The first design team was just five members strong.
Until the 1950s, high-end automotive manufacturers sold customers a rolling chassis, while a separate company was responsible for the body. Unibody construction killed coachbuilding, though Bentley is doing its best to keep it alive.
Bentley was one of the first manufacturers to have an in-house design department, and this year it's celebrating 70 years of existence. The design department was started in 1951 under the leadership of John Blatchley. Bentley poached him from Gurney-Nutting, one of the most famous coachbuilders of the time. It was also responsible for the "Blue Train" Bentley.
"Leading the next evolution of Bentley's design DNA is a true honor, especially after so many decades of exquisite design in our studio in Crewe. There are iconic Bentleys that were created here - beautiful cars that have stood the test of time and which inspire our styling cues to this day," said Bentley's current director of design, Andreas Mindt.
In 1951, the design department was in charge of creating proposals and sharing them with the rest of the Bentley team. As you can imagine, creating a new design was different 70 years ago. Without computer-aided design (CAD), the designers illustrated their ideas using watercolor paintings and technical sketches. These watercolor renderings would eventually be transformed into full-size 3D sculptures.
Thanks to CAD, designers can render a vehicle in 3D and ensure that all major components fit before signing off on a final design.
Bentley also uses virtual reality, which allowed the designers to create during the pandemic. "Despite the global pandemic, we have had to learn to adapt and use the tools around us to continue evolving how we design. I had at least two of my design colleagues working in different locations worldwide due to the pandemic travel restrictions preventing their return to Crewe. Using virtual reality, we could hold design reviews, assess details, alternate texture, choose color, swap materials, and yet still make progress and achieve our deadlines," said Darren Day, the head of interior design and the longest-serving member of Bentley's design team.
Day joined Bentley 27 years ago when there were five members on the design team. Today, the team is more than 50 members strong.
The Bentley design team's next significant challenger is the brand's first EV. They have the unenviable task of blending 70 years of design heritage with an all-new car that has to be futuristic. The challenge is even more challenging when you consider the pressure manufacturers are under to develop environmentally-friendly interiors. Could this be the end of Bentley peeling ultra-exclusive bulls to create stunning interiors? Volvo has already promised that all its cars will be leather-free by 2030.
We don't necessarily see it as a bad thing. The Bentley Bacalar is a fine example of how designers can create an extraordinary interior using environmentally friendly material. Even though some cows had to give up their hides for specific interior components, Bentley also used sustainable rice husk paint and 5,000-year-old Riverwood trim on the dashboard.
"Getting this design absolutely perfect will help guarantee the next chapter in this astonishing history of Bentley Design," said Mindt.