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The Desire to Excel – Graf von Faber Castell for Bentley Woolf Barnato

Pretty much all the successful people we have met during our live, professionally or privately, have this inner desire to excel in everything they do, isn’t it? I have met entrepreneurs, athletes, pilots and people from the show business and they almost all follow this principle: Do the things that you do right! And todays’ character makes no exception. Join me in a journey made of diamonds, gold, motorsport and trains. Let’s discover the incredible story of Joel Woolf Barnato

As you know, I have a real passion for history and motorsport. So, when I first saw the writing instrument from Graf von Faber-Castell dedicated to one of Woolf Barnato’s most famous undertakings, the crazy race against the “Train Bleu”, a French fast train connecting Cannes with Calais, in 1930, I thought I have to dig down into this story. First of all, the most accurate among us will immediately say, that the “Train Bleu” wasn’t officially called Train Bleu until 1947. Before, it was called “Calais-Méditerranée Express”. But since in 1929, some wagons have been painted in a very distinctive blue, with golden inscriptions, the passengers gave the train the nickname of train bleu already at the time, and this is why today, the famous race of Woolf Barnato is known as the race against the train bleu. 

This said, have you ever heard about the Blue Train Races? Well, The Blue Train Races were a series of record-breaking attempts between automobiles and trains in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The rationale to beat the train was to compare the contemporary automotive performance with locomotive dominance; to showcase recent progress achieved by cars regarding reliability, durability, speed and comfort. Most important, from a commercial point of view, the rationale was to promote the cars, their brands and the adventurous character of their drivers; and to establish automobiles as a viable and aspirational mode of transport for the individual traveller. Many drivers attempted to beat the blue train but none of them made it until one day, in January 1930, a Rover Light Six driven by Dudley Noble. To beat the train, Noble had to drive more or less non-stop from St. Raphael to Calais. The Rover Light Six averaged 61 km/h on its 1,210 km journey to beat the train’s expected time of just over 20 hours, which gave the Rover team a 20-minute lead over the train. The Blue Train had been beaten for the first time and the Rover team became celebrities through the Daily Express.

A couple of months later, 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 Light Six had gone faster than the famous “Le train bleu” express. Woolf Barnato, chairman of Bentley and winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1928 and 1929, 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 Bentley Speed Six, he could be at his club in London before the train reached Calais and bet £100 on that challenge. Can you feel the desire to excel?

The next day, 13 March 1930, as the Blue Train steamed out of Cannes station at 17:45h, Barnato and his relief driver, amateur golfer Dale Bourn, finished their drinks and drove the Bentley away from the bar at the Carlton. From Lyon onwards they had to battle against heavy rain. At 4:20h, in Auxerre, they lost time searching for a fuel station. 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 dock at Boulogne at 10:30h, sailed to England on the cross-Channel packet, and were parking outside The Conservative Club in St. James’s Street, London, at 15:20h, four minutes before the Blue Train reached Calais, thus winning the bet. 

Funny side fact, the French authorities promptly fined him a sum far greater than his winnings for racing on public roads, and Bentley was excluded from the 1930 Paris Salon for advertising an unauthorized race.

Woolf Barnato and the Bentley Boys

But who was Woolf Barnato. We need to say, that Woolf Barnato was already a pretty privileged man. His father Barney Barnato made his fortune as a Randlord in South Africa with diamond and gold mining between 1873 and 1897 when he died lost overboard, suicide they say, on a ship close to Madeira while coming home to London from South Africa. Woolf lost his father at the age of 2 years and inherited his first instalment of £ 250’000 in 1914 aged 19. Woolf benefited from a further inheritance after the murder of Woolf Barnato Joel in Johannesburg in 1898. He therefore had the financial resources to dedicate his time to his passions such as boat racing, horse riding, boxing, tennis, swimming. But the most important was clearly motor racing. In a time where driving a car was still something for the elite society, Woolf Barnato purchased his first Bentley, a 3-litre, in 1925. 12 months later, he bought the whole business from Walter Owen Bentley. His inspiration came from 1924 Le Mans victory of Bentley. And this is the point where the Bentley Boys come into play. A bunch of wealthy drivers who drove Bentley sports cars to victory in the 1920s and kept the marque’s reputation for high performance alive. Amongst other you will find names like Glen Kidston, aviator and uncle of Simon Kidston, one of the most influential car collector and trader in the world, Jean Chassagne, French racing driver or Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin. A group of fast guys, we would say today.

And Woolf Barnato wasn’t a spectator amongst them. Quite the opposite. He won 3 Le Mans races in a row for Bentley, 1928 with a 4 ½ Litre, 1929 with a Speed Six and 1930, again with the Speed Six and Glen Kidston as companion. An incredible series of successes that brought Bentley to be one of the most successful brands in the most challenging race in the world. It took them another 73 years to win again the 24h of Le mans, in 2003 under the management of Audi Sport. 

The desire to excel

What an incredible time this was, the twenties and thirties. Full of pioneering spirit and people that were keen to go the extra mile and excel in whatever they did. This is why, when you look at the latest release of Graf von Faber-Castell, with their homage to Woolf Barnato and his incredible performance, you can see that they wanted to do this right, as they always do.

The metal barrel is lacquered in the characteristic Barnato dark green colour, recalling the British Racing Green, used to identify the British race cars, and guilloched in the signature diamond pattern created by Bentley. The chrome-plated front and end sections also gleam in dark green. The cap is adorned with the Bentley B, Bentley style knurling and Woolf Barnato’s original, handwritten signature as a reminder of the extraordinary spirit that lives on at Bentley still today. The collection, which is limited to 1,930 pieces in honour of the year of the “Blue Train Race”, includes a fountain pen (€ 590), a rollerball pen (€ 540) and twist ballpoint pen (€ 490). So whenever you will carry this pen with you, remember the desire to excel of Woolf and the Bentley Boys. Because this spirit will help us to thrive and progress.

You can now find the Woolf Barnato Edition at premium authorized retailers or on

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