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Bentley's History in Le Mans

Bentley in Le Mans

A late May day in 1923 and a 3-litre Bentley leaves London for the coast. On board are two drivers, one mechanic and a few spares. Spool 79 years and one fortnight to an early June day. As you read this another Bentley is on its way to exactly the same place: Le Mans. 


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Bentley: Manufacturing Plant Crewe


Four-axis measuring machines check no fewer than 2,500 measuring points. And the achievement of joins between body panels that are almost invisible is the result of abandoning standard "hot weld" technology, which can cause distortion of panels at the weld points. Instead Crewe has adopted plasma-brazing "cold weld" technology, which leaves a pristine finish ready for painting.


Behind orange safety curtains, the plasma-welding teams can be seen at work on the major body assemblies. Elsewhere in the hall, suspended computer-controlled guns are used to assemble body sections mounted on jigs. These hand-held tools allow accurate positioning of the 6,500 spot welds required to optimise torsional rigidity on each monocoque steel bodyshell.

No other manufacturer goes in for spot-welding on this scale.

The visitor will notice that although there are fans to blow any fumes away from the welders, they raise only the lightest breeze. That is to avoid blowing dust around the Body Assembly Hall which, like every other area at Crewe, is conspicuously clean.

Everything here is done by hand, from attaching the 240 individual copper and other metal studs used in the floor pan to hold the wiring looms and carpeting in place, to applying the sealant which will later be baked in the oven. Between 540 and 560 components are used to construct each body. By the time each one leaves the assembly hall, it will incorporate some 3m of MIG wire, 1.5m of brazing, and about 200 nuts.





A computer-controlled Hemming press is an important addition to the Body Assembly Hall. This can do in 12 minutes what would once have taken a day. Loaded and operated by a four-man team, it presses outer skins onto hinged components - doors, boots and bonnets - at up to 100 tonnes. The skins are glued rather than welded, to be set in an oven no hotter than a hair drier. Two hundred and ten "closures" can be completed each week by the team.

Every car undergoes the "Monsoon Test"

Twice a year, a complete body is built in the Body Assembly Hall only to be taken apart again. This is drastic testing, but on an everyday basis, one in five components is chisel-checked for structural efficiency.

"There is a very healthy, competitive atmosphere in the bodyshop," says Team Leader Colin Morrey, who has been with the company since 1974. A look at the wallcharts which plot the progress of each team-member in terms of multi-tasking ability underlines this. There are some 13 teams, each containing ten to a dozen skilled and semi-skilled workers.

The company believes in the values of experience combined with thorough on-going training - and loyalty. Colin, like many others at Crewe, followed his father here, and his father before him.

"Many of the guys had worked in the old machine shop, but when they moved in here, few of them had ever welded before," he says. "At first it was like doing a jigsaw puzzle without the lid, but they learnt - everything has to be done in an exact sequence. They had six months of training, worked on practice cars and went to see how it was done elsewhere." Now, with build rates rising, more people are being taken on. It takes about three weeks to turn those 540-odd components into a complete, inspected bodyshell ready to go on to the next stage. Working a single eight-hour shift, the teams currently send 35 bodies on their way to the paintshop each week. And as each body goes on its way, it is already earmarked for one particular customer.

Crewe in 2006

Although outwardly the original buildings of the Crewe factory have been largely preserved, inside the clean, modern, light environment is virtually unrecognizable from the 1946 plant that emerged from the war. Today, Bentley employs a 3,900-strong workforce at Crewe, an increase of around 70 percent since 1998, and is making a major contribution to the economic development of the North West region of England.

This ultra-modern factory features some of the highest technology seen in the motor industry. Yet this high technology is blended with time-honored craftsmanship skills. All vehicles are hand assembled. Leather and wood-working skills abound, as precious wood veneers are expertly transformed into exquisite dashboards, door trims, consoles and cabinets. Leather is hand stitched, as the softest and most beautiful hides are transformed into exquisite cabin trim.

Bentley’s Mulliner Division, will personalize a Bentley in just about any way a customer demands, offering a hand-made service that no other car company can match. Located as a separate division within the Crewe factory, Mulliner is an enthusiastic and passionate team of craftsmen and women with world-class craft and technical skills. Mulliner is the direct descendant of the H.J. Mulliner coachbuilding company, founded in 1900, and became part of Bentley in 1959.

photos: Bentley


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