WO Bentley is a name as instant a symbol of ‘British-ness’ as Burberry, Barbour and Aston Martin. There’s a historic and somewhat ironic link between Bentley and Aston Martin, too, which goes back to 1912 and a hill on Lord Rothschild’s Buckinghamshire estate. WO didn’t start with motor cars. His first road experience was via a motorcycle. In 1906 he acquired a 3hp Quadrant, a rugged machine that had seen success in endurance events. Perhaps encouraged by the bike’s ability, WO entered the 400-mile London-Edinburgh Trial the following year and won a gold medal.
WO and two of his brothers, Arthur and Horace who had also bought motorcycles, became part of a group of motorsport enthusiasts and entered trials and races as often as they could. Arthur, upon his trusty Triumph, won a premier award and WO followed with a pair of gold medals. WO then expanded his motorcycle stable with first a Rex, then an American-made Indian, and entered them in the Tourist Trophy races. This early excitement in motorsport competition spurred him on to purchase his first car: a vee-twin, chain-drive Riley. A Parisian-built Sizaire-Naudin soon followed.
In 1912 brother Horace saw an advertisement in The Times. The UK concession for the French-built Doriot, Flandrin & Parant (DFP) was for sale. The two brothers bought it, set up a business from premises in Hanover Street and proceeded to sell the cars to the British public. WO carefully considered the various models that they now had at their disposal, and decided that the 12/15hp tourer would be the most responsive to some performance tuning.
On 15 June 1912, WO Bentley set the class record in this car at the Aston Clinton hillclimb – his first competitive event aboard a motor car. Of course the ‘Aston’ name gave something else to motoring history, too. In 1914 Lionel Martin climbed the hill in a tuned Singer, and he registered his new ‘special’ car as an Aston Martin the following year.