The 1900 Gordon Bennett Cup

It was actually called the Coupe Internationale; however, even at the time, everyone referred to it as the Gordon Bennett Cup.  It ran for several years; the first iteration took place in 1900.  It was, by some reports, a complete failure.  But, this minor overture laid the basic foundation for team-based racing.

Caricature of James Gordon Bennett, Jr.. Capti...
Caricature of James Gordon Bennett, Jr.. Caption read “New York Herald”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James Gordon Bennett, a newspaper man, and son of the creator of the New York Herald, was based in Paris.  Since the 1894 Paris to Rouen run, the New York Herald had paid close attention to the burgeoning sport of automobile racing.  Basically, Mr. Gordon Bennett (a hyphen is incorrect) offered a trophy to the Automobile Club de France (A.C.F.).  The trophy, or cup–as it were–offered this trophy to be “competed for under somewhat unusual circumstances.”  In particular, James Gordon Bennett Jr. dictated that the trophy would be competed for and won by the various national auto clubs.  In other words, neither the individual nor the manufacturer would take the honors.  Rather, the honor of the cup was to go to a winning country.  It was Gordon Bennett’s intention to spur automotive innovation by pitting the various national industries against each other.

James Gordon Bennett never attended any of his Coupe Internationales.  In fact, he was not even a big fan of driving.  He was typically known to roll up to his office in a horse-drawn coach.  But, importantly, he did believe that the automobile would transform the landscape.  Living in France, which was also the epicenter of the automobilism movement, Gordon Bennett offered his namesake’s cup to the A.C.F. in October 1899.

By January 1900, the French club had published a series of rules, called the “articles of competition.”  These rules, in and of themselves, are fascinating because they contain the first formalized rules of motorsport.  These rules define everything from the simple construct that the quickest to the finish line wins, to a basic form of parc fermé (generally understood to be the unavailability to modify a vehicle between race sessions).

Before sponsorship, cars were painted in so-called “national colors.”  These colors shifted a bit over time.  For example, Germany switched from white to silver over time (which is its own fascinating story of stripping paint to metal).  The Gordon Bennett Cup started this pre-sponsorship tradition.  The original chosen colors were red for America, white for Germany, yellow for Belgium, and blue for France.

The teams, for the Gordon Bennett Cup, were to be composed of one to three drivers.  The A.C.F. waisted no time in choosing the French Representatives.  The Chevalier René de Knyff received 32 member votes.  Charron received 25 and Girardot was third with 15 votes.  Almost immediately, some members (including possible drivers) were furious.  First, a democratic ballot is necessarily subjective as compared to some sort of tally of race results.  Second, and more importantly, all three selected drivers favored the Panhard et Levassor cars.  However, the Mors cars had been coming on strong since the last half of 1899.  The fallout from the disagreement included a threat by Levegh, Lemaitre, and Giraud to renounce their A.C.F. membership and defect to the competing Belgian club.  The fracas eventually settled.

Organization of the race continued into 1900.  While the A.C.F. had already chosen their drivers, other national clubs through their proverbial hats in the ring but did not specify team members.  England’s national club was conspicuously absent from the international entries.  First, they were focused on their own 1,000-Mile Trial.  Second, they did not actually have any decent race car manufacturers at the time, according to Gerald Rose.

A route was selected.  However, upon measuring the route, it was found to fall too short to be within the recently ratified articles of competition for the G B Cup.  A few tweaks later and it was long enough to pass muster.

Generally, the run up to the competition was plagued by misinformation and disorganization.  The fact that racing had been banned without specific government approval did not help.  There were other problems as well.  Camile Jenatzy’s new Belgian mount was stuck in French customs (which it remained through the date of the actual race, forcing Jenatzy to strip down a touring car of the same make in order to race).  Even Levegh’s recent win at Bordeaux to Periqueux renewed the kerfuffle over the A.C.F. driver selection.

There was serious doubt, even within the organizing A.C.F., as to whether the race would actually occur.  The original date was rescheduled for June 14, 1900.  Some drivers complained there was insufficient notice to prepare there respective cars.  The sole German representative, Eugen Benz, refused to start on these grounds.  However, the real reason he did not start may have been fear that his rear tires were doomed to fail at high speed.  Or, perhaps, it was because his Benz was so slow that his “chance of winning was microscopical.”`

The Race Report

Not unusual for races of this era, the race started just a quarter after 3:00 in the morning.  The entries were: René de Knyff (France), Camille Jenatzy (Belgium), Winton (America), Charron (France), and Girardot (France).  All three French entries did, in fact, end up being Panhard et Levassors.  Winton, the new American, was in a car of his own design.  Jenatzy, the sole Belgian, was stuck in his stripped down Bolide touring car (as his actual racing model remained trapped by French customs for unknown reasons).  Levegh, not chosen by the A.C.F. as an official French entry, raced alongside the others en amateur.

De Knyff and Winton got slow starts.  Girardot and Jenatzy were able to fight for the initial lead.  Just outside of Versailles, Winton’s Winton was in last place.  However, Jenatzy, the original king of the four-wheel-grip-the-grain-all-wheel-drift was already shredding his tires.  Having to replace both rears, he dropped into last place.

English: at the next to a vehicle of his make,...
A 1914 picture of Fernand Charron, the former cyclist, and later car designer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to contemporary reports, at Limours, Girardot was in the lead at 3:49:15.  Charron was second, reaching the checkpoint just under three minutes later.  De Knyff followed only one minute behind.  Winton was in fourth and Jenatzy brought up the rear.  Levegh, the unofficial entry, was 30 minutes ahead of Girardot, the official leader.

At Orléans, roughly the mid-point of the race, things were getting interesting for the competitors.   Charron, for example, was about to give up.  He had badly bent his rear axle in taking a rather ancient drainage ditch (caniveau) too quickly.  However, at Orléans, he was in second and found out that Girardot, the first place runner, had a steering gear in need of immediate repair.   He also found out that de Knyff, was essentially out of the race with a stripped top gear.  Jenatzy and Winton were a long way behind.  Given these facts, Charron soldiered on like a boss (but I’m mixing metaphors again).

I mentioned that Jentazy was way behind.  He had several flat tires, broken spark plugs, and clutch issues–and those were only the start of his issues.  According to Gerald Rose, “vowing that with car troubles, obstreperous gendarmes, dogs, and sheep, he had never in his life driven such a race”.”  Meanwhile, the new American, Winton had bucked a front wheel.  He bowed out just after Orléans, which took him 8:30.00 to reach, compared to the unofficial Levegh’s 5:25.00.

Thus, after Orléans, only Charron and Girardot remained.  But, remember, Charron axle was shot.  Luckily, his riding mechanic (and driver in his own right) Fournier, “staved off disaster by keeping up a steady flow of oil on the chains.”  Girardot was still far behind.  He got lost in Orléans.  This really wasn’t his fault.  By all accounts, this was the result of a poorly organized race.  Also, recall that his steering gear was still giving him problems.

Dogs, in these days of open-road city to city races, were a constant issue.  In his magnum opus, Gerald Rose recounts Charron’s harrowing encounter with a particularly large dog:

The bane of the race were the dogs, and it is said that every single driver killed five or six.  Ten miles before the finish Charron collided with an unusually big St. Bernard when going down hill at nearly sixty miles an hour.  Somehow the dog became wedged between the wheel and the steering arm, completely jamming the steering gear.  The car dashed off the road, across the ditch, between two trees into the neighbouring field, and thence between two more back on to the road, finally coming to rest facing in the direction of Paris, with its two occupants too startles to say anything.  Fournier just got down and re-started the engine, and in a minute the car was speeding on to Lyons as if nothing had happened.

The passage goes on to describe how Fournier had to lean over the edge of the car, in an acrobatic manner, to hold a water pump in place while Charron chugged on to victory.

Lord Montagu called the 1900 Gordon Bennett Cup an “Overture in a Minor Key.”  The crowd at the end of the race confirms this assessment.  The newspapers said there may have been up to 100 people at the finish line.  However, these accounts were a bit generous.  More accurate estimates from the drivers suggest that only about a dozen people were at the finish line to greet Charron on his win.

