Now through Sunday runs Retromobile, essentially France’s indoor version of Pebble Beach. It features more than 500 classic vehicles. Drawing the most attention would be a trio of Bugattis and the legendary Speed Six Bentley known as The Blue Train.
While it’s a rare vehicle, what sets this particular 1930 Bentley 6½ Litre Speed Six apart is its great background. The Blue Train won a unique competition based on a bet (there was most likely liquor involved) that has given this car its notoriety.
In 1930, Captain Woolf Barnato was chairman of Bentley Motors. A three-time winner of the LeMans 24 Hours, he’s hanging out in Cannes with a buddy when the wager gets made: beat the Blue Train to Calais with time enough to spare to be tossing back a drink at his club in London.
Race day comes, he downs one last drink at the bar and hits the road. To make sure he wins, he pays gas stations to stay open, hires a tanker truck, and overcomes a flat tire to win the race with an hour to spare. All this while average 43.43 mph in a time when highways don’t exist.
According to Bentley, the Speed Six evolved in 1929 as a racing version of the 6½ Litre, introduced in 1926. The first car raced as No 1 at Le Mans in 1929 where it won, and returned as ‘Old No 1’ to win again in 1930.
A total of 182 Speed Sixes were built between 1929 – 1930 with a variety of body styles and types from several coachbuilders. Speed Six Chassis No HM 2855 was delivered to Bentley Chairman Woolf Barnato by Coachbuilder Gurney Nutting in May 1930. Barnato had many Bentleys personally commissioned to suit his requirements, all were bespoke, ‘one off’ vehicles.
The Speed Six is powered by a inline, 6-cylinder engine that produces 180 horsepower at 3,500 rpm from its 6.6-liter engine. It’s rear-wheel drive and mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. It had a top speed of 100 mph and, probably most surprisingly, supposedly got 15 mpg.