THE POWER OF STEAM
W.O. Bentley was born with a love of motion. When he was 9 years old, he bought a second-hand bicycle and dismantled it to discover exactly how it worked. But his real passion lay with trains. He left school at 16 to start an apprenticeship with the Great Northern Railway, eventually achieving his childhood dream of working on the footplate of a steam locomotive, hurling coal into the firebox to keep the steam pressure up. He completed his apprenticeship after five years, but by then his obsession had moved to the road.
Success on two wheels
While still working for the railway, W.O. bought himself a Quadrant motorcycle and, along with two of his brothers, threw himself enthusiastically into racing, practising on the roads early in the morning when police speed traps weren’t operating. In 1907, he took part in the London-Edinburgh trial and, although he broke down just outside Edinburgh, managed to repair the bike and finish in time to qualify for a gold medal. Further golds followed in the London-Plymouth and London-Land’s End trials in 1908. As his love of racing grew, W.O. became more and more skilled at refining engine performance, with his modifications to a Speed model Rex so successful they were taken up by the official Rex team.