The final standings were:

  1. Charron (Panhard; 24 HP) 9:09:00 (38.6 mph)
  2. Girardot (Panhard; 24 HP) 10:36:23 (33.4 mph)
  3. De Knyff (Panhard; 24 HP) – (-)
  4. Jenatzy (Bolide; 16 HP) – (-)
  5. Winton (Winton; 14 HP) -(-)

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources

“The Gordon-Bennett International Cup Race”, The Motor-Car Journal, 285-287 (June 23, 1900).

The Gordon Bennett Races, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (1965) (Containing some minor discrepancies with the other sources.  As such, I am considering this slightly less reliable than my other, earlier sources).

A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1949) (Originally published in 1909).

“The Gordon Bennett International Cup Race” The Horseless Age, Vol. 6 No. 14, p. 14 (1900) (Providing an American perspective on the race).

A Mid-Season Racing Ban, Circa 1900

The automobilism movement, as it was called in the early days of the motor vehicle, was growing.  Unfortunately, so was oppositional public sentiment.  The main vehicle for informing the public about the wonders of the automobile was the motor race.  However, often, races were poorly planned.  The old dirt roads were rough.  Often, organizers failed to inform property owners, along the route, of the race.  As a result, cars frequently collided with livestock.  In the parlance of today’s youth, these events were often a hot mess.

Paris to Roubaix, 1900

Bicycle, Velo, Fahrad, Radrennen. Paris-Rubaix...
Bicycle, Velo, Fahrad, Radrennen. Paris-Rubaix, 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These anti-automobilism pressures culminated with a race from Paris to Roubaix.  Fans of cycling will recognize this as a bicycle race.  It usually was.  However, in 1900, motor tricycles were included in this cycling event.  Do not estimate the danger associated with these small motor tricycles.  They may have only had two cylinders and between six and eight horsepower, but they were rumored to be faster than the quickest proper automobile, in a straight line.  There had been 52 motorized entries to be racing just behind the bicycles.  However, in the end, only 30 showed up.  One failed to start up that morning, leaving 29 motor tricycles in the competition.

The crowd, as pictured, was substantial.  According to Gerald Rose, “At one point on the route there was a certain right-angled corner known as the ‘Croix des Noailles,’ and that being a good coign of vantage from which the competitors could be seen approaching, turning the corner, and departing, a crowd of spectators some two or three hundred strong had gathered to enjoy the spectacle.  Here, the majority of spectators arrived by bicycle. They had laid them down in a stack at the corner of the road track.  Importantly, one of the spectators was the wife of a power government Deputy (for the Department of the Seine).

At first, everything went well.  However, two competitors by the names of Martin and Dorel arrived at the corner going too fast.  Martin ran wide.  Dorel tried to squeeze by on the inside as Martin trike ran wide.  They crashed together and then over the pile of bicycles.  The 300-strong crowd was too thick to get out of the way in time.  The Deputy’s wife sustained a terrible compound leg fracture, which ultimately left her in the hospital for at least two weeks.  On the one hand, the bicycles broke much of the collision such that only a few other injuries were sustained.  On the other hand, this was the unfortunate spark to the powder keg of anti-automobilism sentiment.

The result was a racing ban placed in force within days of the accident.  There was widespread sadness and dismay among the enthusiast community.  From here on, races required a government exemption from the general rule to proceed.  As France was the epicenter of the automobile movement, during the fin de siecle, this would ultimately have a cooling effect upon the popular car movement–particularly when it came to smaller, regional races.  The rundown clock on the great city to city races had been set.  The end of these great events, unfortunately, was now in sight (even if it was not known at the time).

1900 Bordeaux to Perigueux Automobile Race

Levegh_(Alfred_Velghe)_et_sa_Mors_24_hp_de_1900,_victorieuse_à_Bordeaux-Périgueux_et_à_Paris-Toulouse-Paris
Levegh and his 24 horsepower Mors.

This race was authorized in spite of the racing ban.  This fact, alone, made the race something of an attraction.  However, the bigger crowd draw was the fact that it was the first proper meeting between the latest Mors and Panhard cars.  It was a two day event, with the first day being 72 miles and the second day being 125.5 miles.  Unlike the relatively minor race of Paris to Roubaix, the Bordeaux to Perigueux race had many of the bigger names in early motorsport including Giraud and Levegh.

Giraud, had previously only driven a Bollée, but had switched to Panhard in light of the overwhelming racing success of the marque.  However, the Mors had come out of nowhere and was to be quite a contender for the supreme French racer.  Levegh, as I have mentioned several times in previous posts, was the uncle of the unfortunate instigator of the 1955 Le Mans disaster.

An American, Bostwick, was new on the scene.  He had purchased, at an extremely high price, De Knyff’s “Tour de France” Panhard from 1899.  The speed on the first day was incredible.  Levegh travelled the 72 miles in only 84 minutes, which is a pace that the racing community had not yet seen.  Even more impressive was the fact that other racers were averaging nearly as quickly as Levegh’s record pace.  At the end of the first day, Giraud was only three minutes behind in second place.  Bostwick, the new American to the French racing scene, was third.  He finished only an additional 4:30 behind the second place Giraud.

Another Photo of Levegh, from the 1900 Bordeaux to Perigueux run.
Another Photo of Levegh, from the 1900 Bordeaux to Perigueux run.

On the second day, Levegh was again quickest.  Thus, Levegh and his Mors won the two day event averaging 48.4 miles per hour.  Giraud maintained second place, at an average of 47.1 miles per hour.  Bostwick evidenced the American can-do attitude by maintaining third at 45.6 miles per hour.  This proved that the Automobile Club de France had correctly chosen both a Mors and a Panhard for the upcoming first iteration of the Gordon Bennett trophy (which will be featured in the next post).

 

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources:

Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908 (1949)

The Motor-Car Journal, April 20th, 1900 (Accessed via Google).

 

A Death at Speed Week, 1900

The Speed Week events in the south of France, around Monaco, were not the first races of the season.  The new 24 horsepower (some reports suggest a rating of 30 horsepower) had just been released.  The newly lightened Panhard et Levassors could not match the power of the Mors at 16 horsepower.  The great early racer, René de Knyff had been driving the wheels off his 16 horsepower Panhard, though many other drivers were still competing with the less powerful 12 horsepower Panhards.  New to the racing scene were the Cannstatt Daimler cars were now being called Mercedes.  They were heavy and notoriously difficult to handle, while racing.

Gottlieb Daimler Dies in March 1900.

Gottlieb Daimler (1834—1900)
Gottlieb Daimler (1834—1900) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The so-called speed week along the southern French coast was a yearly affair taking place around late March.  This year, the week started on Sunday, March 25 (1900).  Just a few weeks earlier, on March 6, 1900, Gottlieb Daimler had died.  Gottlieb Daimler’s legacy had already been cemented by his death; however, he was likely unaware of just how pervasive his influence would be on modern life.

It was Gottlieb Daimler who first miniaturized and made mobile the internal combustion engine.  Simply, Gottlieb Daimler was the first to have the insight, vision, and practical engineering knowledge to create an automobile engine.  Certainly, the autonomous mobile vehicle (requiring only a driver but no horses or other propulsion) had been conceived by great thinkers such as Francis Bacon.  Yet, it was many centuries before someone with the correct set of talents was able to make this vision a reality.  Now, the old Daimler may have been a visionary, but–like many visionaries–was stubborn, unbending, and often extremely difficult to work with.  His death, in some ways, allowed Daimler–the company–to have more freedom to develop the automobile.

The first races following the death of Gottlieb Daimler were the Speed Week races in the South of France.

1900 Nice to Marseilles

In years past, the race had been run from Marseilles heading into Nice, near Monaco.  However, for 1900, a roundtrip race from Nice to Marseilles and back was planned.  However, bad weather forced the race to be run in only one direction, with the return trip to Nice untimed.        .

