“Who has ever attended a gathering of motoring enthusiasts for any purpose, whether it be at a race, or a hill-climb, or outside a Court of Justice, without noticing the feeling of brotherhood which seems to pervade the atmosphere?” —Gerald Rose.
Following the success of the 1894 Paris to Rouen trial, another contest was organized for 1895. This race was to be pure race (although the cars were still to be started in interval fashion). The winning prize was top be split 50 percent to first place, 20 percent for second place, 10 percent for third prize, and five percent each for fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. Additional rules included a provision that a manufacturer could not enter more than one car of identical design and drivers could be changed en route for the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race.
Again, spectators were given easy access to the cars; a tradition long since forgotten in motorsport. Gerald Rose commented:
“It was an excellent idea, as it not only afforded those interested an opportunity of examining the cars both before and after the race, but also gave those makers who had not had time to complete their tests a chance to bring before the public possibilities offered by their vehicles.”
In modern parlance, it was good to give the crowd an opportunity to check out the new rides and helped sell a few cars too.
1895 Paris to Bordeaux Race
The race itself started on June 11, 1895 at 9:00 am. The race started under the Arc de Triomphe. Some of the cars, such as the Peugeot Number 16, driven by Koechlin, had some difficulty getting out of the city center. This was a result of the “rough pavé.”
Initially, the steam cars started strong led by the De Dion steam brake number 3, followed by an older “omnibus” made by Bollée. The De Dion steam car was in trouble soon thereafter with a broken driveshaft. This allowed the number 5 Panhard et Levassor, driven by Mr. Levassor himself, to take the lead. Remember, there were no HID headlights, in these days; the competitors were tasked with driving through the night using unreliable oil lamps.
Nevertheless, between 8:45 ppm and 5:30 am, the next morning, Levassor kept a strong pace of around 15 miles per hour. Of note, this is nearly a 25 percent increase over the pace of the prior years’ race. Records indicate that there was a close battle for second, third, and fourth with car numbers 8, 6, and 15. They passed and re-passed each other throughout the night.
According to Rose, “Levassor reached Bordeaux at 10:40 am, signed on at the control, turned his car, and started off at once for the journey back to Paris.” In my mind, this qualifies Mr. Levassor as a proper driver, one consumed by the desire for speed, quickness, and ultimate victory. This inference is supported by the fact that he would not allow another driver to replace him, in spite of being at the wheel in excess of 24 hours. He stopped roughly every 60 miles for water and supplies. Other than that, he could not be stopped, except for a single 22 minute stoppage on the return trip.
46 cars entered the 1895 Paris to Bordeaux to Paris race. 22 actually started the race. 11 of those cars reached the midpoint at Bordeaux. Of those 11, 9 completed the entire pace. The final results of the top five were as follows:
- Mr. Levassor; Panhard et Levassor; Petrol; 48:48; 15.0 miles per hour.
- Mr. Rigoulot; Peugeot; Petrol: 54:35; 13.4 miles per hour.
- Mr. Koechlin; Peugeot; Petrol; 59:48; 12.2 miles per hour.
- Mr. Doriot; Peugeot; Petrol; 64:30; 11.3 miles per hour.
- Unknown driver (Car #12); Peugeot; Petrol; 72.14; 10.1 miles per hour.
Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908 (1949)
Robert Dick, Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque: 1895 – 1915 (2005)