The Bentley Boys were already famous. With the boldness of the British Empire behind them, and gasoline rather than blood in their veins, their cars thundered successfully at racetracks around the world and enhanced the sporting image of the Bentley marque. The Bentley Boys accounted for several victories at Le Mans.
Among them was Woolf Barnato, born in 1895, who had amassed a considerable fortune of several million pounds from gold and diamond mines in South Africa. At the tender age of two, Woolf inherited his father’s business. He went to study at Cambridge and served England as an officer during the First World War.
When Bentley ran into financial difficulties, Woolf invested some of his company’s assets in it, became the majority owner and took over as CEO. He also raced the company’s cars and, with John Duff, set a new world speed record for 24 hours of 152 km/hr at the Monthery circuit. In the 1920s he won three times at Le Mans – three victories in only three appearances, still a record today.
In March of 1930, Barnato stayed at the Hotel Carlton in Cannes for several days. After a few drinks at the bar, the famous English passion for betting came to light. He bet 100 pounds that he could drive his Bentley from Cannes to his club, The Conservative Club in St. James’s Street, London and arrive before the Calais-Mediteranee Express – also called the Blue Train would reach Calais. The amateur golfer, Dan Bourne, spontaneously decided to accompany Woolf as his passenger. The Bentley Railroad bet – a crazy bet indeed.
The odds were extremely poor: the length of the trip was a nearly insurmountable 1,020 kilometers, and there were no motorways, only dusty country roads, and the English Channel would still have to be crossed. The weather was against him too, with dense fog and pouring rain. To make things worse a flat tire held them up as well. After 22 adventurous hours they reached The Conservative Club and quickly ordered a drink before inquiring about the arrival of the train. It hadn’t reached Calais yet but did so just four minutes later as Woolf Barnato enjoyed his drink! Bet clearly won!
Eighty-five years later this Bentley Speed Six “Blue Train” Coupé – one of a kind, owned by American collector Bruce McCaw – was presented at Techno Classica 2015. It is doubtful that this car, which Barnato himself called “Blue Train”, is the original car with which he won the famous railroad bet.
Walter Jamieson has edited the Google tanslation into proper English. Thanks Walter!!!