As early motor racing seasons go, 1897 was not the best. January’s race had generally been a success, as I detailed in my last post. However, the Automobile Club de France (ACF) did not exactly go big in their planning for 1897. Gerald Rose blames the lack of mechanical progress in the 1897 cars on the absence of a major city to city race. One must remember, it is nearly another ten years until the usefulness of major circuit based races is really discovered (i.e. the Grand Prix).
The run from Paris to Dieppe is relatively short. The course measured only 106.2 miles. It was to be a simple one-day affair. The lack of a major race did not translate to a lack of amateur enthusiasm in the 1897 races. Nearly 70 entries were received for the 1897 run from Paris to Dieppe. 59 of those entries managed to show up for the race. It is clear that more amateurs were rolling around in increasingly reliable machines, at this point in history.
It was a hot day. The roads were dusty. The officials had a grand idea; they would officiate the start and then take a chartered railcar to beat the cars to the finish. That way, they could manage both ends of this relatively short city to city race.
At Beavuais, one Mr. Vicomte de Soulier had been leading, until a tire burst. Pneumatic tires were still in their infancy and prone to failure. However, speeds had exceeded the useful range for solid rubber tires. Metal wheels, were just terrible, and had since been abandoned.
After de Soulier’s tire failed, Jamin, in a Bollée “tricar” took the lead. However, in the hot wind, his ignition failed. By Gourney, Amédé de Bollée rolled through leading in a car of his own make.
Fernand Charron, introduced in my last post, rolled through in his Panhard et Levassor, just a couple minutes behind a Mr. Hourgieres. Shockingly, as the cars started to cross the finish line, the officials were nowhere to be seen. Their plan of chartering a railcar had failed. As such, the competitors were left to their own devices when it came to certifying finish times. Thus, Rose’s finish tables (in my estimation) should be viewed with caution.
What is certain, however, is that average speeds had again increased. The two-seated car leaders averaged upwards of 22 to 24 miles per hour. The four seated cars, which included the De Dion steam car, were even faster.
Gerald Rose, one of the only sources for these early races, notes that this race hosted a couple of technical advancements with the new cars that ran. For example, aluminum components began to replace their (often brass) counterparts. Moreover, the gilled radiator also made it’s first appearance at this race.
Travis Turner of GPevolved.com
A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1949).
InThe Squire’s Tale, Chaucer tells us “Men love of propre kynde newefangelnesse.” Echoing these very sentiments, Dr. Dre tells us “I love the new technology….New challenges mean you have to keep up, you know?” The 1897 motorsport season, and I use the term loosely, demonstrates that the newest thing can still cause challenges and even problems. Simply put, the petrol/gasoline engine was still lagging in power, as compared to the coal-powered steam engine. However, a new class of driver was quickly becoming fascinated with the relatively newer technology of internal combustion. These drivers would help foster the enthusiasm that propelled engines far beyond anything ever achieved by the steam engine.
A New Class of Driver.
Thus far, in these early years of motorsport, racing was reserved for the aristocracy. This is logical. Automobiles were expensive and not yet mass produced. As such, one needed considerable wealth to afford an automobile. However, some interesting names start to show up in the 1897 results charts. Gentleman such as René de Knyff and Fernand Charron represent the early hints of a professional class of drivers. In this regard, the sport was starting to get a little more serious in that it was contemplating (even if silently) a move beyond sheer amateurism,
Rene de Knyff
A great entry in my Encyclopedia of Auto Racing Greats sets the stage for René de Knyff:
A familiar figure of the period was a big man with a bushy black beard. As the years wore on, the beard grayed, but the man remained as erect as ever, until, at the age of 90 in 1955, René de Knyff, a Belgian but a Chevalier of France, died.
René de Knyff was born in 1864. He was an early director of Panhard and Levassor. But, at the heart of this great man was a passion for motorsport. In time, he became the chairman of the Automobile Club de France. His record, as a racer, was relatively short compared to modern standards, but it was certainly distinguished as the forthcoming posts will most certainly detail.
At a base level, however, de Knyff represents those who were racing out of pure desire and love of the game. Relevant accounts suggest that his directorship at Panhard was merely incidental to his love of racing. In this regard, he represents one of the very earliest “drivers.” A driver, for our purposes, is the one that burns inside to be ultimately quickest.
Fernand Charron, to a lesser degree as compared to De Knyff, was also an early example of someone consistently participating in motor races. Charron was born in 1866. He would later die in 1928. Like many racers of the day, he was a champion bicycler long before his involvement with the so-called “autocar.” Even though his first race, as detailed below, nearly ended in fatal disaster, he stayed with it. In so doing, he became one of the original notable figures in motor racing history.
