The 1897 Marseilles-Nice-La Turbie Race

In The 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

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.

 

By Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

 

If you are interested in staying current on my progress through motorsport history, please consider taking a moment to follow the GPevolved Facebook page, or the @GPevolved Twitter account.

 

Sources:

Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque: 1895 – 1915, Robert Dick (2005).

Encyclopedia of Auto Racing Greats, Cutter and Fendell (1973).

A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1949).

 

America’s First Race: The Chicago Times-Herald Race of 1895.

The 1895 Chicago Times-Herald Race.

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.

English: Mueller-Benz car entered in the Chica...
English: Mueller-Benz car entered in the Chicago Times-Herald car race of 1895. Seated are the Race Officials of Col. Marshall I. Ludington, Henry Timken, C.P. Kimball, with driver Oscar B. Mueller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

The Pre-Race.

Patent Drawing for the Duryea Road Vehicle, 06...
Patent Drawing for the Duryea Road Vehicle, 06/11/1895. This is the printed patent drawing of the road vehicle invented by Charles E. Duryea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

America's First Automobile Race map
America’s First Automobile Race map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Sources:

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).

The Distant History of the Automobile

A Tortuous Journey.

Most of use a car every day.  Those who do not still rely on an internal combustion energy, in some capacity, as we enjoy life’s modern conveniences.  This (rebooted) blog is a celebration of motorsport.  However, to understand motorsport, it is only proper to begin with the story underlying it all: the story of the car.

Some time ago, I decided that it was absurd how little I knew about the inception of the automobile (in light of my passion for cars).  Sure, I knew that Kark Benz and a 19th century patent had something to do with it.  In fact, I even knew that the car came about, more or less, in the 1880s.  Yet, I could not have told you much more with any reasonable degree of certainty.  What surprised me was the twists and turns humanity took in its quest to find a means of horseless (or animal-less) land propulsion.

It Was a Matter of Vision.

By the 17th century, a strong societal need was emerging for horseless propulsion.  Global trade was flourishing and the horse and carriage of the inland was outmatched by the galleon of the seas, when it came to moving people and goods.  In the case of the automobile, necessity was very plainly the mother invention.  Even when its need was becoming paramount in the 1700s, the landscape lacked someone with both the engineering genius and futuristic vision to create something as wild as the “automobile.”

You see, a lot needed to happen before the everyman could hop in his ride and take a cruise around town.  First, there needed to be roads suited for the wheels and tires of the time.  Second, a power sourced was necessary to move the vehicle, which was unencumbered by excessive weight.  Third, a method of transmitting the rotary power of the internal combustion engine to the road was required.  Fourth, the vehicle needed to be reasonable capable of getting up to speed, maintaining speed, and turning.  It also needed to stop in a safe matter.  These are merely the most prominent features required of a self-propelled vehicle.

This was a tall order.  Certainly, the need for horseless propulsion had been growing since the early days of the enlightenment, if not before.  While need may be the mother of innovation, need does not in and of itself necessitate invention or progress.  That takes perseverance and vision.  There were those such as James Watt who never believed a society driven by vehicles would be possible; however, were willing to register patents to impede the progress of others.  Yes, I am suggesting that the man for whom the unit of power is named was also something of a patent troll.

There were technical problems as well.  For example, how do you turn a car?  It is easy to get the front two wheels to angle left or right in unison.  But, how do you get the driving wheels to turn at the slightly different speeds critical for executing a turn?  It is these types of problems that caused over 150 years of trials and tribulations before Karl Benz invented what is generally accepted as the grandfather of the modern car.

Having set the stage, I will leave things here until the next post, which will deal with the ancient history of locomotion.