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).

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 Origins of British Motoring, pt. II

The 1896 run from London to Brighton signaled the legal start of motoring in Great Britain.  Excitement had been building since the amendment to the Light Locomotive Act earlier in 1896.  I have found two interesting accounts of that inspirational day.

The 1896 amendment, raising the speed limit to approximately twelve miles per hour, went into effect on November 14, 1896.  Thousands arrived to watch cars legally travel down public roads.

London to Brighton, 1896.

In Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing, Charles Jarrott provides a first-hand account of the historic run from London to Brighton.  According to Jarrott, “for the first time in English history legal restrictions in regard to the use of motor-cars on the public highways, except when proceeded by a man with a red flag, had been removed, and we were to be allowed to drive a car on the road not exceeding twelve miles an hour.  The run from London to Brighton had been arranged ti celebrate the event.

It was “a foggy, dull, wet, typical November morning.”  Jarrott provides color to his narrative by adding, “An occasional petrol blaze was seen through the fog which filled the hall, making the scene resemble a veritable inferno.”  It was a “who’s who” of early British car culture.

It must have been an unforgettable scene.  “The spectators had availed themselves of every possible point of vantage, to view for the first time these wonderful machines which were that day allowed to be run upon English roads.  Lamp-posts, housetops, balconies were all occupied and the thousands thronging the roadways made the passage for our car almost impossible.”

It was a cosmopolitan event for high-society and the masses alike.  “The Frenchmen were of course wildly excited; if gesticulation and talking could have accomplished anything, much would have been laid to their credit.  The English crowd was rather fearful.”

The start was slow.  Unfortunately, thousands also watched the relative unreliability of early automobiles.  The only motorcycle crashed before it ever really got started.  All things considered, Jarrott noted wryly, “it might have been worse.”

Finally, Charles Jarrott wrote of the race:

The effect of the run on the public was curious.  They had come to believe that on that identical day a great revolution was going to take place.  Horses were to be superseded forthwith, and only the marvelous motor vehicles about which they had read so much in the papers for months previously would be seen upon the road.  No one seemed to  be clear as to how this extraordinary change was to take place suddenly; nevertheless, there was the idea that the change was to be a rapid one.”

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources:

Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing, Charles Jarrott

A History of the First Ten Years of Automobilism, Lord Montagu

Encyclopedia of Auto Racing Greats, Charles Jarrott, Cutter and Fendell.

The Distant History of the Automobile

A Tortuous Journey.

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.