The Bentley Speed Six was a high performance car in production from 1928 to 1930. The Speed Six, introduced in 1928, would become the most-successful racing Bentley. Two Bentley Speed Six became known as the Blue Train Bentleys after their owner Woolf Barnato's involvement in the Blue Train Races of 1930. The Bentley Speed Six was introduced in 1928 as a more sporting version of the Bentley 6½ Litre. It would become the most successful racing Bentley, claiming victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1929 and 1930 with Bentley Boys drivers Woolf Barnato, "Tim" Birkin, and Glen Kidston.
However, the Speed Six was also fitted as a conventional road car, and many were used for everyday use. Bentley Motors Chairman Woolf Barnato used them with various bespoke bodywork from British coachbuilders as his personal automobiles. Two saloon-bodied Speed Six were used as patrol cars for the Criminal Investigation Department of the Western Australia Police.
Blue Train Bentley
In January 1930, the Rover Company's Rover Light Six gained a worldwide reputation when it was the first successful participant in the Blue Train Races, a series of record-breaking attempts between automobiles and trains in the late 1920s and early 1930s. For the race motorists and their own or sponsored cars raced against the Le Train Bleu, a train that ran between Calais and the French Riviera.
One evening in March 1930, at a dinner at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, talk around the table had swung round to the topic of motor cars; in particular to the advertisement by Rover claiming that its Rover Light Six had gone faster than the famous "Le train bleu" express. Woolf Barnato contended that just to go faster than the Blue Train was of no special merit. He raised the stakes by arguing that at the wheel of his own Bentley Speed Six, he could be at his club in London before the train reached Calais and bet 100 Pound Sterling on that challenge. The next day, the 13 March 1930, as the Blue Train steamed out of Cannes station at 17:45h, Barnato, with his secretary Dale Bourne as a relief driver, set off. From Lyons onwards they drove through heavy rain. At 4:20h, in Auxerre, they lost time searching for a refueling rendezvous. Through central France they hit fog, then shortly after Paris they had a burst tyre, requiring the use of their only spare. They reached the coast at 10:30h, sailed over to England on the cross-Channel packet, and were neatly parked outside The Conservative Club in St. James's Street, London, by 15:20h - four minutes before the Blue Train reached Calais. He won the bet, whereupon the French authorities fined him a sum far greater than his winnings for racing on public roads.
Barnato drove a H. J. Mulliner-bodied Bentley Speed Six formal saloon during his Blue Train Race, which became known as the Blue Train Bentley. Two months later, on 21 May 1930, he took delivery of a new Bentley Speed Six streamlined fastback "Sportsman Coupé" by Gurney Nutting. Barnato named it the "Blue Train Special" in memory of his race, and it too became commonly referred to as the Blue Train Bentley. The H. J. Mulliner-bodywork was stripped off the original car's chassis to make place for a bespoke replacement, as was common practice for automobiles at that time.
With growing historical distance from the event, the Gurney Nutting-bodied car was regularly mistaken for or erroneously referred to as being the car that had raced the Blue Train. This was re-iterated in articles and various popular motoring paintings depicting that car racing "le train bleu". Even in 2005 for the 75th anniversary of the race, Bentley's promotional material continued this depiction as the rakish coupé and the related daredevil Bentley Boys mythology symbolised the brand image Bentley was asked to project as a marque of the Volkswagen Group much better than the rather staid formal saloon bodywork by H. J. Mulliner.
- 6½ Litre: 362
- Speed Six: 182
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