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Special Edition: Bentley Arnage Blue Train
Bentley are celebrating the 75th anniversary of
the famous "Blue Train" event where Woolf Barnato
raced, and beat, the then fastest method of
travelling from the South of France to Calais and
Woolf 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, one guest questioning
whether it was possible to beat the train by road
from St Raphael to Calais. Barnato wagered £200 that
at the wheel of his Speed Six, he could not only
arrive in Calais before the train but would be in
his London club before the train arrived at the
French port. The bet was accepted, and the next day,
at 5:45pm, as the Blue Train left the main railway
station at Cannes, Barnato and his companion,
amateur golfer Dale Bourne set off in Barnato’s
Bentley Speed Six.
Barnato and his companion finally reached Calais at
10:30 in the morning, a distance of over 570 miles,
having maintained an average speed of 43.43 mph, no
mean feat on the dusty and rough roads of the time.
After crossing the Channel in a packet steamer and
driving hard for almost 700 miles, it was 3:20pm
when Woolf Barnato parked his Speed Six outside the
Conservative Club in St. James’ Street in London.
Just four minutes later the Blue Train arrived at
the station in Calais.
The Arnage Blue Train Series
The car, a product of the Mulliner coachbuilding
division, features the 450bhp version of Bentley’s
6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine, allied to
the chassis and suspension set-up of the Arnage R.
With a 0-60mph acceleration of 5.5 seconds and a top
speed of 168mph the Blue Train Series Arnage has the
performance to satisfy the most demanding of
drivers. A mountainous 645lb ft of torque (875Nm)
available at 3250rpm means that the Bentley’s
performance is instantly accessible.
Externally, the Arnage Blue Train Series is
distinguished by its 19" seven-spoke alloy wheels,
sunroof, chrome radiator shell, chrome mirror caps
and quadruple exhaust tailpipes. Both front and rear
bumpers are designed specifically for the Arnage
Blue Train Series, with stainless steel matrix mesh
to the front bumper cooling ducts. In homage to the
slatted bonnet of the original ‘Blue Train’ Bentley
Speed Six, Bentley’s design team has specified
vertical slatted vents, painted in body colour,
behind the trailing edge of the front wheel arches.
The Blue Train Arnage will carry the black winged
‘B’ inside and out, as the distinguishing mark of
the most powerful and performance-focused Bentleys,
and will also have Blue Train badging on the front
wing and door aperture treadplates. A ‘privacy’ rear
backlight may also be specified, another feature
which echoes the coachwork of Barnato’s 1930s coupé.
The interior is equally distinctive. All instrument
and dial faces are black, and the centre console
features a subtle Bentley Blue Train badge.
Mulliner’s meticulous craftsmanship is evident in
the veneer waistrails, which feature chrome inlay
with winged ‘B’ badges, and the ‘Blue Train’
embroidered headrests, in a coordinating thread
colour. Other special elements of the interior
specification are the wood and hide steering wheel,
additional wood veneer panels on the doors and
contrast piping on the seats.
A limited number of the Blue Train Series will be
produced, the majority being intended for the USA,
and all orders have already been filled.
Postscript to the Blue Train story: For
many years it was believed that the Bentley Speed
Six in which Woolf Barnato beat the Blue Train was a
two-door coupé bodied by the coachbuilders Gurney
Nutting. Certainly, the Bentley chairman did own
such a car; and it was the Gurney Nutting coupé that
contemporary artist Terence Cuneo depicted in his
excellent painting of the duel.
But recently, Bruce McCaw, present-day owner of
Barnato’s Gurney Nutting Speed Six, uncovered
evidence that this particular Bentley was not
completed until after the date of the dare, which
took place in March 1930. It seems that Barnato, who
owned a stable of Bentleys, probably raced the Blue
Train in his Mulliner-bodied four-door Speed Six
saloon, not the coupé.
Commendably the Seattle-based McCaw traced the
chassis and engine of the Mulliner-bodied car, and
also discovered the bodywork, albeit on a different
Bentley chassis. He reunited the chassis with its
original bodywork and showed the restored Mulliner
Speed Six alongside his Gurney Nutting Speed Six at
the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August 2003.
Text: Classic Driver
Photos: Bentley Motors