Emil Jellinek
Emil Jellinek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was a big week each year for Emil Jellinek to garner interest in his Monacan import of the Cannstatt Daimler’s, including the new Mercedes models.  In fact, 1900 was the first year that the label “Mercedes” shows up in official racing charts and results.

The Jellinek camp, heavily connected to the Daimler factory operation, entered two short-chassis Pheonix’s under the label of Mercedes, according to Robert Dick.  Both cars were rated at 26 horsepower and weighed in at 1,400 kilograms.   Herman Braun drove the relatively longer 217 cm. framed Mercedes.  Wilhelm Bauer, the Cannstatt factory foreman entered to extremely short wheel-based (190 cm.) Mercedes.

The comparatively lighter 16 horsepower Panhards were present in numbers. Names such as Charron, De Knyff, Pinson, and Hourgieres all entered Panhard et Levassor models.

The new, massive-engined Mors was entered by Alfred Velghe.  Alfred Velghe always entered under a moniker, as was fashionable at the time (and confusing for researchers!).  He entered as “Levegh” an anagram of his last name.  Students of motorsport history may recognize this notorious name.  Alfred was the uncle of the driver that caused the disaster at Le Mans in 1955, which arguably remains the worst disaster in all motorsport history.

Prior to the race, DeKnyff’s car was fired up and ready to race.  With old-timey splendor, Gilles Hourgieres rolled up behind De Knyff’s car.  Failing to brake in time, he bumped the back of De Knyff’s Panhard.  This caused De Knyff’s car to drop into gear and take off without a driver.  Fortunately, it drove itself into a nearby barrier and did not do any damage to the new Mercedes.

Braun, in his brand new Mercedes, managed to end up in a ditch a mere 15 kilometers from the starting line.  A privately entered Daimler, entered by Prince Lubecki, broke two wheels when attempting to give Charron room to pass.  These events, perhaps, were a harbinger of what was to come later in the week.  These accidents were compounded by the sheer difficulty in driving the short wheel-based Daimlers.

As the race progressed, Levegh’s 7.5 liter Mors was clearly the fastest car.  However, power and speed are only good so long as they can reliably transmitted into motion.  Levegh lost over 30  minutes dealing with torn up tires.  One might recall that the modern pneumatic tire was but in its infancy in 1900.

Due to the difficulties of Levegh, De Knyff was able to carry the day in his lightweight 16 horsepower Panhard.  He averaged a shocking 43.8 miles per hour.

Death at the La Turbie Hillclimb

For several years, a hillclimb outside of Monaco, leading up to La Turbie followed the touring car race.  For the Cannstatt Mercedes entry, Bauer was driving, while Braun was riding with him.  According to Gerald Rose, Bauer “ran wide at the first corner into the rocks which bordered the road, and was killed.”  This, as far as I can recall, is the first death of a notable driver occurring as a result of racing incident.  As such, it signals the inclusion of a certain darkness that has continued to be a part of motorsport to this day.

Certainly, attitudes toward death in sport have changed dramatically in the last century.  In fact, it is probably fair to say that modern attitudes toward death in general differ significantly from those a century ago.  However, one result of Bauer’s death is certain: it was terrible “PR.”  Specifically, following Bauer’s death, Cannstatt-Daimler’s were often viewed as dangerous, difficult to handle, and unrefined.

A notable automotive journalist from Paris, the epicenter of the turn of the century automotive scene, defended the Cannstatt Daimler’s.  He noted that, “Before the race, Bauer had practised the hill forty time.  He knew it better than anyone else.”  He suggested that his death was the result of spectator placement and a lighter, better handling car would still have likely met the same fate given the speed the field was racing at.

Conclusion

In summary, the 1900 season is witnessing the beginning of the race toward giant displacement engines.  The Daimler’s were over 5 liter engines.  The new Mors, the benchmark of speed for the 1900 season, was up to 7.5 liters.  In coming years, the engines would grow to staggering sizes.  These giants came about from limitations in engine design.  Given an inability to raise engine revolutions, the next obvious way to increase power was to increase engine size and displacement. Ultimately, it would take the advances in technology from the first world war to design smaller, but more efficient engines.

 

Sources

Robert Dick, Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque: 1895 – 1915 (2005).

Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908 (1949).

The Beginning of the 1900 Motorsport Season

Traditionally, the Riviera Speed Week in the south of France had been the opening of the motorsport season in early years.  However, a few minor–but still notable–races took place before the Speed Week in 1900.  These included the Course du Catalogue, the Circuit du Sud Ouest, and a voiturette only race from Paris to Rouen and back to Paris.  The Circuit du Sud Ouest race was the most important of these comparatively minor races.

The Course du Catalogue

The 1900 motorsport season opener took place on February 18, 1900.  It was a short race, just under 45 miles (72 km).  The race was organized by the publication, La France Automobile.

As noted in the last post, classes were seemingly arbitrarily created by the organizing committee to suit their disparate purposes.   This race had six classes, which were divided according to chassis cost.  In the so-called (or at least what I am calling) “big car” category, there were only two competitors.  A Mr. Degrais driving a Mors, and recent strong competitor Léonce Girardot.  Girardot was rocking his usual Panhard et Levassor.

Girardot at the 1900 Course du Catalogue.
Girardot at the 1900 Course du Catalogue.

Girardot, pictured above above in his Panhard, carried the day against Degrais.  Baron de Rothschild, philanthropist, racer, and ancestor of the wine maker, wagered he could complete the 72 kilometer (44.7 mile) circuit in 72 minutes.  He failed.  He broke a powertrain chain just before the halfway point.

The Circuit du Sud Ouest

The race on the newly devised Circuit du Sud Ouest was the main event of a series of races being held the week of February 22, 1900.  This main event took place on the 25th of February.  For races of the day, it was on the short side at 209.5 miles.

Map of the 1900 Circuit du Sud Ouest (modified from Wikipedia).
Map of the 1900 Circuit du Sud Ouest (modified from Wikipedia).

According the authoritative Gerald Rose, “In most cases, the cars were those of the Tour de France, though with additions and improvements.”  For example, René de Knyff had managed to lighten his Panhard by 200 kilograms (approx. 440 pounds).  The car was 440 pounds lighter in spite of a bigger, heavier engine as compared to the Tour de France setup.  This new engine was more powerful and also utilized “dual ignition” (dual ignition involves the use of both incandescent Platinum tubes and electric ignition).

Ferand Charron and Léonce Girardot also had lighter cars, utilizing changed axels, new ball bearing setup, and several other secret developments to be used in later models.  These secret modifications have been lost to history.

Girardot.
Girardot.

The race was preceded by heavy rain.  However, the rain not only cleared before the race, but also served to harden the dirt roads.  This reduced the usual cloud of dust following each car.  In general, conditions were great for high-speed rollicking.

It was an interval start.  Giraud left first; however, he was to have a rough day.  Conversely, de Knyff had an epic day.  At the 75 mile mark, he already led the field by a shocking 30 minutes.

Giraud, who had started first, had serious problems with his rear tires, which slowed him down throughout the race.

Fernand Charron wrecked before Saint Sever.  He hit a large hump in the road, which destroyed all four of his tires.  Upon simultaneously bursting all four tires, he (and his passenger) were thrown out of their Panhard.

In short, de Knyff crushed it.  In the end, he won by over 40 minutes.  In fact, he flogged his Panhard until it had nothing left to give.  According to Rose, “Just before the end of the race, the winner’s pump gave out, and although he managed to reach the finish, his car arrived enveloped in a blue haze of smoke and refused to move an inch beyond the finishing line.”

With nearly every race, average speeds were rising, which is a testament to the furious rate of technological advancement occurring.  This race set a new record pace for an automobile race of 43.8 miles per hour, which is not too shabby for a car rated at only 16 horsepower.

Paris to Rouen and Back: A Voiturette Race

A voiturette, by the way, is a smaller car relative to the “big cars.”  However, for many years, the division between the two would remain vague at best.  Théry won in a Decauville weighing roughly 1,030 pounds.  However, the Renault voiturettes were also particularly strong.

Renault Voiturette circa 1900
Renault Voiturette circa 1900.

