One of the things we petrol heads like is speed, and this is something that gave us so many great stories thru history. The Land Speed Records are one amazing example, but the Blue Train Races were most exiting races as well. So let’s get back to these glorious races, with first some blues to end up later in a crazy world full of sex, drugs and cocktails.The life of one of the most famous playboys, as well as an important man in Bentley history.
But first the blues. Back in history there were supercars just like we see today, and as we petrol heads are a bit crazy, we come up with great and crazy ideas. One of these ideas was The Blue Train race. A series of record-breaking attempts between automobiles and trains in the late 1920s and early 1930s. I am not sure if there are people still holding such races today, but sadly times have changed and it would be impossible to beat a high speed train nowadays, unless you come up with a very special vehicle that perhaps doesn’t really look like a car anymore.
These famous races ran from the French Riviera to Calais, and vice versa. The races went on from 1922 until 1938. They were the ultimate test to prove that an automobile could put up a strong performance in terms of reliability, durability, speed and comfort. Racing against a train was the ultimate test, and a good way to promote cars. The winners became true stars, and not only the cars benefitted from winning, but also the marques and the drivers gained a lot of respect.
‘Le Train Bleu’ sounds more like it was a fairy tale, but basically it was just the Calais-Méditerranée Express and with the blue color it was obviously ‘Le Train Bleu’. This express was the luxurious and fast way of traveling for the wealthy and the famous. It took British aristocrats, celebrities, etc. to the French Riviera, where they used to spend their winter holidays in peace without the paparazzi being after them like in the capitals. Le Train Blue travelled during night time, and this must have made the races even more challenging. Just think about those two lane roads back then… they were by far not as comfortable and smooth as the later German Autobahns, and that’s the truth.
The Bentley shown on this picture is not the correct one, it is the later Gurney Nutting Blue Train Special, see below, however it gives you a nice impression of the race.
The blue icon was created by a private French railroad company, the Chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée, or to make it a bit easier, the PLM.
To continue with the heroes, we all know about the iconic Bentley Speed six “Blue Train Special” bodied by Gurney Nutting, however this was not the car Barnato drove while he challenged the blue monster. At the time of this race Barnato was driving his Bentley speed six with a body by H.J. Mulliner. He already had a new car on order with the now iconic Gurney Nutting body, but this was only delivered 2 months after the race. In commemoration of the race he called it the “Blue Train Special”. So why is Barnato a hero, and why did he name his new car after this race? Well, Barnato arrived 4 minutes earlier than the train, and won the bet. This happened in 1930, which made it a special year for Bentley and the train races. I know that the car is very well known already, especially since the Schloss Dyck concours last year, where the “Blue Train Special” won ‘Best of Show’.
Let’s have a closer look at playboy Woolf Barnato, who is a most interesting personality… (I noticed that playboys who owned fine automobiles are a subject that many of us love to read about, so here you go).
Woolf ‘Babe’ Barnato, as you most likely already know was one of the famous “Bentley boys” and a heir of a diamond fortune (of which multiple interesting stories can be told), He was a playboy with a rich and crazy history. At the time he was well on his way to becoming the leading playboy of his generation. But he was also a true hero, especially for us petrol heads, because of all his racing victories and for saving Bentley Motors from going into liquidation!
Next to his relationship with those great British machines, there are some odd things to tell about his way of life and family… He knew how to get things done, a real Woolf in lambs outfit. I will spend more time on finding out about his way of doing things, because perhaps I can learn something from this Woolf of… ; )
Next up we’ll take an extended look at Barnato’s life, especially about the role he played in the automotive world, the Bentley world, the racing and Le Mans world and the world of his typical sex, drugs and cocktails concept. Of course not forgetting why you should never ever step into one of his daily cars…