Marseilles-Nice-La Turbie: The Race Report.
A Brief Contextual Note.
Technology is funny. We love the progress and benefits of new technology, as humans. However, as humans, we also have a tendency to resist change. This dichotomy is at play during the 1897 racing season. For example, one Mr. Meyan was critical in arguing against pure racing cars. He contended that only touring cars should even be manufactured to assure the sport remained an amateur endeavor. As another example, an article in La France Automobile railed against a rumored “special racing monster of 8 h.p.”
It retrospect, it is comical that 8 horsepower caused such a stir. But, at the heart of these criticisms, it seems, was unabated fear of change. In an odd way, this evidences the very deep connection we, as human beings, have with our automobiles.
The January 1897 Marseilles-Nice-La Turbie Race.
On a personal note, these early races were staged races in which the competitors set off at regular intervals. In short, it is difficult to conjure an exciting report some such indirect racing. However, this does not abate my two-fold conviction that: (1) these early races are historically important; and (2) their details are being lost to time’s cruel march forward.
In any event, it appears that the competitors were released, in random order, at one minute intervals. The “interval thing” was an intentional effort to decrease the need for passing, on account of narrow roads.
Early in the race, Charron was gripping the grain, as it were, around a 90-degree bend. The wheels dug in and everything in the car, including his riding mechanic, was thrown out. However, Charron, managed to stay in the somersaulting vehicle. Observers suggested that the accident could easily have been fatal to Fernand Charron; however, he escaped with only moderate injuries to his arm.
The first day, of the three day, 149 mile race, concluded in Fréjus, a distance of 96.3 miles. The Count de Chasseloup Laubat was first, completing the distance in 4:47:14. An entry under the name off Prévost was second, at 5:12:11. Lemaitre was third trailing by only a few seconds off Prévost. My man, de Knyff, was fourth.
The second day was a shorter stint from Fréjus to Nice, a distance of 42.2 miles. Prévost managed to run over two dogs. Another competitor, managed to run over his mechanic. The record is silent on the well-being of either the mechanic or the dogs.
The Count de Chasseloup Laubat won the second day as well. He was trailed by Lemaitre and Prévost. The final day, in this January race, was quite colder than the prior race, in spite of the fact that they were approaching the mediterranean setting of La Turbie, which sets just above Monaco and down the road from Nice, France.
This route was only 10.5 miles, owing to the historically winding nature of these roads. The Count de Chasseloup Laubat again prevailed. But, his victory was somewhat surprising. He was rolling hard in a steam engine. Yet again, the petrol engines were defeated.
Nevertheless, the superiority of the steam engines was waning. Development and progress were increasing rapidly. The next car, of Lemaitre, in terms of overall finishing time, averaged 18.3 miles per hour. Each race seems to be resulting in an increase in overall speed, regardless of the weather or course. In other words, significant progress was being made. In just a few short years, petrol engines would relegate steam power, in vehicles, to a thing of the past.
It was November 1895. The committee that sponsored the major city to city race lastsummer had to determine its future. Initially, there was some disagreement as to whether the committee should remain just that, a committee, or become a proper club. In the end, the Automobile Club de France was formed at the “Quai d’Orsay” home of the Comte de Dion on November 12, 1895.
Why is this important? Let me tell you. For the first time, the burgeoning motorsport movement, as it were, had a head. Moreover, the formation of a French national automobile club assisted in cementing France’s leadership of the movement.
Following its formation in November 1895, the high-society types that formed the club started work on a major city to city race for the upcoming 1896 motor racing season.
Paris to Marseilles and back was chosen as the general destinations of the race. However, all-night racing (as used in the 1895 Paris to Bordeaux) was abandoned in favor of a timed-stage setup. There seems to have been a recognition that the all-out endurance type of event, through the night and on unfamiliar roads, was simply too dangerous. In other words, the means did not justify the ends.
January 1896: The Route from Paris to Marseilles, and Back, was Published.
The race was to start and end in the epicenter of early motorsport culture: Paris. From Paris, the race was to go have daily stages to Auxerre, Dijon, Lyons, and Avignon, before arriving in Marseilles. The route in return was only slightly different. But, in publishing the details as early as January 1896, it was clear that the new Automobile Club de France meant business.
February 1896: Classes Introduced.
The regulations were published in full detail the next month, in February 1896. In these early days of the automotive frontier, not just new vehicles were being created, but also entire new categories and types of vehicles. For example, the three-wheelers by Bollée and de Dion certainly broke the established mold.