One criticism of motorsport then, which oddly still rages today even in Formula 1, is the disconnect between racing cars and road cars.  However, the Paris to Rouen to Paris race in early March 1900, raised an oddly practical point.  Several people ordered voiturettes based on their observation of the cars in the race.  They were infuriated to realize that the company merely delivered a touring model.  It was the racers, themselves, that were converting these to race cars.  The purchasers were not happy to realize that they had ordered and paid for a car rather incapable of racing, without serious modification.

A photograph from the March 1900 Race of the Renault Voiturette, drawn above.
A photograph from the March 1900 Race of the Renault Voiturette, drawn above.

Stay tuned for the next post, which will detail the story of how the “Mercedes” came to be!

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

 

Primary Source:

A Record of Motor Racing, 1894 – 1908Gerald Rose (2nd. ed. 1949).

The Late Races of 1899

Following the 1899 Tour de France, there was a smattering of semi-important races.  Most of these originated out of Paris.  Paris, five years into the existence of proper motorsport, was still the center of this grassroots movement.

On Classes and Cars

Unlike today’s highly-defined racing segments, in the early days of motorsport, there were no settled classes for cars.  Instead, virtually every committee sponsoring a race was devising unique classes as they saw fit.

However, as a general rule, there was three classes: (1) big cars; (2) voiturettes; and (3) tricycles.  As of 1899, the development of the big cars was most important.  However, the voiturettes were progressively becoming more important.  These lighter, often speedier, cars would eventually rise in popularity as a response to the monstrous big car engines.

In this era, so-called big car engines were continually increasing in size.  In an era where few cars could rev past 1,200 to 1,500 RPMs, the answer for more power often came from merely increasing the displacement of a given engine.  In the early years of motorsport, power was more easily gained from increasing size than improving engine efficiency.

Incandescent Platinum Tube Ignition
Incandescent Platinum Tube Ignition

This does not mean that development was slow.  On the contrary, the rate of development, particularly by Panhard et Levassor was rapid.  One development occurring during this time was the switch to electric ignition.  Electric ignition was generally superior to the previous technology of incandescent platinum tubes.  Panhard et Levassor made this change between 1899 and 1901; whereas Mors successfully used electric ignition from the beginning.

Diagram of Electric Ignition
Diagram of Electric Ignition

Paris to Saint Malo

The Paris to Saint Malo race took place only five days after the Tour de France on July 30, 1899.  The net racing distance was 231 miles.  Most races, in these early years, originated out of Paris.  Such concentrated motoring activity did not go unnoticed by the public.  In fact, there was a growing backlash against the grassroots motorsport movement.

According to Gerald Rose, Paris to Saint Malo was “essentially a race for tricycles.”  The tricycles were fastest overall in this race.  In fact, for the shorter races, the tricycles were generally quickest in 1899.

A Mr. Renaux won in a tricycles of his own construction.  However, his victory was not without incident.  At one point, he made a wrong turn and took a longer overall route to one of the control points.  As he had not gained an advantage, he was not disqualified.

Antony on his Mors in the Paris to Saint Malo.
Antony on his Mors in the Paris to Saint Malo.

The fastest car was Antony.   His 16 horsepower Mors completed the 231 mile course in 7 hours and 32 minutes.  This translates to an average of 30.7 miles per hour, which supports a conclusion that the average speeds were consistently increasing.

One driver, Broc, burst a tire.  In fact, as I have previously discussed, inflated tires continued to cause problems.  However, the cars were simply too fast for solid rubber tires.  The Mors’ cars, which debuted at Paris to Bordeaux, came on strong in the last part of 1899.

Paris to Trouville

This was not strictly a motor race.  If for no other reason, this Top Gear-esque challenge, deserves mention  purely for its uniqueness.  This was the first, and quite possibly only, race to pit racing cars against pedestrians, horses, bicycles, and motorcycles.  Each class started at different times, equating to their respective speed.  The goal was to have the winners of each class arrive at Trouville at the same time.

The race took place on August 27, 1899.  It was 104.5 miles in length.  The different class winners did not exactly arrive at the same tune,  However, they were within a couple hours of each other.  The runners (pedestrians) hustled along the course for 21 hours.  The racing cars completed the course in about three hours.

Antony leading the way to Trouville on his Mors.
Antony leading the way to Trouville on his Mors.

A nine year old horse was the first to arrive at 3:12 pm, at an average speed of 8.5 miles per hour.  Antony’s Mors was the fastest car.  Levegh was second, also in a Mors racing car.  The Mors continued to come on strong late in the season.

Paris to Ostend

The publication Vélo organized this 201 mile race to take place on September 1, 1899, only a few days after the Trouville event.  The race was to end at a racecourse known as the “Velodrome de Wellington.”

Described as a most dangerous practice by Gerald Rose in 1909, the race involved a mass start.  It is interesting that motorsport wholesale adopted a practice that was initially seen as an unnecessary danger, even at low speeds.  The cars started first.  Only two minutes later, there was a simultaneous start of 24 cycles.

The problem with mass starts was compounded by the issue of dust.  On these old city to city races, the overwhelming majority of the drives were inevitably on mere compressed dirt.  As such, a simultaneous start implied not only a dangerous group of cars, but a visibility reducing cloud until the cars finally managed to sufficiently spread out.

For the cars, the start was a dusty, confusing race to a dangerous corner at Saint-Ouen-l’Aumone.  Levegh reached the corner first; however, he was only ahead of Charron by a mere 800 yards.  And right behind Charron, Camille Jentazy was snapping at his heels, trying to get past.  Following the battle for second by Charron and Jenatzy was a dogfight involving Girardot, Georges, and Broc.

As for that dangerous complex at Saint-Ouen-l’Aumone, Rose notes:

“All got past the danger spot successfully except Georges, who was going too fast, and after swerving from one side of the road to the other, he finally crashed into a ditch, luckily without injuring himself or his machine to any great extent.”

The first part of the race maintained a tremendous pace.  Levegh covered 129 kilometers in a mere 133 minutes, a record pace for this era of racing.  However, at Beauvais, a fine mist slowed the pace.  The rain turned into a downpour and further slowed the pace, by the next control point.

C.S. Rolls in the 1899 Paris to Ostend Motorrace.
C.S. Rolls in the 1899 Paris to Ostend Motorrace.

As was found to be competitively advantageous, the tricycles followed in the wake of a racing car, to help keep the pace up in their low-powered engines.  Teste followed closely behind Levegh, leader.  By St. Paul, Girardot was in second place and was closely followed by Baras, in his tricycle.

By Dunkerque, the tricycles had gotten bold and overtaken the cars altogether.  Teste was ahead of Levegh by a full two minutes.  In the end, however, the tricycle driven by Baras took the lead and won the race.

The crowd in the Vélodrome went crazy at the instant the first two cars entered.  There they were, Levegh and Girardot racing absolutely head-to-head to be the fastest car.  Girardot, driving his Panhard, beat Levegh’s Mors to the finish line.

Bordeaux to Biarritz

The 1899 season ended where it began: the south of France.  The route proceeded through Langon, Auros, Grignoles, Casteljaloux, Mont de Marson, Dax, and Bayonne.

There were 27 drivers in total.  However, if you were not driving a Mors, you would have had little chance in this race.  The Mors, which had come on very strong in the late races of 1899 were completely dominant in the 163 mile trek from Bordeaux to Biarritz.

The race was won buy Levegh, followed by Antony.  This race is most notable for setting a new high average pace for a race.  Levegh completed all 163 miles at a shocking average of 37 miles per hour.

And So, 1899 Came to an End.

The 1899 season has been an interesting season to study.  Motorsport, as a whole, is in a state of transition.  The early races, between stripped down touring cars were beginning to fade.  Instead, races composed of purpose-built chassis.  There are still a great many epic city to city races remaining, before the sport–as a whole–realizes the superiority of closed course circuit-based racing.

 

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Primary Source:

A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1909) (providing the definitive account of early motorsport times and events).

