My Car Quest

September 16, 2019

Pebble Beach News: The Real Blue Train Bentley to Make an Appearance This Year

Plus it’s better looking doppelganger…

by Wallace Wyss –

In days of old, there were a lot of ways to measure how fast a car was. One way was if it could beat a train that was well known to cover a certain point to another certain point in a finite number of hours and minutes.

Such a train was the Blue Train which ran from Cannes back to London.

Blue Train Bentley

Blue Train Bentley-The original painting

THE BLUE TRAIN BENTLEY: A MYSTERY SOLVED

According to Clare Hay in a story sent out by Pebble Beach for their 2019 concours, she says the story is such: “On Thursday the 13th of March in 1930, at 6 p.m., Woolf Barnato, Chairman of Bentley Motors, and his secretary, Dale Bourne, left the Carlton Bar in Cannes, and got into Barnato’s Speed Six Bentley to see if they could get to London before the famous Blue Train.

Bentley Blue Train

Woolf aka Babe Bernato bet 200 Pounds Sterling he could beat the train.

Driving through the night, they reached Boulogne at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, catching the 11:35 boat to Folkestone. Arriving there just after 1 p.m., they reached the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall at 3:30, 15 minutes before the Blue Train pulled into Calais. Of the 786-mile drive, Barnato said later that “Any woman could have done the same thing without discomfort,” and indeed they probably could, in a Speed Six Bentley. But which Speed Six Bentley?”

Ah, now is where history confounds the popular painting of the Blue Train Bentley. Hay says: “For many years now, it has been universally believed that Barnato drove his Gurney Nutting coupé, a fabulously flamboyant Grand Touring three-seater with rakish helmet wings, the third seat fitted sidesaddle beneath a sloping roof, the whole ensemble finished off by a pair of huge Zeiss headlamps to the front, a long, louvered panel along the both sides of the chassis and a neat trunk to the rear of the body (chassis HM2855, registered GJ3811). So it came as a huge surprise to find that, despite its immortalization in a painting by the well-known motoring artist Terence Cuneo, Barnato could not have driven this car in March of 1930, because it hadn’t even been built at the time.”

Year:1929, Make:Bentley, Model:Speed Six, Coachbuilder:H.J. Mulliner, Style;Saloon, Owner:Bruce & Jolene McCaw, Exhibit Year:2001, Notes:Third

The saloon that made the run. Photo provided by Pebble Beach Concours.

Hay, who has written many books on Bentley, might be the first historian to publically question the artist’s painting: “It wasn’t until I sat down to research the Gurney Nutting coupé-bodied Speed Six at the behest of its present owner that I realized that the dates simply don’t line up. A whole sheaf of press cuttings for the Blue Train run give the date definitively as the 13th/14th of March 1930.

But the Bentley Motors Service Record for the coupe shows that it wasn’t passed off Final Test at Bentley Motors, and the Five-Year Guarantee issued, until the 21st of May 1930, ten weeks after the Blue Train run. Further, the records show that on the 2nd of June, it had only covered 391 miles. From which two questions arose: how had it come about that the Blue Train run had been attributed to the Gurney Nutting coupe, and which car did Barnato actually drive?

The answer is a not so dramatic. Hay found an article in a 1967 Bentley Drivers Club Review, an article by by my old friend Johnnie Green (author of several Bentley books), quoting Barnato himself, who refers to making the run in “my Speed Six saloon”.

Bentley Speed Six

Not the car that made the run. Photo provided by Pebble Beach Concours

A Saloon is a different car, alas not nearly so dramatic as the Gurney Nutting coupé. Hay even points out “One of the major auction houses in their catalog entry changed the date of the Blue Train run, from March 1930 to March 1931. If the facts don’t fit…”

But nonetheless the more dramatic car, the Gurney Nutting Coupe will be there at Pebble and there is cause to celebrate because, says Hay, “it is such a striking example of automotive engineering, a marvelous chassis wedded to a stunning piece of coachwork. The mystique of the Gurney Nutting coupé is so strong, and the attribution to it of the Blue Train run so ingrained, that it is hard to forget that it isn’t the car that Barnato drove.”

Both cars, says Hay, are privately owned, and actually both of them will be on the lawn at the 2019 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. I’m hoping there will a period-clothed doppelganger for Barnato to complete the picture.

Bentley Blue Train

There seems to be more than one Bentley racing the train painting but we don’t know who did this one.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss and his reporting team will be reporting for My Car Quest on the latest Pebble Beach Concours by September 1st, 2019.

 
 
 
 

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Image courtesy of Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

 
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Summary
Pebble Beach News: The Real Blue Train Bentley to Make an Appearance This Year
Article Name
Pebble Beach News: The Real Blue Train Bentley to Make an Appearance This Year
Description
On Thursday the 13th of March in 1930, at 6 p.m., Woolf Barnato, Chairman of Bentley Motors, and his secretary, Dale Bourne, left the Carlton Bar in Cannes, and got into Barnato’s Speed Six Bentley to see if they could get to London before the famous Blue Train.
Author

Comments

  1. Never mind all those fabulous Bentleys (- are we allowed to call any car other than Hudson Hornets fabulous?) does anyone know whether the Terence Cuneo Blue Train painting contains a picture of a mouse? I am under the impression that there is a mouse in all his paintings.

    • Richard Bartholomew says

      Roger, in a clearer shot of the painting the mouse is right up front running out of the path of the car.

  2. Tomoko Hoshino says

    Hello, Do you know where I can get the official image of art on the top ?

  3. A print sold by Bonhams for £ 144 (US$ 179) several years ago (see this link) – https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/19279/lot/50/

    They may come up for sale at similar auctions or maybe on Amazon.

    The attached image is from the Bonhams auction.

    Good luck with your search. (Information from Wallace Wyss).

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