When you think of car manufacturing you might imagine the industrial factory production lines, the noise, metal conveyer belts, people with overalls and fork lift trucks and all rather engineered and clinical. Well to an extent you are on the right lines and with over 4000 people working in this small 'town', there is indeed the noise and production lines and yes fork lift trucks.
However with the manufacturing plant of Bentley at Crewe, there does seem to be a somewhat more grandeur approach to the whole system: Firstly the cars are utterly beautiful and they line the 'streets' within this factory with semi and completed cars awaiting their next procedure, the craftsmanship reeks out of every building here and the employees are all really proud to be part of a brilliant product. Over 85% of the cars made here at Crewe are shipped overseas. The world really does appreciate what they are doing with the Bentley brand.
I had the honour of a factory tour and a chance to drive the new Bentley Continental GT last week, which to be quite honest, was one of the best ways to allow my inquisitiveness to be unleashed. Being one for promoting British craftsmanship, Bentley are also extremely fortunate to continue their heritage of a unique quality build.
Taking leather from the Bavarian hills, where the climate is of a perfectly cool temperature for the cattle to graze amongst 'unwired' fields, allowing for uniform hides (minimal insect and sun damage) and wooden veneers from Valencia where the grain is so distinctive, the craftsmen have a delight when they join up the symmetry within the natural patterns when sometimes inherent 'faces' appear in the veneer. Walking into the humidified Veneer room at the factory, the aroma was simply divine; taking me right back to playing in the forests just after a rain storm, when the leaves are effervescent and the bark is moist to the touch.
Our expert on veneers explains the numerous differences between the various trees and we look at how the colour and texture is so dramatically different that choosing one for your dash you really can express your true nature within. My favourite was the dark smoked Fiddle-backed Eucalyptus veneer used in the Continental GT V8 - perhaps it was in the name, but all the veneers were so special to look at.
The continuation of the factory tour leads us to the leather craftsmen, where we found the ladies and gentlemen sewing the leather around the steering wheels. One person can sew leather around 2 steering wheels per day, with such precision when I came to sit in the black interior Continental GT with fuchsia stitching, I ensured my hands were clean and my rings and bracelet was free from this work of art.
The factory tour really allowed me to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into each and every Bentley so when I drove the luscious coloured GT in the afternoon I knew I was driving a bespoke car. The speed and sound of the V8 was sublime, with a few dual carriageways locally; I could pick up the pace and feel the energy that this luxury sports car has to offer. On my drive I came across a herd of cows crossing from one field to another. With almost a guilty expression, I hoped these local cows knew they were safe from the Bentley leather stitching department.
The Hon. Mrs Victor Bruce, well known for driving Birkin's 4½ litre Bentley, single handed, through appalling weather conditions for 24 hours, she took the Class C record at 89.57mph, and the 2000 miles and 3000 km records at the same speed for her record attempt at Montlhéry in June 1929.
As W O said, 'a remarkable achievement', which indeed it was. This and other fabulous record attempts by Mrs Victor Bruce and other women in Bentley cars will be in my book Girl Racers available from Unbound Publishers in 2014.
As part of the pledges available for my book Girl Racers, you too can experience the factory tour and a test drive in Crewe accompanied by a glass of champagne and canopies, the day will be a delightful treat.
For more information on how to pledge for a test drive please see: http://unbound.co.uk/books/girl-racers
All photos provided by Bentley Motors Archive