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Bentley pits car against train in 300-mile desert race

Long before Top Gear made it a staple of television, Bentley arranged a race between a car and a train to prove the mettle of its products. In 1930, Le Mans winner Captain Woolf Bamato raced the luxurious “Blue Train” from Cannes to Calais, and Bentley later commissioned a special model to commemorate the feat.

The race become almost as big a part of Bentley lore as the carmaker’s multiple Le Mans, and 85 years later, Bentley felt it was time to give it another try. But instead of France, the challenge was held in a much less hospitable locale.

This recreation pitted a Bentley Continental GT V8 S convertible against a train built to cross the Arabian desert. On August 15, the Bentley raced this unusual train over its 480-kilometer (298-mile) route between Riyadh, in the interior of Saudi Arabia, and Damman, on the coast. The car won, Bentley says, with a breathtaking six minutes to spare.

Bentley race driver Steven Kane was behind the wheel for the entire four-hour and fourteen-minute ordeal across the scorching hot desert. A convertible isn’t the ideal choice if you want to avoid baking in the sun or being pelted by sand from the nearby dunes. And all of that undoubtedly took a toll on the driver, not to mention the Bentley’s very expensive interior.

Related: Bentley goes retro with Mulsanne Speed Blue Train

“Four hours is the same as a stint at Le Mans. But this was far more stressful,” Kane said. He said he was bothered not only by the heat, but by the uncertainty involved in not knowing where the train was at any given time, and of having to drive quickly but without breaking Saudi Arabian traffic laws.

While it’s not as big or powerful as the 6.0-liter turbocharged W12 that’s also offered in the Continental GT, the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 seemed up to the task. Producing 520 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque, it drives all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Bentley says the Continental GT V8 S convertible will do 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and reach 191 mph.

Both of those statistics will embarrass most trains, but then again 191 mph isn’t exactly something you can achieve on the average public road. It’s those kinds of variables that have made car vs. train races  interesting for 85 years and counting.