It was these diverging strands of vehicles that provided the impetus for instituting multiple classes for the upcoming 1896 Paris-Marseilles-Paris race. There was a subdivided class for cars, depending on the number of seats, and a subdivided class for motorcycles, depending on whether or not they were assisted by pedals.
The regulations were simple in these early days of racing. Each car had to carry an Automobile Club de France (ACF) observer. Repairs were, generally, to be made only during running time, although there was some quibbling as to what actually constituted a repair. In the end, it was decided that anything short of completely replacing a part was to be allowed outside of actual running.
The 1896 Race Itself: Paris to Marseilles and Back.
Thirty-two competitors started the race on September 24, 1896. Of the 32, there was 24 petrol cars, 3 steam cars, and 5 tricycles. The tricycles had previously qualified in a race from Paris to Mantes, a few days earlier. At the start, there were thousands out watching this event. The police did what they could to control the crowds.
According to Gerald Rose’s account (cited below), “In all twenty-seven competitors finished the first stage and the speeds were unusually high, the Bollée averaging about 20 M.P.H.”
Through the night, there was an electrifying change in the weather and a massive storm swept across France. The roads turned to mud and became incredibly slippery. Trees were down. Debris filled the competitors paths. Yet, these hearty competitors endured. Oddly, one of the Bollées was charged by a bull. The car was damaged so badly that it could not continue.
The next day, the heavy rain continued, even if the thunder had subsided. The real threat to these high mounted, low horsepower cars, was the wind. The rain eventually stopped, several days later, but not before wreaking havoc on the field. Rose summarizes:
The finish of the race was considered a great success and those involved enjoyed the parties along the way. The race was won by one Mr. Mayade who finished the entire race at an average pace of 15.7 miles per hour.
Primary Source: Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908.
The 1896 motorsport season began with a couple relatively minor races out of Bordeaux, France. Admittedly, Gerald Rose’s tome, cited below, is my only source for these races.
In short, the excitement of being the destination of the major 1895 city to city race led some interested folks in Bordeaux to organize a couple of their own races.
April 26, 1896: Bordeaux to Langon.
This was a relatively short race of 28.75 miles. Six cars finished the race, which was won by a Mr. Bord; however, accurate times for this race have been lost to history.
Another driver, by the name of Marly, drove into a house. However, as noted by Mr. Rose, the accident was not that bad as he still finished the race in fourth place.
There was a dinner at the end of the race. Clearly, there must have been some excitement over the success of the event, because they decided there and then to organize another–longer–race for May 24th and 25th of that year.
May 24-25, 1896: Bordeaux to Agen to Bordeaux.
Day one was the race from Bordeaux to Agen. The second day was the return trip. The total race totaled somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 miles (171.25 according to Rose).For whatever reason, the race was only open to folks who had possessed cars before January 1, 1896. This seems to be an odd, and possibly elitist rule; however, it had the effect of curtailing the number of entries.
Like many of the early races, there were far fewer starters than entrants. Of the 30 cars entered, only seven made it to the starting line. There were three Peugeots, two Panhard et Levassors, a Hildebrand-Wolfmüller, and a De Dion. One Mr. Bousquet was the first to reach Agen, the midpoint of the race. On the second day, he was also the first to get back home to Bordeaux. Thus, Mr. Bousquet won.
This race did not receive the attention that the Bordeaux organizers had hoped for, primarily because the race occurred at the same time as another, much more popular event: the Bordeaux to Paris bicycle race.
A Cosmopolitan Failure.
The magazine “Cosmopolitan” (which it turns out is a much older publication than I had ever expected), organized a race in New York City for May 30, 1896. Again, according to Gerald Rose, the race was a “complete fiasco.”
There were only six cars entered for the tour around through Central Park and through New York City. Only one car, a Duryea, managed to complete the course. The race was such a failure that Rose opines it “seriously damaged” the reputation and future of the self-propelled vehicle in France.
I find these early races fascinating because you can literally see the foundation and future of motorsport being figured out by a few interested groups of people. I cannot help but wonder if they knew the destiny that motorsport would end up having world-wide? Were they cognizant of the virtual certainty of the cars’ future as the dominant mode of transportation (at least in America)?
I also have a sense of regret that these early races are disappearing into the darkness of history. Motorsport is inherently a forward-looking sport. It is always looking for new technology and new drivers to be ultimately quickest. In this regard, motorsport is a cruel friend to history. I find this quite sad. And so, perhaps in some humble way, Project GPevolved can bring a bit of forgotten history into the light again.
