Bentley is a high-performance, high-luxury car maker from the U.K. Every model is hand-built using nothing but top-notch materials.
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Walter Owen Bentley, an engineer known for his range of aero engines for British fighter aircraft during World War I, most notably the Sopwith Camel, founded the company that bears his name in 1919.
In the following decade, a 3.0-litre engine allowing top speeds of 128 km/h made Bentley famous across the racing scene. Over the years, it became closely linked to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Wealthy businessman and race car driver Woolf Barnato acquired the company in 1925 and invested a lot of his money into the new venture. However, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing 12-year Great Depression put Bentley in a precarious financial position.
While death seemed a foregone conclusion, Rolls-Royce rescued the brand in 1931.
In the aftermath of World War II, which temporarily halted car production, Bentley struck back with the Mark VI in 1946. The model bowed out in 1952 after selling nearly 5,200 units. It remains Bentley's most popular car to this day.
The Mark VI actually evolved to become the R Type, which in turn gave birth to the R Type Continental – the world's fastest four-passenger automobile with a peak of 193 km/h.
In 1955, the S1 hit the market and became the last Bentley to use a six-cylinder engine. It kept improving and soldiered on for 11 years.
During the sixties, the T series made its debut, followed by two-door and Continental droptop variants. The T2 appeared in 1977.
Bentley merged with Vickers in 1980, the same year the 6.75-litre, V8-powered Mulsanne was announced. Demand was high at first, but the global recession considerably affected sales. The Mulsanne Turbo, faster than some Ferraris from 0 to 100 km/h, saw daylight in 1982 before giving way to the Turbo R, one of the company's best-selling models over the following nine years. Booking the '80s was the Mulsanne S – not to mention the Bentley Eight, which carried on until 1992.
The last decade of the 20th century marked the arrival of numerous models, including the Continental R (1991), Brooklands (1992), Continental Turbo S (1994), Continental S (1994), Azure (1995), Turbo R Sport (1996), Continental T coupe (1996) and Continental SC with 4.5-litre V8 (1998).
After that, Vickers decided to sell Rolls-Royce and Bentley to Volkswagen AG.
The Azure ceased production in 2003 just as the Continental GT stepped in. The Flying Spur, a four-door variant of the Continental, came two years later, while the resurrected Azure and Continental GTC convertible followed suit in 2006. Later, Bentley added Speed models in a move to further enhance performance.
In 2009, the Continental Supersports was unveiled in Geneva as the most powerful production car in the brand's history.
Today, Bentley sells the Mulsanne along with several versions of the Continental, including the GT, Flying Spur, GTC and Supersports.
France: Perhaps the love capital of the world? Or is that Italy? Regardless. A love affair that started with a Brit crossed country lines -- and even the English Channel -- as the latest iteration of Bentley's drop-top and I made each other's acquaintance. Starting in London, England and ending up in Le Mans, France (then back again) afforded us some alone time.
Some things in life are meant to be extravagant; weddings, first loves, Hollywood, Miley Cyrus performances at the MVAs... and Bentleys. The latest from the bespoke British Motor Works company, the 2014 Bentley Continental Flying Spur, is no exception and is as opulent and extravagant as you'd expect to come from Crewe, UK.
Tough choice: When a high-end luxury sedan is so beautiful, so powerful and so soothing to drive, would you prefer being seen in the backseat or behind the wheel?
While it's not scheduled to go on sale before 2016, the Bentley EXP 9 F concept has already generated 2,000 pre-orders. The company even plans to make a plug-in hybrid variant of its first-ever SUV.
Bentley Motors is now presenting its range of luxury home and executive furniture at the Maison & Objet fair in Paris among the ''Special Designs'' labels. The collection includes ultra-premium sofas and armchairs, as well as a bed and sideboard.
You may notice that my list includes a fair number of concept design vehicles. It's hardly surprising to find these at auto shows, yet until recently I've viewed these often weird looking contraptions as nothing more than an ego stroke for the car designers.