The automobilism movement, as it was called in the early days of the motor vehicle, was growing. Unfortunately, so was oppositional public sentiment. The main vehicle for informing the public about the wonders of the automobile was the motor race. However, often, races were poorly planned. The old dirt roads were rough. Often, organizers failed to inform property owners, along the route, of the race. As a result, cars frequently collided with livestock. In the parlance of today’s youth, these events were often a hot mess.
Paris to Roubaix, 1900
These anti-automobilism pressures culminated with a race from Paris to Roubaix. Fans of cycling will recognize this as a bicycle race. It usually was. However, in 1900, motor tricycles were included in this cycling event. Do not estimate the danger associated with these small motor tricycles. They may have only had two cylinders and between six and eight horsepower, but they were rumored to be faster than the quickest proper automobile, in a straight line. There had been 52 motorized entries to be racing just behind the bicycles. However, in the end, only 30 showed up. One failed to start up that morning, leaving 29 motor tricycles in the competition.
The crowd, as pictured, was substantial. According to Gerald Rose, “At one point on the route there was a certain right-angled corner known as the ‘Croix des Noailles,’ and that being a good coign of vantage from which the competitors could be seen approaching, turning the corner, and departing, a crowd of spectators some two or three hundred strong had gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Here, the majority of spectators arrived by bicycle. They had laid them down in a stack at the corner of the road track. Importantly, one of the spectators was the wife of a power government Deputy (for the Department of the Seine).
At first, everything went well. However, two competitors by the names of Martin and Dorel arrived at the corner going too fast. Martin ran wide. Dorel tried to squeeze by on the inside as Martin trike ran wide. They crashed together and then over the pile of bicycles. The 300-strong crowd was too thick to get out of the way in time. The Deputy’s wife sustained a terrible compound leg fracture, which ultimately left her in the hospital for at least two weeks. On the one hand, the bicycles broke much of the collision such that only a few other injuries were sustained. On the other hand, this was the unfortunate spark to the powder keg of anti-automobilism sentiment.
The result was a racing ban placed in force within days of the accident. There was widespread sadness and dismay among the enthusiast community. From here on, races required a government exemption from the general rule to proceed. As France was the epicenter of the automobile movement, during the fin de siecle, this would ultimately have a cooling effect upon the popular car movement–particularly when it came to smaller, regional races. The rundown clock on the great city to city races had been set. The end of these great events, unfortunately, was now in sight (even if it was not known at the time).
1900 Bordeaux to Perigueux Automobile Race
This race was authorized in spite of the racing ban. This fact, alone, made the race something of an attraction. However, the bigger crowd draw was the fact that it was the first proper meeting between the latest Mors and Panhard cars. It was a two day event, with the first day being 72 miles and the second day being 125.5 miles. Unlike the relatively minor race of Paris to Roubaix, the Bordeaux to Perigueux race had many of the bigger names in early motorsport including Giraud and Levegh.
Giraud, had previously only driven a Bollée, but had switched to Panhard in light of the overwhelming racing success of the marque. However, the Mors had come out of nowhere and was to be quite a contender for the supreme French racer. Levegh, as I have mentioned several times in previous posts, was the uncle of the unfortunate instigator of the 1955 Le Mans disaster.
An American, Bostwick, was new on the scene. He had purchased, at an extremely high price, De Knyff’s “Tour de France” Panhard from 1899. The speed on the first day was incredible. Levegh travelled the 72 miles in only 84 minutes, which is a pace that the racing community had not yet seen. Even more impressive was the fact that other racers were averaging nearly as quickly as Levegh’s record pace. At the end of the first day, Giraud was only three minutes behind in second place. Bostwick, the new American to the French racing scene, was third. He finished only an additional 4:30 behind the second place Giraud.
On the second day, Levegh was again quickest. Thus, Levegh and his Mors won the two day event averaging 48.4 miles per hour. Giraud maintained second place, at an average of 47.1 miles per hour. Bostwick evidenced the American can-do attitude by maintaining third at 45.6 miles per hour. This proved that the Automobile Club de France had correctly chosen both a Mors and a Panhard for the upcoming first iteration of the Gordon Bennett trophy (which will be featured in the next post).
/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com
Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908 (1949)
The Motor-Car Journal, April 20th, 1900 (Accessed via Google).
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.
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.”
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.
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 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
A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1949).
100 Years of the Tour de France, Motorsport Magazine (July 1999).
The last race I covered, the 1898 Paris to Amsterdam to Paris race, ended on July 13th. At the end of the month, on July 22, 1898, the standing 100 kilometer record was broken. Jamin set the new record at 1:53:15. In doing so, he beat the previous 100 km record by three minutes and thirty seconds.
According to Gerald Rose, about a week later, there was a race from Lille to Calais. It was only “remarkable for the large mortality in live-stock which occurred at the same time.” Then, on August 21, 1898, the last major race of the year took place.