/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com
Source: Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908 (1949).
The 1895 Chicago Times-Herald race was the first organized motorsport event on states’ soil. It was almost a failure.
H. H. Kohlstaat, an employee of the newspaper, happened to pick up a copy of a Parisian publication that May. The publication was L’Illustration and contained an account–presumably with illustrations–of the Paris to Bordeaux race which had just taken place. He called the editor into his office, a man by the name of Frederick “Grizzly” Adams, where they discussed bringing motorsport to America.
Mr. Kohlsaat wrote, in a 1941 article for The Saturday Evening Post, “Adams was enthusiastic and at once drew up a plan which I endorsed and published.” Recognizing the possible military importance of the so called automobile (variously referred to as a “motocycle” among other terms), President Cleveland was consulted. Under the direction of a General Wesley Merritt, a testing rig was even set up to see which of the vehicles performed best under load. The race was initially set for July 4, 1895.
An Independence Day Failure.
According to Kohlsaat, “When July Fourth arrived, there was only one machine ready–the Haynes-Apperson of Kokomo, Indiana.” Recognizing the impossibility of a one-man race, the race was rescheduled for Labor Day, in September.
The September date was also postponed. The race was scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1895.
Presumably to help generate interest for the main event, a minor event was hosted by The Chicago-Times Herald in early November 1895. The race was a simple trial between two cars. Competing were the H. Mueller Benz Gasoline Motor (of Decatur, Illinois) and the Duryea Gasoline Motor Wagon (of Springfield, Massachusetts ).
The race was set at a lengthy 92 miles, from Washington Park in Chicago to Waukegan, Illinois and back to the Grant Monument in Lincoln Park.
Mr. Mueller won a staggering–for the time–$500 for making the trip in 9.5 hours. His competitor, Mr. Duryea was not so lucky. According to Mr. Kohlsaat’s Saturday Evening Post Article:
“The Duryea motor ran into a ditch to avoid a farmer who turned his horses to the left instead of the right. He said, he was so scared to see a buggy without any horses hitched to it coming up to the road behind him, he did not know what he was doing. To avoid a collision, Mr. Duryea, who was driving this motor, drove into the ditch, hopping to climb up the slight embankment, but broke a wheel and gave up the race.”
The Main Event.
The race, on Thanksgiving day, was preceded the night before by two to three inches of snow. Sixty-some contestants had signed up; however, only six made it to the starting line. Having repaired his vehicle. Mr. Duryea was one of them. H. Mueller’s car was also there. The other four included the gasoline-engined cars of the De La Vergne Refridgerator Machine Company, and the R. H. Macy company. Shockingly, two electric vehicles also made it to the starting line (The Sturges Electric (Chicago) and The Morris and Salon (Philadelphia).
Leading up to the race, there was even a bit of trash-talking. The newspaper editor of the Times-Herald commented:
“The Paris-Bordeaux race was worthless from a scientific standpoint, but the contest of today may result in the established of good data concerning what many believe the vehicle of the future.”
The electric cars failed to make it very far and were quickly out of the race. At the first relay station, the R. H. Macy carriage was in the lead. However, the Duryea, although 20 minutes behind, was charging hard.
When the cars reached Evanston, spectator interest in the contest remained high and their were plenty of folks cheering and watching. At that point, the R. H. Macy machine held the lead, but only slightly.
A slight incline was noted at Forest Avenue up to Chicago Avenue. The crowds cheered as the cars trundled up the minor hill.
The Macy car had a close call with a horse-drawn taxi that failed to give the appropriate right-of-way.
By the time the remaining handful of cars reached Douglas Park, it was getting dark and much colder. In fact, as the cars hit California Avenue, there was not a single spectator left. The race of attrition was failing to keep an audience on hand to see the progress.
In the end, the R. H. Macy car broke down and failed to finish the race. The Duryea won. The only other finisher was the Mueller car, in second place.
In general, due to the lack of spectators and the fact that only two spectators finished, the race was a bit of a failure. The Times-Herald barely gave but only minimal lines to the discussion of race results. Perhaps not as magnificent as the early European city to city races, the 1895 Chicago Times-Herald Race brought motorsport to North America.
///Travis Turner of GPevolved.
Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908 (1949)
H. H. Hohlsaat, America’s First Horseless Carriage Race, 1895; The Saturday Evening Post (January 5, 1941)
Various Articles from The Horseless Carriage, Volume 1 (1895) (available through google books).
