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Bentley Motors Limited (/ˈbɛntli/) is a British manufacturer and marketer of luxury cars and SUVs—and a subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group since 1998.
Headquartered in Crewe, England, the company was founded as Bentley Motors Limited by W. O. Bentley in 1919 in Cricklewood, North London—and became widely known for winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, and 2003.
18 January 1919
H. M. Bentley&W. O. Bentley
, United Kingdom
Prominent models extend from the historic sports-racing Bentley 4½ Litre and Bentley Speed Six; the more recent Bentley R Type Continental, Bentley Turbo R, and Bentley Arnage; to its current model line—including the Continental Flying Spur, Continental GT, Bentley Bentayga and the Mulsanne—which are marketed worldwide, with China as its largest market as of November 2012.
Today most Bentleys are assembled at the company’s Crewe factory, with a small number assembled at Volkswagen’s Dresden factory, Germany, and with bodies for the Continental manufactured in Zwickau and for the Bentayga manufactured at the Volkswagen Bratislava Plant.
The joining and eventual separation of Bentley and Rolls-Royce followed a series of mergers and acquisitions, beginning with the 1931 purchase by Rolls-Royce of Bentley, then in receivership. In 1971, Rolls-Royce itself was forced into receivership and the UK government nationalised the company—splitting into two companies the aerospace division (Rolls-Royce Plc) and automotive (Rolls-Royce Motors Limited) divisions—the latter retaining the Bentley subdivision. Rolls-Royce Motors was subsequently sold to engineering conglomerate, Vickers and in 1998, Vickers sold Rolls-Royce to Volkswagen AG.
Intellectual property rights to both the name Rolls-Royce as well as the company’s logo had been retained not by Rolls-Royce Motors, but by aerospace company, Rolls-Royce Plc, which had continued to license both to the automotive division. Thus the sale of “Rolls-Royce” to VW included the Bentley name and logos, vehicle designs, model nameplates, production and administrative facilities, the Spirit of Ecstasy and Rolls-Royce grille shape trademarks (subsequently sold to BMW by VW)—but not the rights to the Rolls-Royce name or logo. The aerospace company, Rolls-Royce Plc, ultimately sold both to BMW AG.