The 1899 (Automobile) Tour de France

Picture of competitor in the original Tour de France

The Tour de France was conceived by the French publication, Le Matin.  The race took place between July 16 and July 24, in 1899.  The race was to be approximately 1,350 miles and stands as one of the longer automotive races of all time.  The first bicycle Tour de France did not take place until 1903, which makes this the true original.

The regulations for the July 1899 race were published in April in Le Matin.  There are two sets of regulations of note.  First, there were “new rules affecting the disposal of cars during the nights between stages.”  These rules provided that the cars could generally not be worked on outside of certain periods before and after a stage.  In other words, parc fermé regulations date back to early racing.  Second, flags were introduced at this race.  A yellow flag indicated “attention.”  A red flag was the symbol to stop.

There were three categories of cars.  The first category was for “cars having at least two places side by side, carrying two passengers.”  The fact that cars were required to have two seats seems to indicate that, even this early in the development of motorsport, there was a fear of alienating public interest in the sport by creating too great a divide between the thoroughbred racer and the regular touring car.  The second category was for motorcycles.  To meet the main category, the motorcycles had to weigh less than 150 kilograms.  Finally, there was a third catch-all category for vehicles not fitting into the first two categories.

The stages were as follows:

  • Stage 1 (July 16): Paris to Nancy = 180.1 miles
  • Stage 2 (July 17): Nancy to Aix-les-bains = 227.3 miles
  • Rest Day (July 18)
  • Stage 3 (July 19): Aix-les-bains to Vichy = 237.2 miles
  • Rest Day (July 20)
  • Stage 4 (July 21): Vichy to Perigueux = 187.7 miles
  • Stage 5 (July 22): Perigueux to Nantes = 212.4 miles
  • Stage 6 (July 23): Nantes to Cabourg = 216.1 miles
  • Stage 7 (July 24): Cabourg to Paris = 119.2

The gross racing distance was 1,378 miles . Due to a few excepted sections, the net racing distance was 1,350 miles.

A Few Notes on the Cars

Out of the multitude of competitors in the three classes, there were 19 cars, which started the race.  Of those 19, eight were Panhard et Levassors.  Interestingly, there were 7 cars with horizontal engines (Vallée, Bolide, Richard, and the Bollées); however, only one of these cars managed to finish.

The Bollées

These were low hung cars, with “wind cutting fronts” and a long wheelbase.  If nothing else, they looked racey.  The Bollées were driven by drivers including Castelnau, Giraud, Avis, and Jamin.

The Panhard et Levassors

Fernand Charron and René de Knyff each had the very new 16 horsepower models.  According to Gerald Rose, “The six other Panhards were all 12 H.P. vehicles.”

The Mors

These entries were the first proper racers built by the firm.  This was only their second race.  Previously, the Mors had done quite well in the 1899 Paris to Bordeaux.  Mors were driven by Levegh, Jenatzy, and Antony.

The Vallée

This was described as a “truly remarkable vehicle.  It was fitted with a horizontal engine having four cylinders with a 100 mm bore and a 200 mm stroke.  Transmission was by means of a single belt.  Unfortunately, the belt slipped and Dr. Lehwess withdrew this car on the very first stage.

The Bolide

The Bolide was an odd car.  The horizontal engine was under the main bodywork of the car; it did not really have a traditional hood.  According to Rose, “the radiator, a vertical tubular one, stood straight up in front of the driver, and gave the car a curious fore-shortened appearance, as the seats were practically mid-way between the wheels.”

Stage 1: Paris to Nancy (180.1 miles)

The race started at 8:00 am on Sunday, July 16, 1899.  As was the usual practice, this was an an interval race, where the cars were released in thirty second intervals.  19 cars. 4 voiturettes, and 25 motorcycles started the race.

Tires were a persistent problem for the duration of the race.  Pneumatic tires were still in their very early development in 1899.  Flash, driving a Vollée had “immediate and persistent” tire problems.  In fact, a blowout caused him to collide with a post, which damaged his car.  Although he arrived at the destination too late to be timed, he did continue on for the remainder of the race, albeit untimed.

Charron’s time (6:05:42) was particularly slow owing to problems with his water piping.  The top three times, and thus leaders of the race, were as follows:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 5:19:27
  • Girardot (Panhard): 5:35:47
  • Pinson (Panhard): 5:44:24

Stage 2: Nancy to Aix-les-bains (227.3 miles)

Spectators from the nearby “Ecole Professionelle” (Professional School) were already outside and waiting around 4:30 am.  The cars were off starting at 6:00 am.  There was an allowance for some rough roads on the first part of the stage.

Antony, Broc, and Lefebvre each dropped out; however, the reasons why have been lost to history.  Girardot lost a wheel.  However, he managed to replace it with an ordinary cart wheel and continue on.  Although Charron arrived first, both front springs were broken, due to gripping the grain a bit hard for the extremely rough roads.

The next day was a rest day.  There was some excitement when the town’s major hotel spontaneously and accidentally burned to the ground.

Overall Leaders with Times on Stage 2:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 7:15:21
  • Charron (Panhard): 6:50:52
  • Jamin (Bollée): 7:16:25

Stage 3: Aix-les-bains to Vichy (237.2 miles)

By only about 10 miles, this was the longest stage of the tour.  At the start, there were 35 total competitors running from the three different classes.  Giraud made his way to the front of this stage.  However, he was soon passed by the Count de Chasseloup, who recently raced Camille Jenatzy for the fastest over a flying kilometer.  Then, at Montbrison, the Count was overtaken by Fernand Charron and then René de Knyff.  The day was filled with incidents.  Seeing as these were the first cars any dogs had ever come across, they were a perpetual problem.  It had to be amusing to be among the first to realize dogs are all but pre-programmed to chase cars.

There was another rest day following this lengthy stage.  The Bollées were already getting pretty weak, in that they were starting to fall back and drop out.

Overall Leaders with Times on Stage 3:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 8:28:48
  • Charron (Panhard): 8:12:12
  • Pinson (Panard): 8:51:07

Stage 4: Vichy to Perigeuex (187.7 miles)

This was said to be the most trying stage of all.  The competitors were passing through the mountainous area of Auvergne.  In fact, this route was so trying that it was later used for the 1905 Gordon Bennett trophy.

Again, according to Gerald Rose:

The hill up La Baraque to the top of the Col de la Moreno was the last straw to some of the weary [motor] cyclists.

Remember, these early motorcycles often required assistance from the rider by pedaling.  In fact, a couple cyclists, such as Rigal and Osment, simply gave up on the hill.

For the cars, the four mile hill section gives a good indication of the relative strength of some of the top remaining cars.  De Knyff and Charron covered the section in 15 minutes.  Pinion took 18 minutes.  Girardot took 19 minutes to complete the section.

The Count de Chasseloup-Laubat burst both of his rear tired trying to avoid a dog.  De Knyff led the stage from start to finish.

Overall Leaders with Times on Stage 4:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 6:44:55
  • Charron (Panhard): 7:10:52
  • Pinson (Panhard): 7:25:00

Stage 5: Perigueux to Nantes (212.4 miles)

At this point, there were only 23 of the original 48 competitors.  All 23 completed this relatively uneventful stage.  Count de Chasseloup-Laubat was the surprise fastest time of the day.  However, he drove the entire distance with his toolbox open, causing him to lose every single spare tire that he was carrying.  He also lost his jack.  Giraud was unable to even start the stage. As such, there was only one Bollée remaining.  Girardot overtook Pinson for third place, overall.

Overall Leaders with Times on Stage 5:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 6:53:45
  • Charron (Panhard: 7:16:15
  • Girardot (Panhard): 7:07:52

Stage 6: Nantes to Cabourg (216.1 miles)

There was a bit of rain on this stage.  However, the roads were not overly affected.  Charron, who had been running in second, overall, since the second stage, ran into trouble.  He broke the aluminum cap of the bearing between the gearbox and the bevel drive on the sprocket shaft.  This left him with the ability to drive only in reverse.  He, in fact, did just that for 25 miles, before giving up.  He tried to forge a replacement part with Clément; however, it failed.  Charron was out of the race for good.  It must have been crushing for him to have to abandon hope of winning such an epic race.

