English Engineer Walter Owen Bentley, MBE was born 16 September 1888. in Hampstead, London, His father was retired businessman Alfred Bentley, and mother was Emily, née Waterhouse. He was as privately educated at Clifton College in Bristol from 1902 until 1905, when at the age of 16 he left to start work as an apprentice engineer with the Great Northern Railway at Doncaster in Yorkshire for five years . Here he learnt to design complex railway machinery and gained practical experience in the technical procedures to cast, manufacture, and build it. After completing his apprenticeship he left Great Northern in 1910 and began racing Quadrant, Rex, and Indian motorcycles. He competed in two Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races, on a Rex in 1909 and as a member of Indian’s factory team in 1910.
After studying theoretical engineering at King’s College London, he took employment with the National Motor Cab Company, where his several duties included overseeing the maintenance of the fleet’s 250 Unics. He was fascinated by the cabbies’ ingenuity at fiddling the meters. In 1912 he joined his brother, H. M. (Horace Millner) Bentley, in a company called “Bentley and Bentley” that sold French DFP cars. To improve performance Bentley designed Aluminium Alloy pistons and a modified crankshaft for the engines which went onto break several records at Brooklands in 1913 and 1914. During World War I Bentley used aluminium alloy pistons in military applications to benefit the national interest: as they improved power output and ran cooler, allowing higher compression ratios and higher engine speeds. He was Commissioned in the Royal Naval Air Service, and shared his knowledge and experience with various manufacturers. The company’s first aero engine, named the Eagle, was designed with pistons of aluminium instead of cast-iron or steel and the same innovation was also used in all Sunbeam’s aero engines. The Navy gave him a team to design his own aero engine at the Humber factory in Coventry. Designated the BR1, Bentley Rotary 1, And The bigger BR2 followed in early 1918. In recognition, Bentley was awarded the MBE. the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors also awarded him £8,000.
After the war, in early 1919, W. O. and his brother founded Bentley Motors Limited in Cricklewood and turned his aero engines business into one of car production. In a group that included Frank Burgess (Humber) and Harry Varley (Vauxhall), they designed a high quality sporting tourer for production under the name Bentley Motors and Engine designer Clive Gallop helped develop their 3,000 cubic centimetres (180 cu in) straight-4 engine. The 3-litre engine ran for the first time in New Street Mews, Baker Street, London. W.O.’s first complete Bentley 3 Litre car began road tests in January 1920 and the first production version arrived in 1921. W.O.’s motto was “To build a good car, a fast car, the best in class.” His cars raced in hill climbs and at Brooklands, and the lone 3 Litre entered by the company in the 1922 Indianapolis 500 mile race and driven by Douglas Hawkes finished thirteenth at an average speed of 74.95 mph.
Bentley entered a team of his new 3-litre modified and race-prepared cars in the 1922 Tourist Trophy driving himself in Bentley III. Jean Chassagne (later himself a ‘Bentley Boy’) on a 1921 Grand Prix Sunbeam winning outright. Bentleys set many records at the Le Mans 24-hour races, with “Bentley Boy” Woolf Barnato winning three times. In 1923 Bentley attended the inaugural Le Mans race, he saw John Duff and Frank Clement’s private entry take fourth place. ABentley 3 Litre won at Le Mans in 1924. Neither of the two Bentleys entered in the 1925 race finished it, but subsequent models won again in 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1930, Prompting. Ettore Bugatti to comment that W.O. made “the fastest lorries in the world.”
Sadly Bentley Motors Ltd. encountered financial difficulties, And Kimberley diamond magnate Barney Barnato’s heir Woolf Barnato purchased the business’s assets and became chairman.W. O. continued his design work as Barnato’s employee. The racing version of the W.O.-designed six-cylinder Speed Six—the road car was introduced in 1928—proved to be the most successful Bentley in competition, and won Le Mans in 1929 and 1930. In 1929, a supercharged, “Blower” version of the 1927 4½ Litre was developed sadly though it was not a success. Although Barnato continued racing Bentleys with distinction, and even though the company sold a hundred of its 8 Litre model, which was launched as a grand car for the ultra-rich in October 1930 (Bugatti sold three of his equivalent model, the Royale), the Great Depression took its toll and By July 1931 Barnato’s financial support had dwindled, and Bentley Motors went into voluntary liquidation with a Receiver appointed to the company. Rolls-Royce eventually bought the company in 1931 and production of the Bentley 8 Litre, which competed directly with the Rolls-Royce Phantom II, was terminated and production switched to Rolls-Royce premises in Derby and, postwar, Crewe. Rolls-Royce also acquired the Bentley showrooms in Cork Street, the service station at Kingsbury, the whole establishment at Cricklewood and Bentley himself and Barnato was invited to become a director of the new Rolls-Royce subsidiary, Bentley Motors (1931) Limited, Bentley also joined Rolls-Royce under a contract extending from 1 May 1932 to the end of April 1935 and Work began on The new Derby 3 1⁄2-litre.
Although Bentley admired Rolls-Royce’s achievements he left Rolls-Royce at the end of April 1935 with a sense of freedom. Then after A Lagonda M45R Rapide with a Meadows engine won at Le Mans in June 1935 W. O. joined The Lagonda board of directors as technical director, with the majority of the Rolls-Royce racing department staff following him to Lagonda, including Frank Stark, Reg Ingham, Donald Bastow and Stewart Tresilian, who was Chief designer of the 4480 cc 180 Bhp V12 project launched in 1937 which could go from 7 to 105 mph in top gear and to rev to 5000 rpm. However Tresilian left in early 1938 for a Hawker Siddeley subsidiary and V12 development was abandoned.
During the Second World war W. O. worked on armaments at Lagonda. towards the end of the war he began work on a new straight-6 engine as Lagonda’s V12 was too extravagant, so he developed a modern 2580 cc dual overhead cam straight-6 engine producing 105Bhp. In 1947 production of the Lagonda 2.6 litre motorcar designed by Mr W. O. Bentley, was cancelled. However this Lagonda specification was bought by David Brown & Sons (Huddersfield) Limited, gear-wheel manufacturer, along with Aston Martin to gain Bentley’s engineering expertise, and placed The under the bonnet of The Aston Martin DB2 and was used until 1959. Bentley remained as an engineer at Aston Martin-Lagonda until moving to Armstrong Siddeley, where he designed another twin-overhead-cam 3-litre engine for the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire before retiring.W. O. married three times. In 1914 he married Leonie Gore, the daughter of the ninth baronet, who tragically died in 1919 . He then married Poppy (Audrey Hutchinson) in 1920. a fun-loving society woman who disliked factories, whereas Bentley, a homely modest man loved to spend his time in the workshop and they divorced in 1931. He married Margaret Roberts Hutton née Murray in 1934 and she survived him. He had no children. Bentley died at Woking, Surrey, Friday 13 August 1971, shortly before his 83rd birthday, revered patron of The Bentley Drivers’ Club. His widow, Margaret, survived him and died in 1989.