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The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance Blog

The Hallmark of Success

August 10, 2019

Above: Bentley has created the ultimate collector’s version of the all-new Continental GT to celebrate the company’s centenary in 2019. The Continental GT Number 9 Edition by Mulliner is inspired by Bentley’s illustrious motorsport past.

Adrian Hallmark, Chairman and CEO of Bentley Motors, has worked for some of the greatest names in the auto industry, relishes his current role — and is looking forward to celebrating Bentley’s centenary in style at this year’s Concours.

By David Lillywhite | Portrait photography by Matt Howell

Adrian Hallmark, Chairman and CEO of Bentley Motors, has worked for some of the greatest names in the auto industry, relishes his current role — and is looking forward to celebrating Bentley’s centenary in style at this year’s Concours.

Adrian Hallmark arrives in the company’s 1930 4½ Litre “Blower,” a little windswept and cold after the 20-minute blast through the British country lanes from the famous Crewe factory, but clearly exhilarated by the drive. He laughs as he climbs out: “40 percent of the time I get the gearchange perfect, 40 percent it’s just okay, and the other 20 percent . . .”

Adrian replaced Wolfgang Dürheimer as the head of Bentley in February 2018. It’s his second time at the company and follows seven years at Jaguar Land Rover. With a love of classic cars and bikes — he’s restored a 1954 Land Rover Series 1 and rides twin-shock trials bikes — he’d always wanted to attend the Pebble Beach Concours. He finally got there in 2018, when he was invited to be an Honorary Judge and given the added responsibility of helping to select the Most Elegant Closed Car.

“I was looking forward to it,” he says, “and I loved it! The respect for what people bring to Pebble Beach is huge, but it doesn’t feel pompous or elitist. It’s so friendly and such a warm environment and the cars there are inspirational, many that I’ve never seen in my life.

“The chance to be a judge there was fantastic. I didn’t know my fellow Honorary Judge Nick Mason well, but to walk around with him for three or four hours and for both of us to choose exactly the same vehicles in the same order, which we didn’t declare until we got to the end, that was amazing.”

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Bentleys finished in the first four places at the 1929 Le Mans 24 Hour race. Frank Clement steps into his 4 ½ Litre (chassis TX3246) before finishing in fourth place. This car survives to this day and is considered one of the most original Bentley Team cars in the world.

Adrian will be back at Pebble Beach in 2019 because Bentley is a featured marque, celebrating the company’s centenary alongside the 100th birthdays of Zagato and of Pebble Beach Company itself. Bentley was formed in 1919 by Walter Owen (or “W.O.”) Bentley, was taken over by Rolls-Royce in 1931, and was then sold to the VW Group in 1998.

Arguably the most significant development in recent Bentley history was the 2003 launch of the Continental GT, which Adrian was a part of as Board Member, Sales and Marketing in his first stint with the company. It was the first step in taking Bentley from producing 800 cars a year to over 10,000.

“If you think that the company sold 36,000 cars in the first 84 years since 1919, and it took four and a half years to double that, I think W.O. would have been proud — or maybe he’d have been disappointed with what happened before, I don’t know. It was a fantastic experience, and I was young and stupid enough to not worry about failing. I feel very fortunate.”

Adrian’s background is engineering, which soon becomes clear as he talks about the technical challenges of future car development. He started out as an engineering apprentice and qualified at degree level in Mechanical and Production Engineering. He then worked as a mechanical design engineer before moving into automotive retail in 1984. But his big break came when he joined Porsche in 1990.

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The Mulsanne W.O. Edition by Mulliner, a special car to mark Bentley’s milestone.

“Porsche was great,” he says. “I had ten years there. I was very young when I started, 27 years of age, and I ended up being the CEO of Porsche GB. I went from, I thought, boy to man at Porsche.” Little did he know . . .

“That’s when I joined Bentley for the first time. I was still only young, 36 or 37, so to be the Board Member, Sales and Marketing for Rolls-Royce and Bentley at that age might have seemed a bit of an odd move but I really believed in Bentley. I could see the potential for the brand. “And then I realized that I wasn’t a man, I was just a slightly older boy. I went to America, which was fantastic, a life experience. I went into volume manufacturing, as CEO of Volkswagen America, the first car brand I’d worked with where I could afford to buy one of the products. It was quite a moment for me.

“Moving from Volkswagen America to Volkswagen Asia was the second biggest learning experience of my career because of the diversity and the scale of it — 1.3 million sales and 57 markets to look after, including China.”

Adrian was with Volkswagen for just under five years, and followed that up with a year at Saab as Executive Director, Global Sales before heading to Jaguar Land Rover in December 2010.

