A-Z of marques: No.5 Bentley

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The marque: Tyre-smoking stately homes on wheels, finally freed from Rolls-Royce's property portfolio.

The history: Walter Owen Bentley started his car company in 1919, and by the mid-1920s his hefty sports tourers were among Britain's most covetable cars. They also made a very particular noise, especially the four-and-a-half-litre which had just four huge cylinders. Racing versions dominated the Le Mans 24-hour race, their drivers were the toast of high-society daredevilry, and all was fabulous until Bentley's customers lost their affluence in the 1929 Wall Street crash.

It was the end for Bentley individuality. Rolls-Royce bought the company, and Lagonda the engineering talents of "WO". The cars became thinly-disguised Rolls-Royces, and by the early 1980s the marque was almost moribund. Then Rolls-Royce bolted a fat turbocharger to a Bentley Mulsanne (aka Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit), stiffening the suspension, lighting the true-blue touchpaper and standing back.

It got better as later cars became more potent, but Rolls-Royce was in financial trouble. After a battle over the spoils between Volkswagen and BMW, a deal led to the separation of Bentley (now VW-owned) and Rolls-Royce (in BMW's custody).

Bentley remains at the factory in Crewe, the cars still set their tyres aflame, and soon the new Continental GT coupé will wow the world. Its designer worked for Skoda.

Defining model: 1928-30 Bentley four-and-a-half-litre, raced at Le Mans and described by Ettore Bugatti as the world's fastest lorries.

They say: Of course, we are still British.

We say: But it took the Germans to do it properly.

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