Exclusive: As Bentley Motors’ celebrates its 100-year anniversary, Tempus looks at the future of Britain’s most iconic motoring brand

By Rachel Ingram | 03 Jun 2019 | Speed

Tempus speaks to Bentley's director of design Stefan Sielaff at our world exclusive cover shoot

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* In Tempus' exclusive cover shoot, we celebrate the first 100 years of Bentley with a classic 1929 Bentley 41⁄2 Litre Birkin ‘Blower’, the new Bentley Continental GT Convertible and the Breitling Jet Team, in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum Duxford [photography © Mark Riccioni]

On 10 July, Britain’s most iconic motoring brand, Bentley Motors, celebrates its centenary. Not only is this a chance to look at the manufacturer’s incredible service to motoring, it’s a chance to assess the evolution that continues to make it the country’s most powerful, and luxurious, producer of high-performance grand tourers.

Over the 100 years since Bentley was founded by WO Bentley in 1919, the company has been a pioneer of automotive innovation, while setting a precedent for motor racing – the brand received a staggering five victories at Le Mans in the 1920s, plus a sixth in 2003. It has also set new standards for luxury in motoring, thanks to its dedication to premium performance, fine craftsmanship and high-quality materials.

“As you can imagine, to celebrate the centenary of a luxury brand like Bentley is a big challenge,” says Stefan Sielaff, director of design and director of Mulliner, Bentley Motors. “Bentley’s very much related to heritage, but the anniversary also gives us the chance to look into the future. How do we continue with our brand? What is the future of luxury? How does society change? How do trends change? What are the key indicators for our brand and our product in the future?”

The answer to these questions comes in the form of the Centenary Concept Car, which will be unveiled at Bentley’s anniversary event on 10 July. Giving us the inside scoop on the soon-to-be-revolutionary vehicle, Sielaff reveals that the launch will act as a statement of intent from the brand that combines the team’s aspirations in regards to technology, design, sustainability and social responsibility.

The concept car is just one of the eagerly awaited innovations designed to celebrate the anniversary – other highlights include the limited-edition vehicle Mulsanne WO Edition by Mulliner, which pays tribute to Bentley’s founder and even contains part of his very own car, and the Breitling Premier Bentley Centenary Limited Edition timepiece, developed in collaboration with the motoring brand’s long-standing watch partner. >>

Related: 100 years of pace and elegance: how the First Edition Bentley Continental GT Convertible is starting a new century in style

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* The classic 1929 Bentley 41⁄2 Litre Birkin ‘Blower’ in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum Duxford [photography © Mark Riccioni]

In Tempus' exclusive cover shoot, we celebrate the first 100 years of Bentley by showcasing a classic 1929 Bentley 41⁄2 Litre Birkin ‘Blower’ (developed by Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin and driven in the historic Le Mans 24-hour race in 1930) and the new Bentley Continental GT Convertible in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum Duxford – an airfield as historic as the cars themselves. We also speak exclusively with Sielaff about how his team manages to preserve Bentley’s heritage in the modern age, the careful balance between design and technology, the power of British craftsmanship... and what Bentley enthusiasts can look forward to in the next 100 years.

100 years on, how does Bentley Motors ensure that it’s always ahead of the curve?
As you can imagine, it’s design. We are in contact with a lot of colleagues outside of car industry. The car industry is normally very slow – it takes us five years to develop a new car – so we talk to fashion designers, architects, product designers, furniture designers, and so on, from industries that are more fast-paced. We talk to them about how they observe the development of society and the movement towards sustainability and social responsibility. It’s become more and more clear that this is something we have to face and integrate in our cars in the future, not only with the power frame and the technology, but also with the design language and the materials. It’s a holistic project.

What can you tell us about the concept car?
I can’t say too much because otherwise it would spoil the product, but it will deal with a new propulsion technology. It will tackle the concepts of driving and being driven. It will deal with sustainability, with social responsibilities and with new and alternative materials. With this launch, we will not only create the technology statement for the future, we will also give a design statement or, perhaps we could say a sociological or a society statement from our point of view on what is the future of luxury.

Does technology lead the design or vice versa?
I’d say its half-half – designers are in constant discussion with the engineers. For example, next week we have an engineering workshop where E-designers are participating to evaluate the future of Bentley and the next steps we must take. Therefore, I think we influence technological innovations, while engineers develop the creative technology that we should incorporate into the cars. If you take the very simple example, the first time they build a full-electric Bentley, it has to be obvious that it is still a Bentley. Every little kid and every old grandpa should be able to say, “Wow, this is a Bentley,” but it will look dramatically different to our Bentleys of today, and the Bentleys of the past, because of the technology.

How will you ensure that, through design, these electric cars will still look ‘like a Bentley’?
The first question always tends to be, “Is it a Bentley?” And we have to say “Yes.” The second question is, “Do we want to differentiate the electric Bentley from combustion Bentley?” So, our job is the ensure that, whatever we do, it is always a Bentley – all new products must contain the design DNA, the design language, and criteria of Bentley. And then, we have to create the technology necessities that are different with electric cars to a combustion engine car. It’s like being a three-Michelin-star chef. They have to reinvent themselves all the time, otherwise they would cook the same thing customers were eating 100 years ago, while the demands of the guests are different. So we have new ingredients, we have new spices, and all of a sudden, with the help of an extremely innovative designer, we have an innovative new product. >>

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* 1929 Bentley 41⁄2 Litre Birkin ‘Blower’ with the new Bentley Continental GT Convertible, in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum Duxford [photography © Mark Riccioni]

How has Bentley been adapting to meet demand for more sustainable products?
We’ve been working on alternatives that are suitable for a more sustainable or vegan lifestyle and a more ecological and responsible lifestyle. When you drive a luxury product like the Bentley, it’s a social statement, a statement that says we are not destroying the world with our carbon footprint and with the materials and the ingredients we are using.

Do you think your dedication to British craftsmanship will continue to propel the brand’s popularity around the world?
Absolutely. Our young Chinese customers tell us, “We only buy the Bentley because it is such a British product. If you would produce a Bentley in China, we never would buy. We would not appreciate the brand.” This ties into what’s happening with the European Union and Brexit. While I was working in Germany, I noticed we’ve lost a lot of our local heritage and our local culture. Everything is the same in the end. In every city you go, you will only find Hermès and Gucci and Louis Vuitton. When I was a student in Italy 40 years ago, I bought the special olive oil you couldn’t buy back home to Munich. Or I’d buy a Stilton cheese in London. These days, we’ve lost a lot of local specialities. In the luxury industry, it’s about local products and local produce, such as creating a piece of fabric on a 150- or 200-year-old loom. Craftsmanship technology has been almost forgotten, but those that remain contain the feeling of luxury, they contain the human heart that robots are not able to deliver. This is the product of the future.

Photography: Mark Riccioni
Shoot direction: Georgia Peck

Read the full interview and more exclusive content, news and reviews in Tempus Magazine's Speed Edition, available now

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* Details from the classic 1929 Bentley 41⁄2 Litre Birkin ‘Blower’ [photography © Mark Riccioni]
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