“The Jaguar Land Rover role [as Global Director and then Group Strategy Director] was, without question, the biggest learning experience of my career. I’ve always been on the commercial side, and it filled in a huge gap in my experience to the point that, coming to Bentley, it’s almost as though it was a training course to do the job I’m doing. I absolutely feel that if I’d have taken this job 5, 10, or 15 years ago, I’d have had a go, like I’ve had a go at most things, but now I can honestly say that whatever I see in front of me I feel partially or fully equipped to deal with it. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way and I’m still learning, but I have enough confidence and tools in the tool kit to be able to work things out and make things happen. And I love it!”

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The 1952 Bentley R Type Continental prototype “Olga” (chassis BC26A), shown at Pebble Beach in 2000, is owned by the Robert M. Lee Collection.

Now, Adrian will steer Bentley through its centenary year, which will see a series of celebrations and new launches as well as the surprise reappearance of a very special historic Bentley.

“The company was first formed on the 10th of July 1919, and July 2019 is when we really kick off the majority of the activities for the centenary celebrations,” says Adrian. “One specific thing we’re certainly keen on doing is to launch three cars, 100 examples of each, and they’ll have various special features as well as memorabilia in the vehicle.

“For example, the Mulsanne W.O. Edition: we’ve created a heritage color interior — all patinated leather and deep, old-style carpets. In the wood inlay in the rear every one of the 100 cars has a slice of the broken crankshaft that we kept from the 1930 8 Litre that W.O. used as his company car, the black one that was at Pebble Beach in 2018.

“We recently launched a Continental GT Number 9 Blower edition, honoring Birkin’s historic racing Blower, and a further special edition will be launched later this year. We’ll be doing a series of events, and of course we’ll be at Pebble Beach. We’re very, very pleased that, together with Pebble Beach’s 100th birthday, we’ll be able to celebrate our centenary in a major way there. We’re very proud of that.

“The company was founded in 1919 with a very clear mission, which still resonates today: a fast car, a good car, the best in its class. We’ve evolved that — we’re the purveyors of the definitive grand tourer in every segment in which we operate, and what we want to do is show a vision for grand touring in the autonomous electrified age — not in 100 years’ time but in the next 20 to 30 years.

“We’ve pulled together all the technologies that exist today, all the research that’s been going on and a bit of imagination about what can come next, and then tried to capture a moment in time. It will be a clear directional statement about where we see Bentley heading in the future, from both a design language perspective but more importantly from a technological and customer perspective.”

Adrian has a passion for future technology, and he’s promised  that not only will every Bentley model have a full hybrid option by 2025 but that there will also be a pure battery EV variant in the range. Of course, he also has a strong understanding of Bentley’s history, and he reveals that there’s one car being built at Crewe that has a very special place in the marque’s lineage.

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Bentley Motors Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Adrian Hallmark.

“If you look at Bentley’s history,” says Adrian, “you’ve got the pre-Rolls-Royce vehicles like the Blower, all of a similar ilk. And then that shifted rapidly into the coachbuilt age, which includes some seminal products, like the Embiricos [4¼-Litre] Bentley, with design cues that were certainly the inspiration for the R-Type Continental.

“But there’s one car in between the Embiricos and the R-Type Continental, which is the Bentley Corniche. It was designed in France in 1938 and ’39 by the same man who designed the Embiricos, Georges Paulin. The lineage right through to the Continental GT is very clear.” Sadly, that car (built on the ultra-rare Mark V chassis) was badly damaged in a road accident and then destroyed in a bombing raid while on the way back to Bentley’s Derby factory in 1939. Now, though, a replica is under construction thanks to the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust.

“The beauty of the story is that the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust clubbed together, did all the research and work on the car and donated it part-finished to Bentley. We’ve now got six guys from our Mulsanne body shop, because they’re experts in real metalwork, preparing the bodywork for paint. All are volunteers, all giving their own time, and they are so motivated it’s fantastic.

“So, we aim to have, at some point in the year, different examples of the history of the company: the 100-year view, but also the pre-Rolls-Royce view, the coachbuilt view right through to the modern eras, the attention by former Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Chief Executive Peter Ward in the past with the Turbo R and the Mulsanne, then the Continentals of the ’90s, and then what we did with the Continental GT as the kind of pivot point of the Bentley story.”

Although Adrian’s not giving anything away yet, it’s likely that many of these different facets of Bentley’s first 100 years will be on display at Pebble Beach. He’s clearly looking forward to the event and to hosting customers at the Bentley house near The Lodge at Pebble Beach.

“The venue is amazing, the cars inspirational and the people the most respectful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable that I’ve ever mixed with. It’s the perfect event.”

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