Robots and motorized arms developing a precise, fascinating and devastating choreography. That is the image one expects when entering an automobile production plant. A post-industrial dance in which any hint of humanity disappears and manual wisdom is relegated to the flick of a switch. This is not the case, however, of the Bentley factory in Crewe, a city near Manchester (Great Britain) in which since 1938 the legendary brand builds its exclusive vehicles almost by hand: by hand, in a team coordinated in an apparently intuitive but studied way, assimilated in a natural way, the story of a myth is built.
In a relaxed atmosphere in which a chain of arms takes turns to assemble the different parts that have previously been completed by hand. “We have clients who obviously own other high-end cars and who are no longer impressed by certain things, but when they come to supervise the construction of their Bentley and I say ‘do you see that engine being assembled in that body? car ‘, they get excited, it’s a surprising moment for them ”, explains Nigel, our personal guide, who has been working for the British brand for more than 30 years, just like other members of his family did before and in which he has held various positions.
Among them, one of his specialties was the work of the leather that covers the steering wheel, the seats and other elements of the vehicle. An artisan work for which learning takes several years due to the delicacy of this semi-elastic material “that does not stay still”, as described by Nigel himself with a smile when we pass in front of the area where the leather covers for the steering wheels are sewn by hand, and in which the The dozen workers who usually take about three or four hours to make a single piece are careful.
At this Pyms Lane plant there are no less than 3,600 expert professionals who, out of nowhere and with the nobler materials, they build the different and admired Bentley models. An astonishing figure that takes shape in one of the assembly lines, that of the Continental –the brand’s sports car par excellence–, which has 62 workstations and a single robot in operation. Even more astonishing is the production line of the Mulsanne – the most ‘aristocratic’ – in which 144 employees work who take two weeks to complete each vehicle (although, working on several simultaneously, they complete four each day). An incomparable ratio in any other vehicle, no longer high-end, but even luxury.
The apparent devotion that Bentley workers use to carry out their task gives the vehicles that leave this place a discretion and solidity that in some way are values shared by their owners as well. Both the aforementioned Continental, the Bentayga or the Flying Spur – a little less the Mulsanne, with a limousine spirit -, they are vehicles that have elegance in their DNA. They do not need a driver or exclamation points. Nor do they express the need to draw attention to oneself, because they know that quality is something subtle that is enjoyed from within, a modesty present since the inception of this brand.
The engineer Walter Owen Bentley decided to stop working in military aeronautics to dedicate himself to the construction of a vehicle that was faster but also quieter and surely those that were produced in those years. In 1920 he sold his first copy, and only four years later would he win at Le Mans. A victory that would repeat between 1927 and 1930 and that would be based on the sophistication of its engine, which remains one of its main claims today.
Despite these successes, the 1930s and its depressive economic cycle after the crash of 29 put at risk the continuity of a business that based its success on exceptionality, but the brand was rescued by Rolls-Royce. It is then that the classic image of the Bentley is outlined through the Speed Six model, which was tremendously innovative for its time: a simple line with a low roof and a muscular rear that is reminiscent of a peaked cap. This structure was taken up and reinforced by the prestigious body design firm Mulliner in the mid-1950s – which already collaborated in manufacturing the Bentley chassis in 1923 -, giving rise to the R-Type Continental, which is the predecessor of the Continental GT. A timeless classic that hardly needs updating.
Mulliner’s history, however, dates back several centuries. Its first carriages are dated to 1500, but the British company established itself in its sector by being chosen by the court of Elizabeth I to take charge of the construction and maintenance of the Royal Mail Post in 1760. With the advent of propulsion vehicles, at the end of the 19th century, Robert Bouvier Mulliner, visionary, redirected the business to motor bodies, becoming one of the most demanded builders by the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie.
At the beginning of the last century the engines arrived at his Mayfair workshop, in London, and Mulliner conceived a different body for each one with the excellence that characterizes this company. It was in the 1920s that he began collaborating assiduously with Bentley before joining the Crewe builder in 1956 to develop his designs exclusively. The second half of the 20th century was the period of consolidation of the brand, which followed the developments of the Rolls in parallel while interpreting the distinction of the latter in an autonomous way.
Since 1998, Bentley is part of the Volkswagen group, which has incorporated its technological know-how and also the necessary investment so that the British brand can go further in its effort to continue producing, we could almost say manufacturing, these unique vehicles. Following, yes, the tastes and wishes of its future owners, who can choose even the smallest detail of the components that will make up your future car. Personalization is, indeed, one of the hallmarks. A custom vehicle made by the wise hands of Bentley.