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Woolf Barnato

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Joel Woolf Barnato (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.

Woolf Barnato was the son of Barney Barnato, who had made a fortune as a "Randlord" in South African diamond and gold mining, and a relative of the Joel family of entrepreneurs. He inherited a multi-million pound fortune at the age of two. He was educated at Charterhouse School and Trinity College, Cambridge and served as an officer in the Royal Field Artillery, British Army in World War I.

He also played first-class cricket, appearing as wicket-keeper with Surrey County Cricket Club from 1928 to 1930.

He was married three times. His first wife was Dorothy Maitland Falk; they had two daughters. His second wife was Jacqueline Claridge Quealy; they had two sons. He married his third wife in December 1947.

Barnato's daughter Diana Barnato Walker MBE learned to fly at the Brooklands Flying Club (based in the centre of the car racing circuit) in 1938 at age 20 and went on to ferry Spitfires, Hurricanes and Wellingtons with the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II

In the 1920s 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 stature.

Inspired by the 1924 Le Mans win by John Duff and Frank Clement, Barnato agreed to finance the Bentley business, and became majority shareholder and chairman in 1925.

Barnato went on to be Duff's co-driver when he set the world 24 hour record at 95.03 mph at Autodrome de Montlhéry.

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 affected the Bentley business greatly, and Barnato and Bentley were forced to sell to arch-rival Rolls-Royce.

As a driver, Woolf Barnato won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race three times:

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.

In March 1930, 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, to better that record with his 6½ Litre Bentley Speed Six on a bet of 100 Pound Sterling. He drove against the train from Cannes to Calais, then by ferry to Dover and finally London, travelling on public highways, and won. 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. Both vehicles are still in existence.

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