Bentley celebrated the 50th working anniversary of its longest-serving employee.

Noel Thompson, a coach-trimmer at the headquarters of Bentley Motors in Crewe, England, began working for the world’s leading luxury automotive brand on September 1, 1969, when he was 16 years old.

Thompson was one of 60 fellow apprentices to arrive on the shop-floor of the factory that day, where he spent 12 months receiving rotation training across various divisions, predominantly within engineering, before specialising in coach-trimming.

An outstanding and highly-sought after line of apprenticeship schemes at Bentley has continued to train highly skilled craftspeople to this day. For 22 years, Thompson was fortunate to work at the factory at the same time as his own father, who was employed as a coach-painter for almost 40 years until 1991, a period when Bentley was a subdivision of Rolls-Royce. Thompson’s grandmother also worked in the factory during World War II.

When Thompson joined Bentley in 1969, Bentley’s headquarters was a very different place.

“When I first started, the factory was a bit old-fashioned. We used to push cars around by hand on cradles in the production line,” he recalled. “The floors were still bare concrete and the air raid shelters from the 1940s were still in place and being used for storage. We were only producing around 1800 units per year and with a very limited range.”

Volkswagen Group purchased Bentley in 1998 and Thompson salutes the positive transformations he has witnessed. “The factory is now bright and modern with an automated track and shows little resemblance to the old days. Virtually every aspect of the business has changed for the better – more models, more retailers, better customer communication. We now have people travelling from all over the world to visit the factory every day.”

Thompson remembers many proud moments during his career so far, but a highlight was certainly the four days he spent at Buckingham Palace where he met the Queen and other members of the Royal Family.

“I’ve been incredibly lucky, very few people have a job for life these days and I am able to meet new people from all walks of life and share with them what we do,” he said. 

Thompson meets visitors to the Bentley factory almost every day. Extraordinary Bentley owners, including celebrity and VIP customers, travel from around the world to visit Bentley’s world-famous production facilities.

The automotive equivalent to upholstery, ‘coach-trimming’ is a term which dates the practice back far earlier than even Bentley Motors’ own history. Thompson is a highly skilled coach-trimmer, and his team are arguably some of the best in the world.

Although Thompson now specialises in steering wheels, he is trained to make any aspect of a car’s interior. His craft involves punching perforated lines into soft leather hide to be sewn later entirely by hand.

Thompson famously uses a dining fork to ensure that the stitches are evenly spaced on each and every unique steering wheel that he creates. He once said: “If it works, it works. So why wrap steering wheels any other way?”

Thompson claims to have sewn more wheels than anyone else at Bentley.

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