Few cars embody the glamour, speed and power of the pre-war Bentley era better than the ‘Blue Train’ Bentley Speed Six. In this car Bentley Boy Woolf Barnato raced and beat the famous Train Blue northwards from the Côte d’Azur to Calais. His achievement was so exceptional that a 2015 re-run by Car Magazine in a Continental GT3-R only just managed to beat Barnato’s average speed set in 1930.
For years the Bentley that beat the Blue Train was thought to be a Speed Six coupé built by coachbuilders Gurney Nutting. The low roofline and 2+1 cockpit with a single ‘side-saddle’ rear seat gives it a lean, low and purposeful profile; this unique design was cited by Bentley’s design team as one of the inspirations for the modern-day Continental GT.
Yet there is a mystery about which Speed Six Barnato drove through France for his famous dare. Was it the Gurney Nutting, or his Mulliner-bodied saloon? Perhaps every legend has its secrets…
In celebration of Barnato’s famous victory over 80 years ago, this limited edition of “Blue Train Car” recreation has been made. The car is built around a Bentley Mark VI chassis and running gear mated with an 8 cylinder B80 or B81 Bentley engine. The bodywork is a mixture of ash timber framing and hand shaped aluminium panels. The sumptuous interior features Connolly Leather seats, polished walnut on doors, dashboard and cocktail cabinets which contain cut glass decanters engraved with the Bentley ‘B’
Chassis: Refurbished Bentley Mark 6
Engine: Bentley B81 6516cc, eight-cylinder in-line. Wet sump lubrication 4 SU Type H.6 carburettors. Selectable engine driven mechanical or twin electric fuel pumps.
Exhaust System: Large-bore straight through stainless steel exhaust system.
Clutch: Single dry plate, heavy duty or lightweight diaphragm.
Transmission: Bentley Four speed and reverse. Choice of crown wheel and pinion ratio.
Suspension: Upgraded front and rear road springs
Braking System: Hydraulic front drum brakes, mechanical rear drum brakes, assisted by mechanically driven servo.
Wheels & Tyres: 21” wire wheels with 21 x 7.00 tyres. Knock on stainless steel spinners.
Ash framed. Aluminium panelled and covered with wadding and rexine. Full length Webasto sunroof. All bright work nickel-plated. Interior leather upholstered, with driver and passenger bucket seats. Veneered woodwork with cocktail cabinets. High quality close woven carpets.
Woolf Barnato – heir to a vast fortune from the Kimberley diamond mines in South Africa – was the ultimate ‘Bentley Boy’. A brilliant sportsman, bon viveur and generous host, he became Chairman of Bentley Motors in 1926 when the company was struggling for capital. W.O. Bentley considered him the best of all the team’s drivers, and Barnato’s 100% record at Le Mans – three wins in three starts – confirms W.O.’s judgement.
Barnato was at a dinner party on board a yacht near Cannes in March 1930 when the subject of racing the famous Blue Train came up, as both Rover and Alvis had recently beaten the train from St Raphael to Calais. Barnato wasn’t impressed, calling the achievement ‘no great shakes’. He wagered £200 that at the wheel of his Speed Six he could beat the train to Calais with ease.
Knowing how canny Barnato was, none of his companions would take the bet – so he resolved to do the run anyway, to prove his point. The next day at 5:45pm, as the Blue Train left the railway station at Cannes, Barnato and his companion, amateur golfer Dale Bourne, left the Carlton Bar in Cannes and set off in the Speed Six.
During the 185 miles from Cannes to Lyon, the two men encountered heavy rain which slowed their progress. At around 4am, between Lyon and Paris, near Auxerre, the team lost time searching for their pre-arranged refuelling rendezvous. Despite this setback, some dense fog near Paris and a puncture which used their only spare tyre, Barnato and Bourne finally reached Calais at 10:30 in the morning. They had covered over 570 miles at an average speed of 43.43 mph, an impressive achievement on the dusty and rough roads of the time.
Barnato had arrived in Calais so far ahead of the train that he decided to continue on to London. After crossing the Channel in a packet steamer, being waved through Customs and driving hard for almost 700 miles, Woolf Barnato parked his Speed Six outside the Conservative Club in St. James’ Street at 3.20pm. Just four minutes later the Blue Train arrived at the station in Calais.
Barnato had won his unofficial dare, although the French Motor Manufacturer’s Association fined Bentley Motors around £160 for racing on public roads and barred Bentley from the Paris Salon of 1930. Barnato claimed that he had raced as a private individual and not as the Chairman of Bentley … a claim that failed to convince the authorities.
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