Walter Owen Bentley, (MBE) was an English engineer; designer of aero engines; designer and racer of motor cars and founder of Bentley Motors Limited in Cricklewood near London.
He was known as “W. O.” without any need to add the word Bentley. He was born as the ninth child to Alfred Bentley, a British businessman and Emily nee Waterhouse in 1888. From 1902 to 1905, he attended the Clifton College, a public school in Clifton, Bristol. He left the school at the age of 16 and started to work as an apprentice railway engineer at the Great Northern Railway at Doncaster, Yorkshire where he gained knowledge and skill that would later help him create Bentley cars. W. O. completed apprenticeship in 1910. Afterwards, he studied briefly theoretical engineering at King’s College London.
In 1912, W. O. established his first company. Together with his brother H. M., he founded the Bentley and Bentley Company which was specialized in selling the DFP cars. Soon, however, he started making aluminum alloy pistons for the DFP engine. After the outbreak of the First World War, he started to build rotary aero-engines. Meanwhile, he also started to make plans for his own range of cars that would bear his name.
Almost immediately after the end of the First World War, W.O. and H.M. founded their own car company – Bentley Motors Limited. But they did not begin testing the first Bentley 3 Liter until the early 1920. One year later, the first Bentley was delivered.
In 1919, W.O. Bentley, an engineering genius obsessed by speed, focused on his dream of creating a car bearing his name. That October, the first Bentley engine came to life and the first cars were delivered to the public in September of 1921. It did not take long before they were earning acclaim in hill climbs and at Brooklands.
Bentley entered a car in the 1922 Indianapolis 500 with works driver Douglas Hawkes and riding mechanic H.S. “Bertie” Browning. Hawkes completed the full distance in a modified road car, finishing 13th with an average speed of 74.95 mph. The car was then taken back to the UK for the 1922 RAC Tourist Trophy.
During the 1920’s Bentley was successful in both racing and setting new speed records. W. O. Bentley was persuaded to take part in the very first 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1923. This race was won by Andre Legache and Rene Leonard for Chenard et Walcker, while Captain John F. Duff and Frank Clement who were racing with the Bentley 3 Litre Sport took the fourth place.
One year later, the two drivers won the first Le Mans for Bentley. The brand solidified its performance heritage at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning the prestigious race in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930.