1931 Bentley "Blue Train" Special by Bob Petersen Engineering
Amelia Island - A Gentleman's Collection: The Pride & Passion of Orin Smith
- One of five Petersen “Blue Train” Specials built; the only supercharged example
- Beautifully crafted to authentic proportions; remarkable engineering and detailing
- Constructed on a genuine pre-war Rolls-Royce chassis
- Ultimate performance in the very best “Bentley Boys” tradition
The renowned gourmand and Rolls-Royce partisan Lucius Beebe once noted that “legend gathers thickly around restaurants . . . but never more so than around one frequented by the great and picturesque.” His statement could also well apply to cars, and when it comes to legends and cars beloved by the great and picturesque, few can compete with the “Blue Train” Bentley.
The original “Blue Train” was a 6½-Litre Speed Six, delivered to Woolf Barnato, well-known playboy millionaire, heir to a South African diamond and gold mine, and an international sportsman. As one of the original “Bentley Boys,” he became chairman of Bentley Motors and winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in both 1928 and 1929. The legend of the Blue Train came from the famous French express train, which Barnato had succeeded in beating from Cannes to London in an earlier Speed Six. Not the feat, but the beauty made the “Blue Train” immortal; its streamlined fastback styling, carried out by J. Gurney Nutting to Barnato’s suggestions, gave it powerful proportions and made it arguably the most beautiful Speed Six ever built.
While the original “Blue Train” remains extant as part of one of the world’s finest collections, it is most definitely not available for sale, leaving enthusiasts to ponder alternatives. The obvious route is a recreation, of which various varieties have been produced over the years, by shops all over the world. None have the beautifully detailed quality and accuracy of the five “Blue Train” Specials, built by the renowned Bob Petersen Engineering of Beaworthy Mill, England.
The car offered here was constructed by Petersen Engineering at the commission and behest of Gary Wales, the renowned American “automotive mad scientist” known for his numerous creative and potent Bentley-based “specials.” True to Wales’ style, his car was specially built using as many genuine Rolls and Bentley components as possible, including a genuine Phantom I frame (number 32TC) and a Bentley B81 inline eight-cylinder engine. On the Wales car alone, among the five “Blue Train” Specials, this engine was adapted to fit a front-mounted supercharger, of Petersen’s own design but inspired by the famous Amherst Villiers “blower” used on the racing Bentleys of Barnato and others. Further, the engine was supplied with two SU carburetors, specially cast to a correct period design with a 2½-inch throat, as were used on supercharged racing cars of the era such as the ERA.
Mounted on a louvered frame, the body is finished in black with Weymann-style synthetic leather paneling, and dressed with Marchal headlamps, an off-center driving lamp, a black-lacquered stone guard, and exposed supercharger SU pots behind the badge bar, as well as a distinctive bulldog radiator mascot. The rear boasts period-correct “diver’s helmet” stopping lights and brake/trafficator lights. Each door handle is carved from a single piece of billet aluminum, in a lovely “winged B” motif, copied in the step plates. Under the hood as everywhere else is sparkling fine detail; in a collection of “jewel box” automobiles, none sparkles quite like this “Blue Train” Special.
The interior is equally lovely, with handsome veneered trim and a pair of capacious grey leather bucket seats, facing a turned aluminum dashboard carrying a plethora of instrumentation. “Cubbies” conceal pressed crystal decanters and glassware, true to the spirit of the original car and its rather colorful owner!
Mr. Wales sold his creation in 2006, and it joined Orin Smith’s wonderful Rolls-Royce and Bentley stable eight years later. It has remained well-maintained, to the same high standard as his other automobiles, and recorded 5,378 miles at the time of cataloguing. Mr. Smith subjected the car to some further improvements by the noted marque specialists Vantage Motorworks of Miami, meeting his tastes, including the impeccable crafting and installation of two pieces of beautiful fitted luggage. The “Blue Train” Special subsequently received the Grand Marshal Award at the 2015 Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, and was exhibited at the Ocean Reef Club Vintage Weekend that same year.
No one can deny that Gary Wales did not inspire the inimitable Bob Petersen to turn out a beautiful example of craftsmanship rooted in historical detail. It is great and picturesque, and the legend of a race from Cannes to London gathers thickly around it to this day.
Please note that contrary to the printed catalogue, this car is fitted with two, not four, SU carburetors, and has a correct prewar Rolls-Royce front axle with leaf spring suspension. Further, it utilizes a Phantom I, not Phantom II, chassis.