Race cars are cool. At least, I think so. Motorsport is cool, especially GT racing. I can imagine some people find the rather large Aston Martins I love so much a strange choice for a race car. They are big and rather heavy. I never thought much of that…until I saw a Bentley Continental GT3.
Positively the biggest race (?) car I’ve ever seen and, oh, that sound! Every time my best friend and I now see a Bentley Continental on the public road we happily proclaim “They race them buggers!”. I have seen these big boys race a few times now and I’m still amazed at how they manage to go so fast (yes, they win!).
When I heard Bentley Motors opened their doors to the general public I was on the phone like a shot. Result: a fascinating factory tour.
The tour starts at the gorgeous new showroom called CW1 House in Crewe. Several cars are on display and open so you can explore to your heart’s content. Of course the materials used for the cars are on display, so you can pick just the right colour for the exterior and matching leather for the interior. I would love to, but they are a little bit above my budget.
In a corner there is a display of some of the merchandise Bentley has on offer. Probably most people would get away with a key ring or a mug, because not everyone wants (or can afford) a GBP 4,500 bag, no matter how lovely they are.
Of course I am not drawn to handbags (ahem), but I was drawn to the gorgeous Bentley Speed 8 bearing the number 7 which is positioned next to the doors. This car was the Le Mans winner of 2003. Now I could give you lots and lots of details on this particular car and Bentley’s racing heritage, but that would result in an essay rather than a blog post. I can however show you the car.
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For the factory tours they like to keep the groups small. I was one of only three guests, which means you get a lot of time to have a good look around and ask questions. Our host (I don’t dare call him ‘tour guide’; he is much more than that!) was Mr. Lee Grogan who has seen a lot of the company. He made his way to his current position via the production line and being chauffeur for SMT members and distinguished guests.
He seems to know everyone there and has a lot to say (which is a good thing on a factory tour).
After being transported to the factory itself we got to see the Lineage Exhibition and told about the company’s history. Considering Mr. W.O. Bentley was born in the late 19th century you can imagine this company has been around for a while. The Lineage Exhibition isn’t very large, but it is home to five classic Bentleys and a lot of memoribilia. The displays are often changed, because “some of our customers like to come back and we don’t want them to see the same things over and over”. Very considerate.
I love classic cars and was very happy we spent quite some time with the older models. The history is quite extensive and Mr. Grogan managed to sum it all up quite nicely. Throughout the tour I noticed he can tell a model from its badge, the tail lights or even the exhaust. Oh, and he seems to know every colour, even the ones that are specifically requested by customers and not to be used by others.
After the Lineage Exhibition we went onto the factory floor. Photography prohibited, for very obvious reasons.
I have been on other factory tours (only three, but still enough to compare) and, as was to be expected, some things are the same, others are different.
Compared to Lotus the line itself is run in a similar way. Every station has an certain amount of time in which to do the work. At Lotus the car moves on after this time, at Bentley the car moves to the next station very, very slowly. In both cases – and I would imagine at every car factory in the world – you can stop the line, but you don’t want to. Again, for obvious reasons.
We were shown how the cars are manually assembled. The doors take a different route: at the start they are removed from the car and sent on their own path. They are assembled separately and then reunited with the car later on.
Let’s compare again: at Aston Martin only a few people at any given time are working on one car’s interior. This is done to ensure constant quality and consistancy of the work. At Bentley that works the same way. They have four people assigned to one interior.
We spent some time looking at how a steering wheel is covered and stitched. We were shown the types of stitching available and in which colours.
There were several convertible cars on the production line and I asked if Bentley also creates hard-top convertibles. They don’t.
Why? They don’t want to limit the boot space and there is a chance the parts of the roof will not line up properly when closing it which may cause leakage. Fair enough.
The entire experience takes about two hours and 30 minutes. You may think that’s a long time. You may think that’s a bit boring, especially after having been on other factory tours. You’d be wrong.
Of course there are similarities, but each manufacturer will do things their way. Each will create things differently. Some buy parts from other companies, some create everything from scratch.
Most of all, every company has a different history.
I am not giving you Bentley’s history, because:
1. I really don’t want to end up writing an essay;
2. if you are curious, you should go on this factory tour yourself.
Bentleys may not be the car of choice for everyone, but they do have a story to tell and, most of all, they race them buggers!
And that was all it took for me.