1898 Bordeaux to Biarritz
On August 21, 1898, the Bordeaux to Biarritz race marked the final major race of the 1898 racing season. The route, starting in Bordeaux, went through Le Réole, Marmande, Casteljaloux, and Mont de Marsan. The race was set for 180 miles.
The race was “tropically hot” according to Gerald Rose. The competitors, and particularly the motorcyclists were exhausted after the 180 mile race.
Lemaitre was in the lead until he came up on a gated bridge at Marmande. As he approached, the bridge-keeper through the gate closed, forcing Lemaitre to slam on his breaks. In doing so, Lemaitre destroyed the rear-end mechanicals of his Peugeot. Lemaitre and bridge-keeper got in a heated argument lasting until the townspeople threatened to throw the bridge-keeper into the river, below.
There was also some sort of cattle affair, which the drivers has to get special permission to drive through.
Lemaitre, in a Peugeot, was third, in spite of his run in with the bridge-keeper. He completed the course in 8 hours and four minutes. There were no other timed finishers.
1898 Saint Germain to Vernon to Saint Germain.
This was a minor city to city race. It took place on October 20, 1898, and was only for the make, “Mors.” Tires, and especially the puncture thereof, continued to be problematic. Otherwise, the race was rather uneventful. It was certainly only a minor, one-make, late-season race, decades before the days of a championship.
And so, the 1898 season came to a close. The seasons are still very loosely structured. Paris remains the center of the racing world. However, the tentacles of influence of the grassroots motoring movement are reaching farther and farther into continental Europe. Moreover, the regular racing is causing cars to develop at a comparatively rapid rate.
A Brief Commentary.
Altogether, these late season races, and really all of the 1898 races exemplify the problems of the “great” city to city races. Essentially, unforeseen obstacles inevitably are both dangerous and dispositive to the race outgoing. In other words, externalities were causing drivers to lose, when they were otherwise fastest and most reliable. For example, Lemaitre would have done much better had he not needed to deal with the bridge-keeper. I, for one, will champion the advent of proper circuit-based racing.
On a separate note, as the creator and author of GPevolved.com, I question what is the useful scope of this blog. A gather this is a problem forced upon most any non-fiction writer. How microscopic must you be to tell a story accurately? At what point do you lose the forest through the trees.
Certainly, there is no need to go into every hillclimb and speed trial. Well, even that cannot be made a rule to govern the scope of this project. For, if it did, I would miss the entire story of La Jamais Content. So, perhaps, it is a matter of judgment. In any event, stay tuned for the next story about Camille Jenatzy and the electric racer that made him the first person to average faster than a mile a minute.
/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com
Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908 (1949).
Only 11 cars entered. Of those, only nine made it to the starting line. This race was, in a way, a throwback to the great 1895 race. Tours was the stopping point for the two day race. The race took place on May 11th and 12th of 1898.
Nationalist colors, that many of us associate with the early races, were not yet in vogue. Instead, De Knyff was in a blue car. Charron’s car was white. Girardot’s car was red. It was a simultaneous start, of sorts.
De Knyff took the early lead. He also led to Tours. 90 minutes later, Charron arrived in second. Eight cars finished. 6 motorcycles also finished in a concurrent race. On the second day, there was a “tremendous storm of wind and rain.”
De Knyff led steadily. He gradually increased his distance to Levegh, who was a relative on the Levegh involved in the tragic 1955 Le Mans crash. In the end, de Knyff won with a two hour lead.
“Without any deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
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.
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.”
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.
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
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)
1897 did not really have a “major” motorsport race, at least not on the scale as seen in 1896. I share in Gerald Rose’s criticism of the season that, “It is certainly due to this lack of competition that the falling off in [technical] improvement is due. There was very little difference in the cars of 1896 and 1897, such improvements as appeared being of a minor character.”
1897 Paris to Trouville.
The Paris to Trouville race was scheduled for August 14th, 1897. There were two classes, as had recently become customary: one for light motorcycles and the other for proper automobiles.
Basically, the short of it is that the race was a second-consecutive victory for one Mr.
Jamin rocking a Bollée. A Mr. Viet had a bad crash, due to cruising around a 90-degree off-camber bend, much to quickly.
On a positive note, the winning speeds of these early races continued to climb. This race was won, by a vehicle similar to the one pictured, at an average speed of 28.2 miles per hour. The fastest car, a Panhard et Levassor clocked in at 25.2 miles per hour.
A Personal Note on the Lackluster.
As I am quickly discovering, one of the challenges of this blog will be to effectively, efficiently–yet interestingly–deal with the uneventful. Let me be completely honest. Not much anything of significance happened in 1897. Perhaps, on some level, that is–in and of itself–modestly useful to point out.
Regardless, I remain excited about this project. Even in the face of minutia, I am firmly convinced with absolute confidence that GPevolved is preserving a story worth telling in a unique format.
Stay tuned for next post on “The Origin of Motoring in the UK” (from a Yankee, as it were).
/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com
A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (2d. ed. 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 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).
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).