Fly­ing on the wings of a grand legacy

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE -

Nigel Lofkin, cus­tomer host at Bent­ley head of­fice in Crewe, UK, is pas­sion­ate about the brand. So much so that when we vis­ited CW1 re­cently, he told us how sad he feels that some Bent­ley own­ers sim­ply order their car without visit­ing the fac­tory and see­ing what goes into each model be­fore they spec their choice of ve­hi­cle.

I have to say that af­ter visit­ing the fac­tory for the sec­ond time, I am in ab­so­lute agree­ment with him. You can’t ap­pre­ci­ate the thought and crafts­man­ship that goes into ev­ery model un­til you have seen the way some­one marks ev­ery im­per­fec­tion in the leather, the finely sliced piles of wood ve­neer (Bent­ley is a cen­tre of ex­cel­lence for wood in the Volk­swa­gen Group) and, of course, the chap who mea­sures the dis­tance be­tween stitch­ing on the steer­ing wheel with a fork. Yes, a fork.

Un­der the bon­net sits a su­perb piece of tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing, but it takes a piece of cut­lery to get the best mea­sure­ments on the steer­ing wheel cor­rect. I’m sure they could use tech, yet a bloke with a fork does it all by hand.

He is not the only one ei­ther. Through­out the fac­tory there are crafts­peo­ple hard at work, from spe­cial­ists carv­ing the wood ve­neers, one of which, only for the Mul­sanne, comes from trees in Africa, to seam­stresses stitch­ing the leather. Here too is an in­ter­est­ing fact — the com­pany only uses bull leather as cow hide de­forms too eas­ily. The bulls are all from north­ern Europe where they live in fields with no fences to en­sure the leather re­mains un­dam­aged.

Wal­ter Owen Bent­ley, who started the com­pany in 1919, would be proud to see how well the com­pany has pre­served his legacy. That legacy in­cludes South African con­nec­tions.

The com­pany’s first chair­man was Woolf Bar­nato, the son of the founder of the Kim­ber­ley di­a­mond mine. The lat­est-gen­er­a­tion Mul­sanne was co­de­named Project Kim­ber­ley be­fore go­ing into fi­nal pro­duc­tion.

In more re­cent times, the com­pany’s di­rec­tor of pow­er­train en­gi­neer­ing, Paul Wil­liams, is from SA and the head of mo­tor­sport, Brian Gush, is also a South African.

We were for­tu­nate to spend time with a cou­ple of the de­sign­ers, in­clud­ing Dar­ren Day, head of ex­te­rior de­sign who took me through some of the fea­tures on the Ben­tayga SUV. He pointed out that the Ben­tayga was not an easy project, say­ing that it’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to de­sign a re­ally good-look­ing SUV be­cause of the di­men­sions.

That was clear in the orig­i­nal con­cept that was lam­basted by many, but Day says the order books filled up im­me­di­ately in spite of the crit­i­cism. The de­sign changed sig­nif­i­cantly from that con­cept and while the Ben­tayga is not every­one’s cup of tea, it re­mains true to some of the key Bent­ley de­sign el­e­ments.

We got to ex­pe­ri­ence the Ben­tayga more when we took a V8 ver­sion from the fac­tory for a cou­ple of days’ driv­ing through the pic­ture post­card Cotswolds and Ox­ford­shire.

The roads of the UK are not as per­fect as you might think and even the Ben­tayga with its air sus­pen­sion felt many of the bumps. That is prob­a­bly more be­cause of the enor­mous wheels of course, but even with a few road im­per­fec­tions, it cruised with a level of lux­ury that is in­cred­i­ble.

Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the fac­tory pro­vided a new di­men­sion to the drive. Hold­ing that hand­crafted steer­ing wheel one could ap­pre­ci­ate the crafts­man­ship that went into it. Look­ing at the wood trims in the dash, the Bent­ley wing de­sign to it and the pre­cise three rows of milling in each metal dial al­lowed an el­e­vated sense of ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what it takes to craft a Bent­ley.

This of course made ne­go­ti­at­ing the nar­row roads of the Cotswolds vil­lages a lit­tle more of an ap­pre­hen­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. Driv­ing within inches of the hedgerows and the mir­rors of cars tightly parked along nar­row vil­lage streets, I was con­scious of the size of the Ben­tayga and the per­fec­tion of its paint­work.

First stop was the beau­ti­ful gate­way to the Cotswolds, Broad­way, a town that at the height of sum­mer is full of coachloads of tourists. It was qui­eter when we were there, although still busy enough to

frus­trate our pho­tog­ra­pher, the aptly named Nick Eng­land. We man­aged to get the shot we wanted, but suf­fice to say ev­ery­where we looked there were post­card back­drops for the re­gal Bent­ley.

Be­yond the vil­lages and on larger roads with fields on ei­ther side, the Ben­tayga stretched its legs, although the con­stant changes in speed lim­its meant it never reached a can­ter let alone a gal­lop. In­stead it wafted through the coun­try­side in a gen­tle­manly man­ner, oc­ca­sion­ally re­leas­ing a bark from the ex­haust as it dropped a gear be­fore set­tling back into an el­e­gant cruise.

The drive was all very, well, Bent­ley re­ally. But un­like the Premier League foot­ballers that Lofkin says of­ten order their cars without visit­ing the fac­tory, our visit to CW1 en­hanced my ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the Ben­tayga.

It is not sim­ply the sum of its parts, it is the sum of Bent­ley’s his­tory and the sum of years, decades even, of ded­i­ca­tion from those who lov­ingly cre­ate each com­po­nent.

The Ben­tayga, like other mod­els in the range, is some­thing grand, some­thing to be ap­pre­ci­ated. It is a Bent­ley.

The Ben­tayga V8 wafts through a Cotswold vil­lage.

Above: Bent­ley is a brand with some se­ri­ous his­tory. We had a new level of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the in­te­rior af­ter visit­ing the fac­tory in Crewe, left.

Bent­ley cus­tomer host Nigel Lofkin ex­plains the wood ve­neer pro­duc­tion process.

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