The Bentley factory is located in Crewe, England, a pastoral farm town where time seems to stand still. The roads wind around the green rolling pastures enveloped in gray afternoon mist. In the evenings, cozy pubs provide warmth, serving bowls of thick stews and hearty ales over twinkly candlelight. It’s quaint, here; very farm-to-table. Lest you forgot where Bentleys come from, welcome to the English countryside.
Bentleys don’t fall from the sky. The proof is in the sheet metal painstakingly hammered out in this remote 75 year-old factory. In fact, this is one of the privileged aspects of Bentley ownership. Customers can actually get an up-close of view of the process in Crewe when they arrange to visit the factory for a guided tour. But the factory, like most places that have transitioned from the old world, has made its adjustments for a new age. Crewe is where artisanal meets advanced technology, which may just be the definition of new luxury.
This is no ordinary plant — the assembly line is spotless and the machinists work in a steady meticulous pulse that carries over from the line to the design studios where various incarnations of the Bentley Mulsannes and Continentals are produced. Airbourne dust is shushed away. No factory smoke in sight.
“I believe every designer is an artist,” says David Hilton, head of exterior design. “They should be able to do big paintings.” Guests who visit Bentley begin their tour in a gallery where a one-of-one 1952 Embiricos Special Bentley is on display. Imagine a car that clocked 114.64 mph on the Brooklands track in 1952. It’s making a tour of the factory this fall. A rare 1938 Bentley R Type is also on display -– only 208 were produced of this model. A glossary of Bentley designer terms is displayed on the gallery wall, including such curiosities as “teddy bear ears,” “poke yoke,” and “ha-ha.” But what actually is going on in the nearby design studio is off-limits, adding a slight air of mystery. Presumably, the next great Bentleys are being designed behind closed doors. While Bentley has highlighted its English roots, its customers travel from the far reaches of the world. Markets have grown incrementally in China, India and throughout the Middle East in the past decade.
The factory is housed in a series of buildings including a woodshop and leather area. Engines are built in another pristine building, and as Bentleys feature more sophisticated electronics, the engineers spend time carefully wiring fiber optics in each car. Robots bond lightweight aluminum to achieve the highest degree of accuracy. Guides take visitors through the factory, from stripped sheet metal to finished car. It takes an average of 600 hours of labor to complete a car.
Stepping into the leather and wood departments, a time-traveling sensation takes over. Artisans labor over hand-stitched leather seats. Woodworkers massage and shape the fine woods until the surfaces are smoothed and varnished. In the Mulliner arena, the more inventive customizations are performed, including the addition of refrigerators for customers who want their Bentley just…so.
At Crewe, it’s perfection, technical skill and beauty wrapped in one — what one would expect of a Bentley.