Woolf Barnato at the 1929 24 Hours of Le Mans
|Born||Joel Woolf Barnato
27 September 1895
Spencer House, London
|Died||27 July 1948
|St Jude's Church, Englefield Green|
|Alma mater||Trinity College, Cambridge|
|24 Hours of Le Mans career|
|Teams||Bentley Motors Ltd.|
|Best finish||1st (1928, 1929, 1930)|
|Class wins||3 (1928, 1929, 1930)|
Joel Woolf Barnato[note 1] (27 September 1895 – 27 July 1948) was a British financier and racing driver, one of the "Bentley Boys" of the 1920s. He achieved three consecutive wins out of three entries in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
Born at Spencer House, 27 St James's Place, London, he had a sister Leah Primrose (died 1933) and brother Isaac "Jack" Henry (died 1918 of bronchial pneumonia). The family divided their time between London, Brighton, Colwyn Bay and South Africa.
In 1897, when Woolf two years old, his father died near Madeira during a sea crossing from South Africa to London. The official verdict was suicide ('death by drowning while temporarily insane'). Woolf hence inherited his father's fortune at the time, but with the monies placed in trust, he only inherited his first instalment of £250,000, in 1914 aged 19. In addition, Woolf also benefited from a further inheritance after the murder of Woolf Barnato Joel in Johannesburg in 1898.
Barnato's attitude to a new sport that took his interests, was to immerse himself in the learning process, practising endlessly and taking lessons only from the very best instructors he could find. His desire to excel at whatever he attempted was considerable.
He collected prizes (including the 1925 Duke of York Trophy) for motor boat racing, using his Bentley-powered boat 'Ardenrun V', a good amateur boxer and a keen shot. He bred horses whilst at his house Ardenrun, and hunted with the Old Surrey and Burstow Foxhounds. A strong swimmer, he played tennis to 'country house level'. He also took lessons at Coombe Hill Golf Club, Kingston, Surrey, with the club professional Archie Compston, a friend of King Edward VIII.
Having claimed a share of the business's profits from 1897 to 1916, in 1917 he broke off his business arrangements with the Joels. After a long legal dispute in South Africa, Woolf settled for £900,000 plus £50,000 in costs. He then sued his family for the £50,000, as well as £23,883 for disbursements.
Barnato acquired his first Bentley (a 3-litre) in 1925, just 12 months before he also acquired the business itself. With this car he won numerous Brooklands races. He was a member of a social set of wealthy British motorists known as the "Bentley Boys" who favoured the cars of W. O. Bentley. Many were independently wealthy, often with a background in military service. Barnato was nicknamed "Babe", in ironic deference to his heavyweight boxer's build.
Inspired by the 1924 Le Mans win by John Duff and Frank Clement, Barnato agreed to finance Bentley's business. Barnato had incorporated Baromans Ltd in 1922, which effectively existed as his finance and investment vehicle. Via Baromans, Barnato initially invested in excess of £100,000, saving the company and its workforce. A subsequent agreed wind-up of the original Bentley company was agreed, with all existing creditors paid off for £75,000, but with existing shares devalued from £1.00 each to just 1 shilling, or 5% or their original value. Barnato held 149,500 of the new shares, meaning that he controlled the company, and became chairman. Barnato injected further cash into the business: £35,000 as a debenture in July 1927; £40,000 in 1928; £25,000 in 1929.
With renewed financial input, W. O. Bentley was able to design another generation of cars, the six-cylinder 6½ Litre. However, the supercharged 4½ Litre (the famous "Blower" Bentley), which Barnato pushed through against Bentley's wishes, had poor durability and failed on the track.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 affected the Bentley business greatly, with the Great Depression reducing demand for the company's expensive products. In July 1931 two mortgage payments on the firm that were guaranteed by Barnato fell due, and accepting the inevitable, he advised the lenders that he was "unable to meet these debts." On 10 July, on the application of the mortgagee, the court appointed a Receiver to Bentley Motors Limited. After a period where it appeared that Napier was going to acquire the business, the firm passed into the hands of Rolls-Royce in November 1931 for the sum of £125,000 after a sealed bid auction.
Barnato received around £42,000 in return for his shares in the business, having bought a sizeable stake in Rolls-Royce not long before Bentley Motors was liquidated. By 1934 he was again on the board of Bentley Motors (1931) Ltd.
Having acquired his first Bentley in 1925, Barnato won numerous Brooklands races with this car. Barnato later won the Brooklands Six Hour Race and Double Twelve Race in 1930. Barnato was Duff's co-driver when he set the world 24-hour record at 95.03 miles per hour (152.94 km/h) at Autodrome de Montlhéry. He was regarded by W.O. Bentley as:
|“||The best driver we ever had and, I consider, the best British driver of his day. One who never made a mistake and always obeyed orders||”|
As a driver, Barnato won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race three times:
- 1928 — with Bernard Rubin in a Bentley 4½ Litre
- 1929 — with Sir Henry "Tim" Birkin in a Bentley Speed Six ("Old Number One")
- 1930 — with Glen Kidston in a Bentley Speed Six ("Old Number One")
As these were the only years in which he entered the race, Barnato is the only Le Mans driver with a perfect wins-to-starts ratio. Bentley, under his chairmanship, also won the race in 1927, with Dr. J. Dudley "Benjy" Benjafield and S. C. H. "Sammy" Davis in a Bentley 3 Litre.
