequently used in Sopwith Camel. Following the Great War, Bentley built and designed production vehicles that conquered the twenty-four hours of Le Mans for several years during the 1924-1930 period. The "Bentley Boys" from 1927-1930 were especially influential in keeping the Bentley name alive and well. The first Bentley model, the rapid 3-Litre, was released in 1919 and met with moderate success, but the Great Depression wasn't forgiving towards the manufacturer financially, and in 1931 the company was purchased by Rolls-Royce and production was moved from London to Derby (and afterward to Crewe).
In the years following, Bentley automobiles were extremely similar to Rolls-Royce vehicles, and basically were re-named. Through this, the vehicles lost their identities with the unique Bentley brand, and the Bentley name was all but forgotten. The way Rolls-Royce attained Bentley was equally as unnerving to the company's founders. Rolls-Royce purchased the name using the pseudonym British Central Equitable Trust, and even W.O Bentley was unsure of the real identity of the new owner until the contract was complete. The original Bentley Cricklewood factory was put up for sale and dismantled, and production was relocated to the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby. Bentley was very unhappy with this acquisition, and he left his company at the end of 1935 to join auto-manufacturer Lagonda. Throughout the 1980s, Rolls-Royce began to better distinguish between the two luxury automobile brands, and after a few notable models appeared under the Bentley name, the brand regained its stature and its unique character.
In 1998, the Rolls-Royce brand (including Bentley, still under it) went up for sale. There was some speculation whether it would be BMW or Volkswagen that would take the company and re-build it in a fresh way, but in the end, BMW was outbid by German-giant Volkswagen. BMW did end up getting part of the Rolls-Royce name, but the company claimed it only ever wanted Bentley anyway. After buying the Bentley name, VW spent nearly 500 million Euros to modernize the existing Bentley factories and nearly $2 billion in total to revive the brand. And, modernize it did. Bentley began to sell many unique luxury vehicles- even presenting a two-door Bentley Azure convertible to Britain's Queen Elizabeth.
This period also saw the production of several successful model. From the 1998 Arnage saloon, to the 2002 State Limousine, to the 2006 Azure convertible and the the 2009 Continental Supersport line, the Bentley name began to grow rapidly. More recently, the 2009 Bentley Zagato GTZ, the 2010 Bentley Mulsanne, and the 2011 2nd Generation Continental have increased the brand's staying power. Bentley continues to flourish under the watch of Volkswagen, and the brand is sure to produce more wonderful luxury options in the years to come.