Synonymous with all things elegant, elite and quintessentially British, Bentley Motors has been a household name throughout a full century of innovation. From high tier racing to luxury and leisure, the company’s signature models have built a reputation in all corners of the automotive world. Counting designers, engineers and technological artisans, among its 4,000-strong staff, the Bentley team continues to surpass expectations, catapulting the company vision into the future while remembering its roots. Often exhibited at high profile showcases, Bentley concept cars are built side by side with the Mulliner division, which features Coachbuilt, Classic and Collection vehicles built for dedicated owners. Models are hand-built, and tested at the Bentley factory, located in Crewe, England. My visit to the factory introduced me to not only some of the employees that make each vehicle possible, but also the space that allows it all to happen seamlessly; the factory campus is at once a canvas for advancements in design and a powerhouse run by automotive experts.
Blending custom design, restored classics, and utmost luxury, Mulliner models are built to stand out, giving them their own separate class within the Bentley factory. Evidence points back to Mulliner having specialized in saddles in late 16th century Britain and, in keeping with the times, moving on to establish a 1786 carriage building contract with the Royal Mail. Today’s Coachbuilt Mulliner category encourages prospective owners to stay involved in the design process as their future vehicle materializes. An initial in person consultation kicks off the process, which remains highly collaborative and conversational throughout. When it comes to details, the choices are endless. Elements as subtle as the hue of the car’s interior are all up to the buyer, and no two custom Mulliners end up exactly alike. The result of this unique process is a highly customized vehicle constructed with the same British spirit that brought Bentley roaring to life back in 1919. The latest addition to the Coachbuilt category, the Bentley Bacalar, is a two door, roofless Barchetta- style model, also featuring a wraparound cockpit cabin. One of only twelve, the Bacalar is a fine example of Bentleys’ new production angles and timeless emphasis on personality as much as performance.
The Mulliner Collections category redefines automotive luxury, focusing on customized bonus features, as well as meticulous attention to detail. The goal is to bring your vehicle as close to absolute perfection as it can get, with plenty of features added solely for your comfort and convenience. These vehicles are where the laters meets the leisurely, placing every aspect of your vehicle at your fingertips. The third Mulliner category, known as the Classics, restores, re-interprets and modernizes Bentley archetypes, releasing a limited series of old- school icons made to last in today’s highly evolving market.
The Bentley Blower Continuation Series is a recent Mulliner Classic project that embodies the line’s exclusivity; inspired by the 1929 4.5 liter “Blower,” the series includes twelve icons that uphold the fiery spirit of a true renegade. The Blower series is set to be the first pre-war series of its kind, duplicating original design elements and techniques to produce near- exact replicas of a century- old model. All of the vehicles are pre-sold to a dozen lucky collectors, but I was lucky enough to see five of them in person at the Crewe factory. One enthusiastic Blower owner I encountered during my tour at Mulliner insisted on learning and taking part in the building process of his brand new vehicle in real time, a special request that was promptly accommodated by the Mulliner team. Another insisted that each member of production staff sign a part of his car before it was covered by the interior, sealing each individual’s contribution inside forever. All five were in various stages of completion, and viewing them together was a great example of just how process-based creating a Bentley vehicle is; the relentless use of hand tools alongside modern machinery strikes a contrast that highlights the persistence (and vital importance) of craft.
At the factory, an entire room devoted to wood samples from all over the world represents the design team’s commitment to seeking out the perfect finish without interrupting nature; Bentley only uses trees that have already fallen due to natural circumstances. Despite an obvious love for traditional materials, the design team doesn’t hesitate to experiment with alternatives, blending approaches to achieve that unmistakable Bentley look.
I was taken aback by the atmosphere of the Crewe headquarters before setting eyes on a single car- in fact, I was surprised at the way it defied any expectation of what a factory should look like. The mosaic of solar panels over the car park, on site beehives, and abundance of greenery gave it the feel of an ultra contemporary think space with a focus on sustainability; and, in a way, that’s exactly what Bentley has become. Compared to other big- name car manufacturers, Bentley has stayed small, focusing on perfecting design rather than over-expanding, resulting in a refined approach to making. The company’s size makes each Bentley all the more coveted, but also keeps its environmental footprint smaller than many of today’s best selling car brands. The company’s “Beyond 100 Manifesto,” released last year, lists the brand’s goals to define how luxury can meet sustainability and become a mutually beneficial force.
Every employee I had the pleasure of meeting was clearly a Bentley insider, meaning their skills matched their passion for the legendary brand. The authenticity of the staff made the Crewe location more of a communal studio than a factory, with each member contributing unique insight to see the final product come to life.
Far from the assembly line cliche, the Bentley facility is highly focused on artisanship and preserving certain skills from generation to generation. Whether it be that of experienced leather crafters, wood workers or upholsterers, the hand still plays a crucial role in the Bentley manufacturing process; the smallest detail of any given vehicle was an individual, creative decision meant to uphold a standard first set at the 24 Hours of Le Mans nearly one hundred years ago.
As I wrapped up my tour, I realized just how struck I was by the immense level of organization defining the space, and how much of that came through in the Bentley’s themselves. Small scale production, a tight knit staff and countless quality checks were evident around every corner, and the amount of brand- new Bentleys lighting up the roads around the factory emphasized the fact that every vehicle is professionally tested. It was reassuring to discover that one of the automotive world’s biggest names stays humble by honoring its past and promoting artisanship, all while constantly thinking ahead to a better future.