You may have heard the story of a vintage Bentley beating a speeding train in the 1930s. Its story as a Bentley blue train runs through automotive folklore. The vehicle in question is a 1930 three-seater Bentley Speed 6 in Gurney Nutting coupe body style (according to Bentley). The driver was Woolf Barnato, heir to the South African diamond mine, who became chairman of Bentley after he saved Bentley financially. Barnato won the Le Mans 24 Hours three times in a row from 1928 to 1930 and earned the nickname “Mr. 100%” after winning three races.
There is no doubt that Barnato has the means, talent and machinery to surpass Le Train Bleu or the Blue Train, a French night railway express train from Calais to the Côte d’Azur. At that time, racing cars became an important marketing tool for other automakers. In 1930, British car makers Rover and Alvis were the first to beat the blue train before Barnato considered his latest marketing effort, but being first wasn’t around the Bentley blue The biggest myth of the train mystery.
Every legend has its secret
According to Bentley, March 1930, Barnato considered entering the Le Train Bleu race at a dinner party on a yacht near Cannes. Not impressed by the victories of Alves and Rover, Barnato gambled £200 that he could beat the blue train in his Bentley Speed 6. No one took Barnato’s bet, but he decided to ride a shotgun in a train race the next day with amateur golfer Dale Bourne. The pair left the Carlton Bar in Cannes at 5:45 pm on March 13, 1930, facing an uphill journey.
The pair endured bad weather, flat tires and fuel issues along the way. Nonetheless, they reached Calais at 10:30am the next day, averaging around 43.43 mph for the entire trip after about 570 miles of challenging roads. Barnato was so fast that they reached Calais before the train, so they took the steamer across the Channel to London, which took an hour and 20 minutes by ferry (per Autoweek). Finally, they arrived at the Conservative Club on St James Street at 3.20pm. The Blue Train arrived in Calais four minutes later, cementing the record-breaking legacy of Bentley and Barnato.
Which one is the genuine blue train Bentley?
Bentley says the identity of the real blue train Speed Six “may never be discovered”. Still, the theory goes that the Mulliner-bodied Speed 6 is the train-beating car, corroborating evidence presented by Clare Hay that Barnato was driving a Weymann fabric Speed 6 sedan with four doors (not a coupe).
Barnato received an HJ Mulliner body Speed 6 in June 1929 (according to Pebble Beach). According to service records, on March 15, 1930, the day after the Blue Train race, Barnato took the car to Bentley Service in Kingsbury, north London, for repairs. Records show the car had 13,519 miles on the odometer and needed a new Bendix starter.
So yes, Barnato won the race against Le Train Bleu, but not in the Gurney Nutting Speed 6 coupe. On top of that, the French Automobile Manufacturers Association fined Bentleys £160 after the race (for racing on public roads) and banned the automaker from the Paris Salon of 1930 – to prove A small price to pay.