Editor’s note: David Krumboltz’s regular column is on hiatus until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its place, we’re running some of Dave’s favorite past columns. This one originally ran in July 2018.
Bentley’s founder was Walter Owen Bentley, born in 1888. He left school at the age of 16 to work as an apprentice railway engineer and later briefly studied engineering at King’s College in London.
He started his first company at age 24, primarily selling a French car, DFP (Doriot, Flandrin & Parant). A little later he started manufacturing aluminum alloy pistons for the DFP engines. In 1919, Bentley and a brother, Horace Millner Bentley, started Bentley Motors Limited in northern England’s Cricklewood. But it was 1921 before the first Bentley was sold.
Bentley initially earned their excellent reputation through racing. A Bentley won the Le Mans endurance race in 1924, 1927, 1928 and 1930, but the company was undercapitalized and in financial trouble. However, the 1924 the victory convinced investor Woolf Barnato to help with the finances of the company and while that saved the company, Walter Bentley became just an employee of Barnato.
Evidently in 1931, Barnato decided enough was enough and refused to financially support the company further. This was after the stock market crash of 1929. Receivership followed, and the company was purchased by Rolls-Royce. For a second time, founder Bentley became an employee, and not a happy one, this time for Rolls-Royce until his contract expired in 1935.
For a while, Bentley and Rolls-Royce vehicles were identical in appearance except for the traditional Bentley grill and the squared-off radiator of Rolls-Royce. There have been a number of mergers, acquisitions and receiverships regarding Rolls-Royce and Bentley up till today, with Rolls-Royce owned by Volkswagen and Bentley by BMW.
Most Bentleys are still manufactured in England, and as of recent years China was their largest market. This edition’s Bentley started off as just a chassis with all the running gear plus the distinctive Bentley radiator and grill. The beautiful body is one of 12 built by Kellner, a French company that built auto bodies before World War II but not after.
“During the War, they were part of the underground in France, and the Germans caught and killed them,” explained Gordon Johnson, of Alamo, who owns this issue’s vehicle, a 1934 3½-liter Derby Bentley.
This edition’s vehicle was the Paris show car in 1934 for Bentley and Kellner. This drop-head coupe has three positions for the top: top up, top down or top folded back to open over the front seats. After the Paris car show, the ownership varied from European nobility to Roy Orbison in 1967, the country music singer from Tennessee. While there, the car deteriorated and then passed through a number of owners, with one Ohio owner paying just $17,500 for this Bentley. In 2014, Johnson acquired the Derby Bentley (Derby, the English town where the car body was built, is pronounced “Darby”).
“I was just looking for something I