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).

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).

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)

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).

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 Origins of British Motoring, Pt. I

“Without any deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

-Frank Zappa

Motoring in Great Britain was, in essence, illegal until 1896.  Emancipation Day, a cold and rainy November day, saw the run from London to Brighton, following the passage of less restrictive legislation.  This run stands as the legal start to motoring in Great Britain.

Motoring is Banned.

English: Symington steam coach of 1784
English: Symington steam coach of 1784 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Motoring was banned in Great Britain before the motor act even existed.  An essay by John Henry Knight notes that 70 years before 1906, just as railroads were being introduces, “there were scores of steam coaches and steam carriages running on [British] roads.”  He recites the great pioneers of the steam coach and steam carriage such as Hancock, Gurney, and Summers.

However, according to Knight, :”but the opposition of the Turnpike Trustees, the coach proprietors, and the railway companies nipped in the bud a promising industry by the imposition of excessive tolls and adverse Acts of Parliament.”

That Act of Parliament included the The Locomotives Act, 1865, provided “it shall not be lawful to drive any locomotive along any turnpike road or public highway at a greater speed than 4 miles per hour, or through any city, cotton , or village at a greater speed than 2 miles per hour.”  These few words quashed most progress in the motoring arts until 1896.

It is important to realize that The Locomotives Act of 1865 never contemplated the petrol/gasoline powered vehicle.  According to Mr. R. E. Moore, writing in 1906:

Of course, the truth of the matter is, that when these regulations were first imposed, the Legislature had in contemplation only such cumbrous and unwieldy machines as the old-fashioned steam traction engine, and it never occurred to any of those responsible for framing that it would ever be possible for anyone to place on the road such a striking example of engineering skill and applied science as the modern light motor-car.”

John Henry Knight driving his own creation &qu...
John Henry Knight driving his own creation “The first petroleum carriage for two people made in England” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Society was hesitant to accept similar technologies.  According to John Henry Knight, “Even when the bicycle appeared about 1869, it was viewed with displeasure and suspicion; horses would shy at it, and several accidents occurred from this cause.”

It wasn’t exactly “fast and furious” yet; however, there was a London underground motoring scene before the passage of an amendment to The Locomotives Act in 1896.  For example, Sir David Solomons, Bart., built an electric automobile in 1874,  The wealthy were quietly importing motoring vehicles for on the use on private property.  However, these privately imported vehicles were few and far between.

Public Opinion Opposed Motoring in Britain.

English: Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Bar...
English: Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (Photo credit: Wikipedia).  Editor of the collection of essays from which this GPevolved post relies upon.

According to Lord Northcliffe, in Montagu’s compilation of essays, “We had first enthusiasm and curiosity, causing cheering crowds to assemble when we arrived in a town; then, when it began to be seen that horses were frightened (and in those days every horse was frightened), the populace became wrathful.

Sir David Solomons, Bart., was an early proponent of legalized motoring.  According to  him., “the first step would be to interest the public, if only by way of curiosity, secondly to obtain the opinion of the press, and thirdly to influence parliament by a powerful and impartial combination…”

Although simply stated, this small grassroots movement faced overwhelming opposition.  Sir David Solomons planned to change it.

The Tunbridge Wells Demonstration.

Organized by Solomons, himself, a demonstration of several cars occurred on October 15, 1895.  According to C. L. Freeston, “it was then that the public realized for the first time that a new means of locomotion had been brought into being.”

However, the success of the event was not left to chance.  Solomons had over 10,000 invitations mailed out to this event.  It was a general success.  The press covered the event and this, presumably, helped to sway the opinion of the members of parliament.

Parliament Debates Motoring.

The comments summarizing the July 30, 1896 parliamentary debate give a sense of inevitability.  There was a feeling that the legislation would pass; it was just a matter of hammering out the particulars.  The car had to carry lights at night.  It had to have a bell.  Breaking any part of the proposed amendment would result in a fine of up to 10 pounds.

Debate heated up on the topic of “rate of speed.”  It is clear than an unlimited speed limit would never have gained parliamentary support.  The debate started off with discussion of a ten mile per hour speed limit.  They were concerned about protecting against “furious driving.”

Others objected to imposition of a strict liability statute, that it would be better to set standards depending on condition.  This suggestion, while noble, was quickly shot down.  In the end, the speed limit was increased to 14 miles per hour, from the original suggestion of 10 miles per hour.  However, in getting the increase, the proponents of motorsport gave in to language to allow every city, town, and municipality, to reduce this speed in any manner they saw fit.

And in doing so, Lord Solomon, Lord Montagu, and other proponents of motoring succeeded in changing the law of the land.  However, the act would not go into effect

The celebration of the emancipation of the motor vehicle was celebrated by a run from London to Brighton, covered in a forthcoming post.

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved

Sources:

A History of the First Ten Years of Automobilism, Lord Montagu (a collection of essays published in 1906).

Locomotives on Highways Bill [H.L.] (Hansard, 30 July 1896) (summarizing the parliamentary debate)