“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)
As noted by Gerald Rose, in his classic, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908, organized motorsport is generally regarded to have begun with the “Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux.” This horseless carriage contest was organized by Le Petit Journal, a Parisian publication.
However, Rose notes, “It is not correct to describe the Petit Journal Competition as the first race for two very excellent reasons: – First, it was not a race, and secondly, it was not the first open contest for self-propelled vehicles on the open road.”
Again, according to Gerald Rose, a man by the name of Fossier organized a competition for the “vélocipede” in 1887. It took place in Paris, which during the Belle Epoque, was a cultural and technological leader for all of Europe. However, only one car showed up. As is fairly obvious, a one-man race is not much of a race at all. The only participant was the Count de Dion. Count de Dion would prove to be one of the central figures of early motorsport. In fact, he was fundamental in the creation of a national French auto club, which eventually morphed into the FIA.
Between 1887 and 1894, the petrol/internal combustion engine made significant progress. The most significant of which was the infamous patent by Mr. Daimler, in Germany. This progress was massive as compared to the relatively weak development of the steam engine. The steam engine had been in use for some time; however, these vehicles were largely suited to business use, such as transportation of goods around a city-center. Not only were the poor candidates for flying through the countryside, but they did not capture the imagination in the same manner of the comparatively smaller, faster, and sportier internal combustion engine.
In fact, Mr. Fossier’s 1887 race set the mold for the early races. These early races were not just for bragging rights. Rather, they were explicitly designed to promote the useful development of the self-propelled vehicle. Unfortunately, it failed.
By 1894, there were enough self-propelled vehicles around Paris to contemplate another contest. Mr. Pierre Gifford, writing under a nom de plume (as was oddly fashionable at the time), wrote up the idea of another self-propelled vehicle contest in Le Petit Journal on December 19, 1893. The next day, on December 20, 1893, a simple contest was proposed. The rules, according to Gerald Rose had but about 10 different strictures.
Of these simple rules, only a few are important for the purposes of this article:
Judges were to be the staff of the Petit Journal with “a number of consulting engineers.”
First prize was to be awarded to the car “which seemed to the Judges to best fulfill the conditions of being ‘without danger, easily handled, and of low running cost.’”
To be admitted into the actual race, each car was to complete a preliminary trial of 50 kilometers in three hours. This was later changed to completing the 50 km. course in four hours, due to the perceived danger of even 10 miles per hour.
The finish, coachwork, paint, and general visual appeal of each car was “immaterial.”
The only technical requirement was that each car be able to move under its own power.
The entry list for participation in the preliminary trials closed on April 30, 1894. There were 102 entries ranging from conventional steam cars to primitive internal combustion engines to the absolutely absurd. For example, the entry list contains cars that would supposedly be powered by gravity, compressed air, the weight of passengers, mineral oil, a system of levels, and even a system of pendulums. Certainly, these entries never came to fruition.
As for the race itself, it was more of a casual trundle than an all-out ten-tenths wheel-to-wheel action-fest. Based upon the approximated records (exact times were not recorded), not a single car was able to crack an average exceeding 12 miles per hour.
There was a compulsory break for lunch. This served an additional purpose of allowing the spectators the opportunity to examine the cars – a tradition in motorsport long since lost, many generations ago.
The fastest car was the Count de Dion in his De Dion “steam tractor” (the passengers were carried in a separate trailer). However, internal combustion engines were starting to come on strong. In fact, except for de Dion’s tractor, every petrol car beat every steam-powered car.
As for the petrol cars, the Peugeot’s of Mr. Lemaitre and Mr. Doriot were faster than the Panhard’s of Mr. Panhard and Mr. Levassor (each driving a car of their own marque).
Remember, this was not a contest of pure speed. Moreover, de Dion’s large steam tractor fell outside the intent of the contest. Accordingly, the firm of De Dion, Bouton et Cie were only awarded the second prize.
The grand prize, as it were, was awarded equally to the firms of Panhard and Levassor and Le Fils de Peugeot Freres (The Sons of the Peugeot Brothers). It is certainly worth noting that both of these manufactures were using engines “of the type invented by Herr Daimler of Wurtenburg.”
As a footnote, Panhard and Levassor would continue to license the Daimler engine for many years to come. In fact, it was not until much later, with the advent of the “Mercedes” brand, that the German marque sold cars directly to France. The reasons for this are both peculiar and legal in nature; however, it is a story I will reserve for a later post.
The importance of the 1894 Paris to Rouen trial is clear. While it may have not have been the first organized motorsport event, it remains accepted as the first successful trial in which numerous cars competed as a public spectacle.
