Le Train Bleu

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There, in the bar in the south of France, a late night bet was made.  A playboy race car driver, a steam locomotive and a race to prove the more superior of the two. As Bentley Motors owner Wolfe Barnato sat in a club in Monte Carlo talking down MG Motors recent publicity stunt of racing ‘Le Train Bleu’ from Monte Carlo to Calais, the MG winning the dash to the eastern French coast. Barnato was in the belief the French port wasn’t far enough away to constitute a fair race, and that a more rational finish line for the car to be in London. And that’s how one of the greatest automotive stories began.

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Utilising the H.J. Mulliner bodied Speed Six he had been driving around Monte Carlo, Wolfe conscripted a co-driver lest he get too tired, and set a date for the ‘unofficial time trial’. Waiting in the Carlton bar, Barnato and his co driver had word at 5:54pm the train had departed, and in Wolfe’s words ‘we finished our drinks and left’. True Bentley Boys style.

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One thing Wolfe Barnato did do was set up two fuelling points, as petrol could be hard to get in France late at night. A service station attendant was paid to stay open late, with Wolfe pulling into the service station right on midnight, ahead of schedule. It was at this point the rain set in, and conditions worsened. The speed of the second fuel stop was hampered by the fuel tanker parking in the wrong location. and a tyre puncture put a dampener on proceedings. With no more spares, the Speed Six would have to be nursed a little to ensure no more flats occurred, Wolfe gave up and let his co driver take over for the last two hours in France, having to keep his wits about him in heavy rain on dirt roads exhausting.

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Things were looking up when the well travelled Bentley pulled into the quay at Calais. After a hearty breakfast, and having the Bentley put at the front of the boat, ensuring it could be quickly unloaded once in England. An easy drive into London Town saw the Bentley arrive at 3:20pm, four minutes before ‘Le Train Bleu’ reached the station at Calais. It had been done, Wolfe Barnato had well and truly beaten the Blue Train, marking another advertising victory for the Bentley marque. To signify this victory, Wolfe had a special model commissioned, which he called ‘The Blue Train Special’. A Gurney Nutting bodied sports car, it sleek lines led admirers to believe it would be the car one would use to race a train across France. And it passed into history that it was the car the Wolfe used, until an avid automotive historian noted the difference many years later.

But that is a different story.

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The car featured in this post is a replica of the Bentley Speed Six that Wolfe Barnato commissioned to celebrate the victory over the Blue Train. The images are courtesy of  Richard at Vintage & Prestige fine motor cars. You will find this car, and many more, up for sale on Richard’s website http://www.vandp.net.

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