The fastest time of the day was from Levegh (6:26:44).  Yet, this was largely inconsequential as he was quite far back in the overall order.

Overall Leaders with Times on Stage 6:

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 6:48:03
  • Girardot (Panhard): 7:00:25
  • Count de Chasseloup-Laubat (Panhard): 6:34:21

Stage 7: Cabourg to Paris (119.2 miles)

An honorable mention goes to Camille Jenatzy for absolute dogged persistence in the face of “innumerable incidents and perpetual troubles.”

The stage was largely uneventful as the drivers raced all-out to win this epic tour of France.  there was a massive crowd at the finish line.  De Knyff was the first in at around 4:15 pm.  Girardot was second at around 4:20.  Due to the time differential, Girardot waited on pins and needles for enough time to go by to assure him second ahead of the Count de Chasseloup-Laubat.

The Panhard et Levassors were absolutely dominate throughout the race.  Clearly, these were the mounts to have.

In the end, De Knyff carried the day from the beginning to the end of the race.  Girardot and the Count had a close battle, once Charron dropped out.  Pinson and Castelnau were the best of the rest.

  • De Knyff (Panhard): 30.2 mph
  • Girardot (Panhard): 27.2 mph
  • Count de Chasseloup-Laubat (Panhard): 27.1 mph
  • Pinson (Panard): 25.6 mph
  • Castelnau (Bollée): 25.2 mph

Remember to follow @GPevolved on twitter!

 

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources:

A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1949).

100 Years of the Tour de France, Motorsport Magazine (July 1999).

Early Automotive Races in 1899

While Jenatzy was still perfecting La Jamais Contente, the 1899 racing season got underway.  As was quickly becoming tradition, the season began with a “speed week” of sorts in the south of France along the Riviera.

Nice – Castellane – Nice, 1899

The first race of the 1899 season took place on March 21st.  The Riviera speed week, or semaine automobile, was organized by the automobile club of Nice.  The club was headed by Jacques Gondoin.  According to Robert Dick, the speed week was a complete affair including a long distance race, a touring car race, a one-mile sprint, a hill climb, and an exposition at the end of the week.

As for the long distance event from Nice to Castellane and back, there were some last minute changes to the route due to narrow roads; however, nobody seemed too dissatisfied.  Albert Lemaitre’s Peugeot was the popular favorite for the week.  His Peugeot was rated at 20 horsepower, with a two cylinder engine (140 x 90 mm.).  The Panhard and Levassor’s of 1899 were four cylinders (80 x 120 mm); however, they were only rated at around eight horsepower.  Only Lemaitre had the new, faster Peugeot.

According to Gerald Rose:

“The only important incident in the race was the accident to Marcellin.  The redoubtable cyclist had started ten minutes late and was going at top speed behind a car, as the habit was of tricyclists, and so failed to see a turn in the road in the cloud of dust which encompassed him.  He collided with the parapet that edged the corner, and short over it, rolling down the slope beyond.

Marcellin was shaken, but unhurt.  Another driver, Ducom, experienced a similar incident where he was blinded by dust and collided with a hall.  His car was out of the race, but Ducom was also unhurt.  Giraud, driving a Bollée had transmission  problems, an apparently recurrent problem for him.

There were only a few spectators waiting when the first cars and tricycles began to roll in.  Lemaitre, as was the favorite, won with an average speed of 26.0 miles per hour.  Girardot, rocking a Panhard et Levassor was second in his eight h.p.  Koechlin was third, averaging 22.2 miles per hour.

Lemaitre also won the standing mile and the Le Turbie Hill Climb.

Pau – Bayonne – Pau

This race took place four days after the final day of the Riviera speed week.  It was organized by A.C. Bearnais.  Lemaitre and his badass 20 h.p. horsepower won this event as well.  The weather was terrible.  There were not many competitors.  Nevertheless, the event was considered a great success.

Paris – Roubaix

On April 2, 1899, La Vélo hosted its annual trike race.  Again, according to the authoritative Gerald Rose, “It was won by Osmond on his de Dion in 5 hrs. 35 mins. 30 secs., which represents an average speed of about 32 m.p.h.”

On April 11, 1899, Le Matin  announced the creation of event to be known as the “Tour de France.”  It was to be a massive race of around 2,500 kilometers.

Paris – Bordeaux

This race returned to an only rarely used method of racing that we now associate as critical to motorsport: a mass start.  The Paris to Bordeaux race took place on May 24, 1899 and was something of a preview of the new cars that would be seen at the Tour de France.

74 entries were received.  65 entries showed up on race day.  There was 37 motorcyclists and 28 cars.  The en bloc start was something of a train wreck, of sorts.  Lemaitre ran into another racer, and his mechanic–seeing that an accident was about to occur–just got up and jumped off.  Yes, at high speed, he simply jumped.  He was severely injured, though Lemaitre escaped by running off the road.  Lemaitre could have continued; however, he opted to remain with his badly injured riding mechanic.

“At Venome, the first important pace on the route, Leys and Charron were leading with De Knyff 11 minutes behind, closely followed by Giraud.  Unfortunately, Giraud took a turn too fast, burst a tire, and turned his Bollée over in a ditch.

Hourgieres, who was the one to nearly collide with Lemaitre, was shaking down a brand new Mors for the Tour de France.  At Poitiers, his car was in third.  Charron remained in the lead, but Leys was down to fourth.  De Knyff was about 12 minutes back from the leaders.

In the end, Charron drove with excellence and won the race in his 12 h.p. Panhard with an average pace of 351 miles of 29.9 miles per hour.  René de Knyff was second, averaging 29.6 miles per hour.  Girardot was third, with an average of 28.0 miles per hour.

Touring Car verses Thoroughbred Racer

To date, the so-called voiture de course (racing car), was merely a stripped down touring car, often with a more powerful engine than would otherwise have been fitted to the car.  Previously, there was little differentiation between touring cars and racing cars.

Suddenly, changes started to become apparent in the race entries.  The new breed of cars, especially those to be shown at the Tour de France, were lower, sleeker, and faster.  The center of gravity was dropped significantly from touring models.  Engine sizes began to increase dramatically around this time.  This is, in fact, the beginning of the lead up to the massive displacement engines seen in the early 1900s.

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources:

Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque: 1895 – 1915, Robert Dick (2005)

A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 -1908, Gerald Rose (1949)

La Jamais Contente

Camille Jenatzy

A lot of good material has been written on Camille Jenatzy.  Jenatzy was one of the original heroes of motorsport.  There is even some suggestion that he pioneered an early form of the four-wheel-drift.    The Jenatzy family was originally Hungarian.  However, they had lived in Belgium for nearly 110 years before Camille was born. Jenatzy La jamais contente

Camille Jenatzy was born to wealthy parents on November 4, 1898.  His father had made a genuine fortune as the proprietor of Belgium’s first rubber factory.  Camille Jenatzy did not follow in his father’s footsteps, exactly.  He did attend civil engineering school; however, he was attracted by speed from the start.  He raced bicycles, before falling in love with the automobile.

According to a contemporary, “None presented such a terrifying appearance in a car.  Although reckless, daring and exciting to the utmost degree when racing, a more meek and mild-mannered individual when off the car could not be imagined.”  He truly was a colorful character and an original hero of motorsport.

Setting the Stage

People may think that the electric vehicle started with the Prius and electric vehicle racing started with Formula E.  They are wrong in this conclusion.  Electric vehicles, in fact, date back to before the gasoline engine (but after the steam engine).

Charles Jeantaud built his initial electric vehicle in 1881.   However, it was not until 1893 that he seriously began to manufacture electric vehicles.  Generally, his cars were pure electrics and lasted only a short time until surpassed by the development of the gasoline engine.

However, around 1898, Jeantaud electrics were a formidable opponent for outright top speed.  A Jeantaud electric, in the hands of one Comte de Chasseloup-Laubat, that held the world’s first land speed record.  The Comte de Chasseloup-Laubat was also wealthy.  He was a French aristocrat and son of an advisor to Napoleon III.