Even more important, this event marks the installation of the internal combustion engine as a meaningful means of transport. The public nature of the trial is further significant because this 1894 Paris to Rouen trial put French high-society on notice that internal combustion vehicles could be, well, cool. In just a few short years, successful Parisians and member of the “Riviera class” were snapping up race-winning cars for many times the cost to produce them.
Ernest Henry: The Grandfather of the Modern Competition Engine
Ernest Henry was born in 1885. Mechanically inclined, he studied at an applied school of mechanics in Geneva, Switzerland. He graduated in 1906, at age 21. Initially working on marine engines, he soon moved to Paris, France. By 1911, he was picked up by Peugeot. It was there that he would hook up with a few race drivers to create an engine that would have an everlasting impact on motorsport, and even cars in general. The cars that he designed for Peugeot, Ballot, and Sunbeam achieved no more than moderate success; however, his influence on motorsport was (and remains) profound.
The Henry System.
Henry’s system, as it were, refers to the integration of several disparate concepts: (1) one or more overhead camshafts; (2) inclined overhead valves; (3) monoblock casting; and (4) central spark plug location. Henry was not the creator of any of these particular concepts. However, he was the first to shove all four into a single engine. This combination of concepts indelibly stamped itself upon motorsport history.
The Henry System, as it became later known, first appeared in the three-liter 1912 Peugeot. The 1912 Peugeot car was ahead of its time. In fact, anytime you see “DOHC” (Dual OverHead Cams) stamped on a production car or its engine, be aware that the technology is over a century old. It all began when three drivers, by the names of Zuccarrelli, Boillot, and Goux got together and conceived some ingenious ideas for a race car. Ernest Henry, an enigmatic swiss draftsman, was tapped to force some big ideas into a single car.
The 1912 Peugeot was powered by a 7.6 liter inline four-cylinder engine with a bore of 110 mm. and a stroke of 200 mm. This remarkably high bore to stroke ratio (1.82 : 1) allowed higher revolutions per minute than were previously possible. In fact, the then high-revving car was capable of a whopping 2,200 RPMs (some accounts suggest 2,800 RPMs). At this engine speed, Laurence Pomeroy estimated that the car would have conservatively put out around 130 brake horsepower (Peugeot claimed 175 bhp). The car weighed a mere 3,100 pounds; it was rather nimble for its time. Apparently, the designers made no effort to streamline the car; however, some streamlining was employed for record attempts at Brooklands in the spring of 1913.
The first major race that the 1912 Peugeot competed in, the French GP of the same year, was also one of the longest Grands Prix of all time. It took place at the Dieppe Circuit, which was a triangular circuit between three cities totaling roughly 48 miles per lap. The cars were to run 10 laps per day totaling a nearly 1,000 mile Grand Prix. The only restriction for the Grand Prix cars was that they were limited to a width of 69 inches (1.75 meters). In this era, the cars did not race head to head; rather, at this race, they were started in 30 second intervals. Jules Goux, Georges Boillot, Zucarrelli, and Thomas comprised the Peugeot team.
Goux was the first Peugeot off the line at approximately 5:34 am. He ran the first lap in 40:16; however, on time, he was ultimately slower than David Bruce-Brown (Fiat) at a blistering 37:18. However, Boillot’s Peugeot was not much slower at 38:40. Boillot made progress on Bruce-Brown on the second lap and Goux slotted into the third position.
Unfortunately, Peugeot’s fastest, Boillot had to stop on the third lap to repair a broken brake cable. Goux also stopped, due to a hole in his fuel tank. He refilled outside of the pits, and was consequently disqualified. Boillot continued to struggle as he had to change both rear wheels mid-way through the fourth lap. Zucarrelli, in the ‘third’ Peugeot, had to stop to replace a water house. Overall, the engines themselves seem to have held up well through just shy of 200 miles of hard racing.
According to David Hodges, one thing was clear at the first day’s halfway point: the Peugeots and Fiats were closely matched. After five laps, the Fiats were first, third, and fifth overall. However, Boillot kept on fighting maintaining second place. The crowd, who only saw a given car pass every 40 minutes, was excited to see Bruce-Brown (first) and Boillot (second) stop at the same time. Boillot struggled to drop his car into gear while Bruce-Brown raced away in the lead. About a minute late, Boillot finally initiated his pursuit behind another Fiat driven by Wagner. Some race accounts suggest that Boillot had better top speed; however, Bruce-Brown commanded superior acceleration. Other reports suggest that Bruce-Brown’s flying kilometer was at times faster than Boillot’s. One thing is certain, dueling down the long straights, if only by time and not by direct competition, they traded places a couple times between the fifth and eighth laps. The first day concluded with Boillot trailing Bruce-Brown by a few ticks over two minutes.
