Keston Pelmore, whose initiative launched the Club, was an enthusiastic young owner of Vintage Bentleys, commencing with a rather tired 3 litre he purchased in 1933. Captivated by the experience of "REAL motoring such as I had never experienced before", Pelmore, embodying the all-consuming enthusiasm and exhilaration that Bentley motoring has engendered for more than 80 years, wanted to share this experience with likeminded fortunate individuals. Having decided on his course of action, Pelmore had printed up a number of cards, headed 'Bentley Drivers Club', which he affixed to the windscreen of every Vintage Bentley he could find in the various car parks at Brooklands during the first meeting of the season in March 1936. The invitation was to the owner to contact the above if he was interested in the formation of such a Club, and was then invited to attend an inaugural meeting at his small bachelor flat in Sloane Avenue, London SW3.
For the actual report of the origins of the Club written by Keston Pelmore in July 1938, click here
So good was the response - 26 people turned up - it became necessary for a phone call to be made to the nearby Boltons Hotel in Earls Court Road, who agreed to provide a suitable private room in which the meeting could re-convene. A Committee was elected, and within a month, a run was organised to the Old Bell at Hurley in Berkshire which attracted no less than 31 Bentleys. Later that year, a 2 lap race on the Outer Circuit took place at Brooklands which attracted 14 entrants. Clearly, Keston Pelmore had successfully identified the need for a Club specifically for these iconic and inspirational motor cars.
The Club ended 1936 with 54 Members, which rose steadily to 110 by the outbreak of war in 1939. During that time, Woolf Barnato agreed to become President, and other notable Members included Dr JD Benjafield, Bertie Kensington-Moir, Frank Clement and WO Bentley himself, who always expressed surprise, but pleasure that the cars that he had created should continue to exercise such a hold over their owners. Sadly, the conflict brought Bentley activity to a complete halt, and the conflict took the lives of some of those pre-war pioneers, including Keston Pelmore.
In July 1945 as many of the pre-war Members as possible were contacted, and before long Stanley Sedgwick commenced his 50 years of service to the Club, initially taking the position of Honorary Secretary. Those early post-war years saw a spectacular revival in the Club's fortunes, with the Membership rising steeply to over 1,000 by 1950. Many landmarks were created during that 5 year period:
In January 1946, Briggs Cunningham became the first overseas Member, and that same year saw the first of what we now recognise as our Annual Summer Rally & Concours d'Elegance, which took place in Kensington Gardens (the only car club ever to be afforded the privilege of the use of this venue).
In 1947 WO Bentley agreed to become Patron of the Club.
Darell Berthon, Barbara Gunstone and WO Bentley
at Club HQ in Long Crendon in the sixties
In October 1948 Members of the Club played an important part in the organisation and running of the first Grand Prix at Silverstone, the Club going on to becoming one of the select group of motoring clubs to initiate Club Racing at this circuit the following year.
That same year, the Club recorded both a huge loss, and a great gain. Sadly, our first President, Woolf Barnato, died but was replaced by Stanley Sedgwick. However, we welcomed Darell Berthon, a Member since 1936, as Club Secretary. This appointment was the catalyst for the establishment of a permanent base for the Club, which resided in the village of Long Crendon in Buckinghamshire, until 2007.
On the 1st of July 2007 the new Club House at Wroxton was opened by HRH Prince Michael of Kent.
Since 1948, the Club has continued to develop in many memorable and effective ways, such as pioneering the establishment of specialist classic car insurance for its members in the mid-seventies, up to the present day when Membership continues to rise, and is fast approaching 3,700. The Members own a very representative cross-section of Bentley models manufactured between 1919 and the present day. A healthy percentage of the Membership lives overseas, with very active Regions existing in the USA & Canada, Southern Africa, Australia & New Zealand, Japan and of course Europe. This geographical spread has fostered a true Bentley 'family' worldwide, with Members constantly shipping their cars to other continents in order to join old friends or meet new ones, in their shared love of these magnificent cars and the pleasure derived from driving them. It is widely thought to be possible to participate in a Bentley Drivers Club event somewhere in the world, on almost any day of the year!
We have witnessed many changes of fortune for the marque over the last 75 years, culminating in the purchase of the Company by Volkswagen in 1998, the return of a 'works' team to Le Mans, and the launch of the first all-new design Bentley since 1930. What the Club has achieved through the continuity of its long history is effectively the guardianship of the spirit of the marque with its history, in order that it can still be appreciated to the full by today's enthusiasts and owners.