The Chanteloup Hill Climb

The Cantaloup hill climb may have been the first of its type.  It was organized by La France Automobile.  It was a short 1,800 meter hill climb.  There were 54 competitors.  Camille Jenatzy was one of the competitors.

Just before the hill climb, it rained heavily.  The roads were muddy, slippery, and difficult to navigate.  Even still, only three competitors failed to finish the course.

Yet, it was Camille Jenatzy who won, giving him his first taste of victory from the seat of an automobile.  He raced the 1,800 meter course in 3:52 “on an electric vehicle of his own creation.”  This translates to an average of 17 miles per hour.  Second place went to Jamin on a Bollée two-cylinder tri-car.

The Acheres Meeting

According to Gerald Rose, the Acheres meeting “stands to the credit of La France Automobile, for it was from Mr. Paul Meyan that the proposal came to hold a meeting at some convenient spot where there was a deserted and open road, on which the cars could be let out to their highest speed without inconvenience to anyone.”

The idea was to establish a permanent record of the capabilities of the available cars.  Also, there was a lot of bragging going on.  It seems it is human nature to always think our car is faster than the next blokes’.  They did so by setting up a procedure for timing a “flying kilometer.”  The flying kilometer, in early years, was the de facto measure for land speed records.

Again, it was raining, and only a few times runs were established that day.

  • Comte de Chasseloup-Laubat, Jeantaud.  39.3 mph.
  • Loysel, Bollée, 35.5 mph.
  • Giraud, Bollée, 33.6 mph.
  • Rival, De Dion Tri., 30.5 mph.

Jenatzy was unable to attend this meeting.  However, the next day, he wrote to Chasseloup-Laubat, the victor, challenging him to a timed throw down to see if he could defeat the standing record holder.

The Count accepted.  They agreed on racing on January 17, 1899.

Challenging the Flying Kilometer

As challenger, on January 17, 1899, Camille Jenatzy ran first.  He set a flying kilometer average of 41.4 miles per hour.  This, therefore, was 2.1 mph faster than the Comte de Chasseloup-Laubat’s record.

But then, on the next run, the Count responded.  He averaged 43.7 miles per hour over a flying kilometer.  His pace may have even been better had his electric motor not burned out 200 yards from the completion of the timed kilometer.

La Jamais Contente

Only 10 days after his 43.7 mph run, they went out for another run.  Camille Jenatzy ran 50 miles per hour.  The Count de Chasseloup-Laubat experienced an electrical failure in his motor.  He burned it up before he even started.

It seems the two dueling enthusiasts could not get enough; they returned to Acheres on March 4, 1899 for another run.  The Count ran the flying kilometer at an average of 57.6 miles per hour.  Remember, Chasseloup-Laubat was able to accomplish this in a stripped, but otherwise ordinary, Jeantaud electric car.

Jeantaud Electric Top Speed Run Acheres
Jeantaud Electric with modified body for the Acheres top speed runs.

The speed bug had bitten Jenatzy hard.  He was not to be defeated.  And so, he went back to his garage and built a new car.  It was called La Jamais Contente (“The Never Satisfied).  The Jamais Contente was a thoroughbred top-speed runner.  No emphasis, whatsoever, was placed on handling or other such trivial matters.

The power of the Jamais Contente was contained a series of batteries, which reportedly delivered 200 volts and 124 amperes.  Informal estimates suggest that its two 25 kilowatt electric motors equated to about 68 horsepower.  The cars batteries, however, pale in awesomeness to the look of the Jamais Contente.  It was truly ahead of its time in adapting early principles of aerodynamics to a high-speed vehicle.

La Jamais Contente with Camille Jentazy

His first run on April 1, 1899, always at Acheres, was a complete failure.  There was some debris in the road, so Jentazy received permission to shift the start point 200 meters down the road.  However, he started his run before “the startled watch holders” could calculate the 200 meter shift on the other end.  Being an early electric, it was only capable of one single run before being recharged.

Thus, they reconvened on April 29, 1899.  At that time, Jenatzy ran the flying kilometer in 34 seconds.  That translates to an average of 65.75 miles per hour.  This not only set the record for the flying kilometer, but it also remained in the hands of Jenatzy for three more years.

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources:

Grandprixhistory.com

Hemmings Daily

Encyclopedia of Auto Racing Greats, Cutter and Fendell (1973)

Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque: 1895 – 1915, Robert Dick (2005)

A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1949)

Triumph of the Red Devil: The Irish Gordon Bennett Cup Race – 1903, Brendan Lynch (2002)

The 1898 Racing Season Concludes.

The last race I covered, the 1898 Paris to Amsterdam to Paris race, ended on July 13th.  At the end of the month, on July 22, 1898, the standing 100 kilometer record was broken.  Jamin set the new record at 1:53:15.  In doing so, he beat the previous 100 km record by three minutes and thirty seconds.

According to Gerald Rose, about a week later, there was a race from Lille to Calais.  It was only “remarkable for the large mortality in live-stock which occurred at the same time.”  Then, on August 21, 1898, the last major race of the year took place.

1898 Bordeaux to Biarritz

On August 21, 1898, the Bordeaux to Biarritz race marked the final major race of the 1898 racing season.  The route, starting in Bordeaux, went through Le Réole, Marmande, Casteljaloux, and Mont de Marsan.  The race was set for 180 miles.

The race was “tropically hot” according to Gerald Rose.  The competitors, and particularly the motorcyclists were exhausted after the 180 mile race.

Giraud started in a Bollée.  He was soon passed by Lemaitre, a participant in the 1894 race from Paris to Rouen.

Lemaitre was in the lead until he came up on a gated bridge at Marmande.  As he approached, the bridge-keeper through the gate closed, forcing Lemaitre to slam on his breaks.  In doing so, Lemaitre destroyed the rear-end mechanicals of his Peugeot.  Lemaitre and bridge-keeper got in a heated argument lasting until the townspeople threatened to throw the bridge-keeper into the river, below.

There was also some sort of cattle affair, which the drivers has to get special permission to drive through.

In the end, Loyel’s Bollée was first in 6:48:00, at an average speed of 26.7 miles per hour.  Mr. Koechlin, of the tiny suit shenanigan from the last post, was second.  He finished in 7 hours and 36 minutes.

Lemaitre, in a Peugeot, was third, in spite of his run in with the bridge-keeper.  He completed the course in 8 hours and four minutes.  There were no other timed finishers.

1898 Saint Germain to Vernon to Saint Germain.

This was a minor city to city race.  It took place on October 20, 1898, and was only for the make, “Mors.”  Tires, and especially the puncture thereof, continued to be problematic.  Otherwise, the race was rather uneventful.  It was certainly only a minor, one-make, late-season race, decades before the days of a championship.

And so, the 1898 season came to a close.  The seasons are still very loosely structured.  Paris remains the center of the racing world.  However, the tentacles of influence of the grassroots motoring movement are reaching farther and farther into continental Europe.  Moreover, the regular racing is causing cars to develop at a comparatively rapid rate.

A Brief Commentary.

Altogether, these late season races, and really all of the 1898 races exemplify the problems of the “great” city to city races.  Essentially, unforeseen obstacles inevitably are both dangerous and dispositive to the race outgoing.  In other words, externalities were causing drivers to lose, when they were otherwise fastest and most reliable.  For example, Lemaitre would have done much better had he not needed to deal with the bridge-keeper.  I, for one, will champion the advent of proper circuit-based racing.

On a separate note, as the creator and author of GPevolved.com, I question what is the useful scope of this blog.  A gather this is a problem forced upon most any non-fiction writer.  How microscopic must you be to tell a story accurately?  At what point do you lose the forest through the trees.

Certainly, there is no need to go into every hillclimb and speed trial.  Well, even that cannot be made a rule to govern the scope of this project.  For, if it did, I would miss the entire story of La Jamais Content.  So, perhaps, it is a matter of judgment.  In any event, stay tuned for the next story about Camille Jenatzy and the electric racer that made him the first person to average faster than a mile a minute.

