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Originally published September 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 7, 2007 at 10:39 AM

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Bentley mystery is revealed

Like most great tales of man and machine, the story of the "Blue Train Bentley" begins in a bar. It was 1930. Bentley Motors Chairman Woolf...

Seattle Times columnist

If you go

When/where: The Kirkland Concours d'Elegance will be Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 at Carillon Point. Proceeds will benefit Evergreen Hospital Medical Center and Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center.

Admission: Tickets are $25 each and include a program. Tickets will be available at the gate.

What: Honorary Chairman Edward Hermann will oversee the display of 90 pre-war and post-war classic cars, as well as British sports cars, American racing cars, 100-year-old antique cars, motorcycles and vintage wooden boats. Featured displays will include custom French-bodies classics ("French Curves") and rare vintage Bentleys, including the "Blue Train Bentley."

More information: Call Bill Vadina at the Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce, at 425-822-7066; or www.kirklandconcours.com

Bonus show: Look adjacent to the Kirkland Concours show field for a free display of vehicles representing Porsche's history, presented by the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Porsche Club of America: www.pnwr.org

Like most great tales of man and machine, the story of the "Blue Train Bentley" begins in a bar.

It was 1930. Bentley Motors Chairman Woolf Barnato was sitting in the Carlton Bar in Cannes, France, with his secretary, Dale Bourne. Over their glasses, they mused about whether Barnato's Speed Six Bentley could get to London before the reknowned Blue Train.

Barnato and Bourne left the bar and drove through the night. After 786 miles, they pulled into the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall at 3:30 p.m. — 15 minutes before the Blue Train reached its stop in Calais, on the France side of the English Channel. The train still had far to go, while the Speed Six had a new name: "The Blue Train Bentley."

But the story didn't end there. Over the years, another Bentley emerged that put in dispute which car truly deserved the moniker. After an Agatha Christie-worthy investigation, complete with service records and the fine-toothed findings of Bentley experts, the rightful "Blue Train Bentley" was only recently certified.

It wasn't the sexy, fastback Gurney Nutting coupe that raced through the night. The car's service record shows it didn't even pass the factory's final test until 10 weeks after the Blue Train run.

The true "Blue Train Bentley" is an unassuming, black, fabric-covered "saloon," or sedan, built by H.J. Mulliner in 1929. Barnato had owned it for a year and apparently loved it — he put over 16,000 miles on it in just under a year.

But no hard feelings. The two cars — owned by Bruce and Jolene McCaw, of Medina — will sit together Sunday at the fifth annual Kirkland Concours d'Elegance at Carillon Point.

The Bentleys will be joined by 90 postwar classic, British sport and "French curve" cars; as well as American racing cars, motorcycles; and a display of vintage wooden boats moored beside the hotel property along Lake Washington.

The event will benefit Kirkland's Evergreen Hospital Medical Center and Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

And yet, this local event is reaching far beyond Puget Sound. This year, entrants are coming from several other states and other events.

Jack Nethercutt — as in Nethercutt Collection — is coming up from Sylmar, Calif. Jules "J." Heumann, chairman emeritus of the Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance, will make the trip, along with Don Williams, who started the Blackhawk Collection.

"People are coming from further and wider," said Marc Nowak, general manager of the Woodmark Hotel, which is hosting the event. "All of a sudden, it's worth their time to come here."

The Bentley brothers — the swoopy coupe and its fast, four-doored brother — are sure to be a big draw. True car nuts will likely pore over them like room charges at a pricey hotel.

"We're very happy to get them," said Peter Hagemann, a vintage automobile consultant who put together the purchase and restoration of the real Blue Train Bentley.

"It's a romantic story, isn't it?" Nowak said. "The age of chivalry that you don't see anymore; a time when the automobile took over the train.

"This century is really all about the automobile and how it changed history," Nowak said. "And that's what this Concours is all about."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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