The Blue Train Races
In March 1930 at the Carlton Hotel, Cannes, during the Blue Train Races, Woolf Barnato raised the stakes on Rover and its Rover Light Six. Having raced and beaten Le Train Bleu for the first time, Barnato claimed that he could not only beat the Blue Train from Cannes to Calais, but could reach London in his 6½ Litre Bentley Speed Six before the train even reached Calais, on a bet of 100 Pound Sterling.
He set off from the bar of the Carlton Hotel at just before 6pm on 13 March, accompanied by his friend Dale Bourne as unofficial co-driver. They stopped for fuel at Aix-en-Provence, Lyon, Auxerre and Paris. He arrived at the docks in Boulogne at 10:30 am on 14 March, in time for the 11:30 sailing to Folkestone. Barnato reached Dale Bourne's club (the Conservative) in St James's, London, at around 3:30 pm, having covered the 830 miles (1,340 km) in 22½ hrs, at an average speed of 43.43 miles per hour (69.89 km/h).
Barnato drove an H. J. Mulliner-bodied formal saloon in the race; the streamlined fastback "Sportsman Coupé" by Gurney Nutting which he took delivery of on 21 May 1930 also became known as the Blue Train Bentley and is regularly mistaken for or erroneously referred to as being the car that raced the Blue Train, while in fact Barnato named it in memory of his race. Further confusion is caused by the well-known painting by Terence Cuneo which depicts the Gurney Nutting car. Both vehicles are still in existence.
From 1940 to 1945, Barnato was a Wing-Commander with the Royal Air Force, responsible for the protection of aircraft factories against Nazi Luftwaffe bombing raids. He continued various low-key business opportunities out of his office on Park Lane.
Barnato was married three times:
- Dorothy Maitland Falk: 1915–1933, two daughters Virginia and Diana
- Jacqueline Claridge Quealy: 1933–1947. The daughter of a wealthy American colliery owner, the couple had two sons Michael Jay, and Peter Woolf (1934–1959; died of cancer February 1959, San Francisco)
- Joan Isachsen: December 1947-his death. Norwegian heiress
Barnato's daughter Diana Barnato Walker MBE learned to fly at the Brooklands Flying Club in 1938 at age 20. She went on to ferry Spitfires, Hurricanes and Wellingtons with the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II.
Barnato lived for most of the time in London, at his house at 39 Elsworthy Road, Hampstead whilst married to Dorothy Maitland and, after his divorce, at his flat at 50 Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, on the south east corner of the square. Other Bentley Boys also had flats in the same block and, such was the number of Bentley cars parked outside, the location was known to taxi drivers as 'Bentley's Corner'.
He also owned Ardenrun Hall, a country house situated near Lingfield, Surrey. Originally built in 1906–1909 by Ernest Newton for the Konig family, the house was the scene of many lavish motor racing-themed parties for Barnato and his friends, but was destroyed by fire on 14 March 1933. He also owned the nearby Nuthill Farm in Redhill, which was used by his ex-wife Dorothy and his daughters Diana and Virginia at weekends.
After the loss of Ardenrun, in 1938 he built a large castellated home named Ridgemead in Englefield Green, Surrey, at a cost of more than £100,000. Designed by Robert Lutyens, son of Sir Edwin Lutyens, Ridgemead featured innovations such as central heating, a 'talkie' cinema and a drive lit by secret light rays. It boasted 25 bedrooms, a heated swimming pool and was set in 25 acres of land overlooking the River Thames at Runnymede. Upon Barnato's death in 1948, his wife Joan sold the house for £25,000 and it became a nursing home, which it remains to this day.
During his final marriage to Joan Isachsen, he purchased an 8-acre plot named Perot's Island, in Bermuda, "as an investment after my death".
His funeral cortege was led by his Bentley 'Old Number One', which was covered with flowers and wreaths. He is buried at St Jude's Church in Englefield Green, Surrey, (grave 286, plot 25) next to his son-in-law Derek Walker (who had married his daughter Diana in 1944 and was killed in an aircraft crash in 1945). Estimates of his wealth at the time of his death were between £1.5 and 5m.
The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) named its highest award in Barnato's honor; the first Woolf Barnato Award was presented in 1948, and has been presented every year from 1948 to 2010 (including the period it was renamed the Carl Haas Award, 1994-2001). Recipients are nominated by the past three winners and approved by SCCA's board of directors. Barnato was also inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2010.
- Malcolm Bobbitt – W.O. Bentley: The Man behind the Marque (2003) ISBN 1-85983-352-7
- Diana Barnato Walker – Spreading My Wings: One of Britain's Top Women Pilots Tells Her Remarkable Story from Pre-War Flying to Breaking the Sound Barrier (2003) ISBN 1-904010-31-8
- Michael Hay – Bentley Factory Cars 1919–1931 (1993)
- Nick Foulkes – The Bentley Era (2006)
- Stanley Jackson – The Great Barnato (1970)
- Michael Hay – Old Number One (1999)
- Receiver Appointed Of Bentley Motors Limited Re Bentley Motors Limited; London Life Association Limited v. Bentley Motors Limited, And Woolf Barnato. The Times, Saturday, 11 Jul 1931; pg. 4; Issue 45872
- Melissen, Wouter (12 January 2004). "Bentley Speed Six 'Blue Train Special'". UltimateCarPage. Retrieved 4 November 2008.
- Burgess-Wise, David (1 January 2006). "The Slippery Shape of Power". Auto Aficionado. Retrieved 4 November 2008.[dead link]
- The Sports Car Club of America - About
- Pronounced Barnatoo — from Barnett too
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|Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
|Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
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