The weather was not so pleasant on the second day. A soft drizzle turned into sharp cold rain on the second day. The water seeped into the Peugeot’s trick spark plugs and required changing before Boillot could get away. Boillot was determined and soon caught sight of Bruce-Brown’s leading Fiat. According to Hodges, “Boillot passed while the American [Bruce-Brown] changed a tyre at Criel, Bruce-Brown repassed as Boillot refilled. And then the Peugeot passed the stationary Fiat at the bottom of Sept-Meules hill.” Bruce-Brown had run out of fuel from a fractured pipe. He scrounged up some Petrol, but was later disqualified for receiving fuel outside of the pits. Sadly, Bruce-Brown was killed later that year practicing for a race in Milwaukee.
Wagner was behind the Boillot, the new leader. However, as hard as Wagner tried to catch Boillot, he was unable to make up the distance he was behind. Finally, Boillot was triumphant winning his home Grand Prix. Thus, the Henry system was victorious on its first outing.
The 1913 Indianapolis 500.
Two of the 7.6 liter 1912 Peugeot’s, linered down to 7.4 liters each, were sent for the 1913 Indy 500. One was to be driven by Zuccarrelli, who did not have much success at the race; the other was to be driven by Jules Goux. Going into the third edition of the famous circle track race, Goux had an edge. While most continental Europeans had little experience with this type of track, Goux had spent considerable time in a 1912 Peugeot at Brooklands earlier that year. He also received advice from an American driver, Johnny Aitken.
According to William Court, “Goux apparently decided to use a tyre of half an inch less diameter on the left (inside) front wheel though this did not do him much good as is bursts of leadership in the early stages were interspersed with stops for tyres after which ‘he was out of pursuit of the field at a terrible speed.’ The race was one of attrition, and the Henry system was continuing to prove itself a reliable model of engine.
Popular lore suggests that Jules Goux drank upwards of six pints of champagne throughout the race. William Court notes that some accounts, including that of W. F. Bradley deny this, suggesting he was drinking water out of champagne bottles. However, in a letter to one Peter Helck, dated November 2, 1963, Goux himself swore it was champagne. Goux, therefore, was the first European to win the Indy 500. Having won the race, it was back to continental Europe for the French Grand Prix, later that summer.
In slightly smaller form, a set of similar 5.7 liter Peugeot’s turned up for the 1913 French GP. Zucarelli had previously been killed testing the car when it struck a cart. Georges Boillot noted, “we lost not only a close friend but an engineer of considerable ability.” Boillot and Goux were both back to pilot Peugeot’s at a much shorter track for an also shorter Grand Prix.
The 5.7 liter incarnation of the Henry system was consistent with the general trend of the day. The huge displacement titans had become dinosaurs and were disappearing in favor of smaller, nimbler cars. Yet, engineering such as that by Ernest Henry ensured rising power in spite of falling displacement. In any event, the success of the Henry system at the 1912 French Grand Prix resulted in a substantially similar, albeit smaller, engine for the 1913 races.
The 1913 French Grand Prix instituted a new formula. In a parallel to the current 2015 rules, the 1913 French Grand Prix race sought to slow the cars by limiting fuel consumption. Fuel consumption was limited to 20 liters of petrol per 100 kilometers. This required each car to run at least 14.12 miles per gallon. Cars also had to weigh between 1,763 pounds (800 kg) and 2,425 pounds (1,100 kg) ‘dry.’
There were three early morning practice sessions. These were largely devoting to fuel testing by the various entrants. On race days, dense crowds were ready for the race at 5:00 am; however, the fog was even denser and caused the race to be delayed by a half-hour or so. According to David Hodges, “At 5:30 visibility had improved somewhat, although the ‘yellow advertising balloons presented mere dim outlines in the sky,’ and the race was started.
After the first lap, Boillot was fastest and Goux was second fastest. The gaps between the first three were increased during the second lap. On the third lap, Boillot had to stop to fix a broken ignition wire. This allowed Goux, in his Peugeot, to take over first place. However, Boillot immediately put in the fastest lap of the race, thus far, at 16:15. The fog began to clear and the morning progressed and lap times dropped consistently. It soon became clear that only the Delages and Sunbeams could compete with the Henry-designed Peugeots.
