Until recently the Speed Six Bentley in which Woolf Barnato beat the Blue Train from Cannes to London has been recorded as Barnato’s impressive Gurney Nutting two-door coupe. This enormously impressive car, Reg No GJ 3811, Chassis HM 2855, with sideways seat in its streamlined tail, has long been accepted as the one which, on March 13/14, 1930, arrived at the RAC in London 15 minutes before the famous express steamed into Calais. Now Bentley historian Michael Hay, in a recent article, debunks this, thus reversing his previous opinion.
In his Bentley – The Vintage Years, 1919-31 (Dalton Watson, 1986, ISBN 901564 5), Hay quotes the above mentioned Bentley as the car with which the historic run was accomplished. At the time he reported it as virtually derelict by 1963 and rebuilt to a very high standard by Hugh Harben. But after the present owner Bruce McCaw asked Hay to research the car, Michael changed his mind and decided that Barnato had used not the coupe, but a normal four-door Gurney Nutting Weymann saloon Bentley, UU 5999, Chassis BA2592.
Hay bases this on evidence that the coupe wasn’t passed off test and given its five-year guarantee until 10 weeks after the record run, and that Barnato himself said he had done this in a saloon. But Cuneo depicted the coupe racing the train in his famous painting, although the road and rail never ran together. This can be excused as artistic licence, but how could he have shown the incorrect car? He made a point of seeing both locomotive and car to get every detail correct, I believe. The Autocar did not however publish a picture of GJ 3811 until June 20, 1930, captioning it, “Capt Woolf Barnato and his latest Bentley sports saloon”, with no reference to it beating the Blue Train.
Hay backs his assumption that a Speed Six saloon, not the coupe, was used by saying that Barnato had taken delivery of it in June 1929, had driven it over 16,000 miles in a year, and that a day after the Cannes-London run it was at Bentley’s Kingsbury Service Station for a new starter bendix. Another author noted that if the coupe was used it would represent “the longest pre-delivery run on record”. Hay maintains the coupe had not been built at the time of the run, a view backed by fellow Bentley historian Tim Houlding.
Ten years before Hay’s book was published, the late Stanley Sedgvvick painstakingly sorted out the pre-war Bentleys. He gave the coupe as being delivered in May 1930, whereas the run was in March.
All this surfaced when the so-called ‘Blue Train’ coupe formed the poster picture for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance this August, at which both Bentleys were on display. The saloon had been found with a non-original body but the correct one was on another car, so was transferred.
Diana Barnato-Walker MBE, Woolf Barnato’s daughter, who holds the unofficial Women’s Air Speed Record at 1262mph, has asked me if , Motor Sport’s readers can add anything. Can you?