 

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Source:

Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908 (1949).

1898 Paris to Amsterdam to Paris

There was tomfoolery.  There were shenanigans.  But, most importantly, there was an epic race between forgotten heroes of motorsport.  It was a grueling multiple day race totaling 889.25 miles (the actual route differed slightly from the scheduled route, as explained below).

The Scheduled Race Route:

  • July 7th: Champigny to Chateau d’Ardenne: 183.25 miles*
  • July 8th: Chateau d’Ardenne to Nymgegan: 156.2 miles
  • July 9th: Mymegan to Amsterdam: 69.6 miles
  • July 10th: Rest Day.
  • July 11th: Amsterdam to Liege: 167.95 miles.
  • July 12th: Liege to Verdun: 161.5
  • July 13th: Verdun to Paris: 151.2*

* In actuality, the first and last stage distance lengths differed from scheduled.

The distances above differed because of a zealous autocrat holding the position of local police engineer.  You see, at the time in France, one needed two licenses to drive a vehicle on public roads.  First, one required a certificate de réception showing that there vehicle was equipped and suitable to drive on public roads.  Second, one required a certificate de capacité showing that the driver was capable of driving.  Most everyone had the second.  However, the first license was a disused and forgotten law.  In the words of Gerald Rose, it “had become a dead letter.”

Mr. Bochet, the overzealous enforcer of the letter of the law and police engineer, set a time that the drivers could submit there cars to him.  He started by rejecting a couple cars.  He left for dinner, 15 minutes later.  He returned.  He rejected more cars.  It was clear that the most of the entries would be denied access to the race.

In the end, a simple plan was hatched.  They simply moved the start point to a jurisdiction outside of Mr. Bochet’s legal powers.  Amwdée Bollée snuck back into Paris that night to pick up the forgotten stores of petrol from the start point.  The race was moved to the next control point.  This and a shortened stopping point, for the same reason, account for the difference in the planned and actual route.

IMG_3529

 

Again according to Gerald Rose’s account, “Altogether 48 set off, not one having been kept back by the efforts of the authorities.”  On Day 1, Charron left at 8:37 am on July 7, 1898.  Everyone else left at :30 second intervals.  They kept up a quick pace for the first day.  In fact, Charron managed 32 miles per hour over the the first 40 miles in his 1898 Panhard et Levassor.

The early battle was between Charron and Hourgieres.  Levegh, uncle to the 1955 Le Mans racer, passed 20 competitors in a Mors.  A man named Marcellin passed 30 competitors on his tricycle.

Tires were a problem.  Max Richard was 14 punctures before Eparney, relatively early in the first stage.  By the end of the race, a fine rain was coming down and there were  very few spectators when Charron rolled up the the Chateau D’Ardenne.

Overall Rank (Manufacturer) – Stage Time:

  • Charron (Panhard) – 6:57:07
  • Girardot (Panhard)- 7:08:51
  • Adam – (Panhard) – 7:11:43

1898 Paris to Amsterdam to Parris Graphic 2

37, of the original 48, started this stage.  The stage was to run from the Chateau D’Ardenne to Nymegan, a distance of 156.2 miles.  A train ran  alongside slightly faster than the competitors on the road.  It was great fun for all to see the train slowly creep ahead of the charging motorcars.

Koechlin, a racer, skidded near Maastricht,   He flips his car and is out of the race.  He was thrown out into a ditch and, presumably, ruined his clothes.  Gerald Rose notes:

“The two occupants scrambled out, and Koechlin created a great sensation by joining the special train at the next station, clothed in a suit made for a small boy–the only dry garments he had been able to lay his hands on.”

Maastricht was roughly the half-way point of the 156.2 mile run for the day.  The drivers were getting tired.  Giraud was leading on his Bollée.  He was closely followed by Adam and Charron.  Giraud would ultimately move up to second place overall, in spite of rolling into Nymegan with a punctured rear tire!

Overall Rank (Manufacturer) – Stage Time:

  • Girardot (Panhard) – 6:17:59
  • Giraud (Bollée) – 6:10:03
  • Charron (Panard) – 6:36:35

1898 Paris to Amsterdam to Paris Day 3

At 69.6 miles, the run from Nymegan to Amsterdam was the shortest stage of the week long 1898 Paris to Amsterdam to Paris auto race.  The train continued to follow the racers.  In fact, the first three cars beat the train of observers to Amsterdam by several minutes.

Giraud led the column of drivers; however, this was because he had been fastest on Stage 2.  He stayed about one minute area of Girardot.  Yet, Girardot ran the fastest overall time.  He would, therefore, be the first driver to start the next stage, after a day of rest.

Overall Rank (Manufacturer) – Stage Time:

  • Girardot (Panhard) – 2:20:40
  • Giraud (Bollée) – 2:21:30
  • Charron (Panard) – 2:28:01

Thus, there was no change in overall order from the day before.  Then, there was a day of rest on Sunday, July 10, 1898.

1898 Paris to Amsterdam to Paris race graphic 3

Basically, the run from Amsterdam to Liege, on Monday, was “one long struggle between Charron and Girardot.  Giraud was always near enough to be dangerous…Giraud was the first to reach the Waal, but he hd burner troubles and Charron took the lead, reaching Liege nine minutes ahead of Girardot.”  Gerald Rose again gives us a concise history of the l0ng-since forgotten days progress.

Mr. Adam broke his chain 20 yards from the finish, but pushed his car across.  Bollée, himself, who had grabbed the petrol on the first day, mistook a corner and failed to get around it.  He lost a couple hours repairing the wheel before getting underway again.

Overall Rank (Manufacturer) – Stage Time:

  • Girardot (Panhard) – 5:32:31
  • Charron (Panhard) – 5:30:43
  • Giraud (Beollée) – 6:36:53

1898 Paris to Amsterdam Stage 5

Gerald Rose only gives a few words on Stage 5, the run from Liege to Verdun.  “The fifth stage was a neck-to-neck race between Giraud and Girardot, in the course of which the former’s car overturned through a bad skid.”  However, Giraud managed to right his car and keep on going.  In fact, he not only caught Girardot and reached Verdun “absolutely together”, he set the fastest time of the day.  This solidified his position as third overall.

Overall Rank (Manufacturer) – Stage Time:

  • Girardot (Panhard) 6:01:09
  • Charron (Panhard) 5:59:00
  • Giraud (Bollée) 5:57:09

1898 Paris to Amsterdam to Paris

But, alas, they needed to avoid the pesky Mr. Bochet and his strict legal interpretations of administrative regulations.  Basically, they sent a telegraph out announcing a route change.  This annoyed the drivers.  So, instead, they changed it back and set the race to conclude just before reaching Mr. Bochet’s jurisdiction.

According to Gerald Rose, “At the beginning of the stage of 150 miles, Girardot was leading Charron by 9 minutes and 16 seconds,, which was a small lead over such a long distance.”

The weather was nasty.  There was a cold, penetrating rain; it turned the roads to mud.  Any amount of mud was a significant trial for early automobiles.  Tires were everything.  Girardot, for example, lost his lead due to several punctures.  Charron, who managed to win, did so with a burst rear tire.

Overall Rank (Manufacturer) – Stage Time; Overall Time [M.P.H.]

  • Charron (Panhard) – 5:34:08; 33:04:34 [26.9]
  • Girardot (Panhard) – 6:04:o8; 33:25:18 [26.6]
  • Giraud (Bollée) – 5:53:45; 34:08: 58 [26.0]
  • R. de Knyff (Panhard) – 5:41:17; 34:58:50 [25.4]

Initially, the drivers did not want to attend the official race reception and dinner.  With some persuasion, they were convinced differently.  “They drove through the drizzling rain back to Paris.”

The initial opposition from Mr. Bochet only added interest to the race.  Most cars were finally fitted with wheel (and not lever) steering.  The Panhard and Bollées were certainly advancing the art of the race car.  At this point, pneumatic tires were essentially “universal.”

 

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources:

Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908 (1949).

Wikipedia (used on a limited basis to establish or confirm driver biographical data).