By lap 12, Boillot had moved into second place, in spite of a stop for his riding mechanic to repair a “lubricant sight-feed” according to Hodges. Just beyond half-distance, the order was Guyot (4:02:32); Boillot (4:03:51); and Goux (4:05:09). However, on the next lap, Guyot gave the race over to the Peugeot’s when he ran over his mechanic. According to Hodges, the mechanic had jumped out while the car was still moving. However, the car was moving faster than he expected. He was knocked down and run over. “No bones were broken but Guyot had to lift him into the cockpit once he had changed the wheel and slowly complete that lap.”
Thereafter, there were essentially no changes to the order and Boillot won the French Grand Prix for France for the second year in the row. Boillot had averaged 72.12 miles per hour over the course of the race. His win made him a national hero of the day. Goux came in a strong second. Thus, the Henry designed inline four cylinder again proved its relative dominance over the large displacement titans that had come before.
Peugeot’s success with these cars was modest, as compared to the sheer magnitude of Ernest Henry’s impact on overall modern engine design. It was Ernest Henry who proved that a smaller, more efficient engine could beat the huge-engined chain-driven titans that came before. As just one example, the Offenhauser engine that was so dominant in American racing owes its fundamental design principles to those employed in the Henry system. We may never know whether Ernest Henry was a mere draftsman or the driving force for the ideas. However, before the age of 30, Ernest Henry forever altered the direction of motorsport engineering.
Works Relied Upon.
Court, William, Power and Glory: The History of Grand Prix Motor Racing, Vol. 1: 1906-1951 (1988).
Fox, Jack, The Indianapolis 500: A Pictorial History of the Greatest Spectacle in Automobile Racing (1967).
The Henry Affair, Motor Sport Magazine, 38 (July 1974).
Hodges, David, The French Grand Prix: 1906 – 1966 (Temple Press Books 1967)
Racing Car Evolution, Motor Sport Magazine, 3 (September 1942).
Wikipedia, Ernest Henry (engineer), https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Henry_(engineer) (accessed November 5, 2015) (establishing the basic biographical details of Ernest Henry’s life. This resource was used cautiously, and only in the absence of other sources, to identify the basic timeline of Mr. Henry’s life).
Pomeroy, Laurence. The Grand Prix Car Vol 1. S.l.: Motor Racing Publications (1954).
Most of use a car every day. Those who do not still rely on an internal combustion energy, in some capacity, as we enjoy life’s modern conveniences. This (rebooted) blog is a celebration of motorsport. However, to understand motorsport, it is only proper to begin with the story underlying it all: the story of the car.
Some time ago, I decided that it was absurd how little I knew about the inception of the automobile (in light of my passion for cars). Sure, I knew that Kark Benz and a 19th century patent had something to do with it. In fact, I even knew that the car came about, more or less, in the 1880s. Yet, I could not have told you much more with any reasonable degree of certainty. What surprised me was the twists and turns humanity took in its quest to find a means of horseless (or animal-less) land propulsion.
It Was a Matter of Vision.
By the 17th century, a strong societal need was emerging for horseless propulsion. Global trade was flourishing and the horse and carriage of the inland was outmatched by the galleon of the seas, when it came to moving people and goods. In the case of the automobile, necessity was very plainly the mother invention. Even when its need was becoming paramount in the 1700s, the landscape lacked someone with both the engineering genius and futuristic vision to create something as wild as the “automobile.”
You see, a lot needed to happen before the everyman could hop in his ride and take a cruise around town. First, there needed to be roads suited for the wheels and tires of the time. Second, a power sourced was necessary to move the vehicle, which was unencumbered by excessive weight. Third, a method of transmitting the rotary power of the internal combustion engine to the road was required. Fourth, the vehicle needed to be reasonable capable of getting up to speed, maintaining speed, and turning. It also needed to stop in a safe matter. These are merely the most prominent features required of a self-propelled vehicle.
This was a tall order. Certainly, the need for horseless propulsion had been growing since the early days of the enlightenment, if not before. While need may be the mother of innovation, need does not in and of itself necessitate invention or progress. That takes perseverance and vision. There were those such as James Watt who never believed a society driven by vehicles would be possible; however, were willing to register patents to impede the progress of others. Yes, I am suggesting that the man for whom the unit of power is named was also something of a patent troll.
There were technical problems as well. For example, how do you turn a car? It is easy to get the front two wheels to angle left or right in unison. But, how do you get the driving wheels to turn at the slightly different speeds critical for executing a turn? It is these types of problems that caused over 150 years of trials and tribulations before Karl Benz invented what is generally accepted as the grandfather of the modern car.
Having set the stage, I will leave things here until the next post, which will deal with the ancient history of locomotion.