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).

A Death at Speed Week, 1900

The Speed Week events in the south of France, around Monaco, were not the first races of the season.  The new 24 horsepower (some reports suggest a rating of 30 horsepower) had just been released.  The newly lightened Panhard et Levassors could not match the power of the Mors at 16 horsepower.  The great early racer, René de Knyff had been driving the wheels off his 16 horsepower Panhard, though many other drivers were still competing with the less powerful 12 horsepower Panhards.  New to the racing scene were the Cannstatt Daimler cars were now being called Mercedes.  They were heavy and notoriously difficult to handle, while racing.

Gottlieb Daimler Dies in March 1900.

Gottlieb Daimler (1834—1900)
Gottlieb Daimler (1834—1900) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The so-called speed week along the southern French coast was a yearly affair taking place around late March.  This year, the week started on Sunday, March 25 (1900).  Just a few weeks earlier, on March 6, 1900, Gottlieb Daimler had died.  Gottlieb Daimler’s legacy had already been cemented by his death; however, he was likely unaware of just how pervasive his influence would be on modern life.

It was Gottlieb Daimler who first miniaturized and made mobile the internal combustion engine.  Simply, Gottlieb Daimler was the first to have the insight, vision, and practical engineering knowledge to create an automobile engine.  Certainly, the autonomous mobile vehicle (requiring only a driver but no horses or other propulsion) had been conceived by great thinkers such as Francis Bacon.  Yet, it was many centuries before someone with the correct set of talents was able to make this vision a reality.  Now, the old Daimler may have been a visionary, but–like many visionaries–was stubborn, unbending, and often extremely difficult to work with.  His death, in some ways, allowed Daimler–the company–to have more freedom to develop the automobile.

The first races following the death of Gottlieb Daimler were the Speed Week races in the South of France.

1900 Nice to Marseilles

In years past, the race had been run from Marseilles heading into Nice, near Monaco.  However, for 1900, a roundtrip race from Nice to Marseilles and back was planned.  However, bad weather forced the race to be run in only one direction, with the return trip to Nice untimed.        .

Emil Jellinek
Emil Jellinek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was a big week each year for Emil Jellinek to garner interest in his Monacan import of the Cannstatt Daimler’s, including the new Mercedes models.  In fact, 1900 was the first year that the label “Mercedes” shows up in official racing charts and results.

The Jellinek camp, heavily connected to the Daimler factory operation, entered two short-chassis Pheonix’s under the label of Mercedes, according to Robert Dick.  Both cars were rated at 26 horsepower and weighed in at 1,400 kilograms.   Herman Braun drove the relatively longer 217 cm. framed Mercedes.  Wilhelm Bauer, the Cannstatt factory foreman entered to extremely short wheel-based (190 cm.) Mercedes.

The comparatively lighter 16 horsepower Panhards were present in numbers. Names such as Charron, De Knyff, Pinson, and Hourgieres all entered Panhard et Levassor models.

The new, massive-engined Mors was entered by Alfred Velghe.  Alfred Velghe always entered under a moniker, as was fashionable at the time (and confusing for researchers!).  He entered as “Levegh” an anagram of his last name.  Students of motorsport history may recognize this notorious name.  Alfred was the uncle of the driver that caused the disaster at Le Mans in 1955, which arguably remains the worst disaster in all motorsport history.

Prior to the race, DeKnyff’s car was fired up and ready to race.  With old-timey splendor, Gilles Hourgieres rolled up behind De Knyff’s car.  Failing to brake in time, he bumped the back of De Knyff’s Panhard.  This caused De Knyff’s car to drop into gear and take off without a driver.  Fortunately, it drove itself into a nearby barrier and did not do any damage to the new Mercedes.

Braun, in his brand new Mercedes, managed to end up in a ditch a mere 15 kilometers from the starting line.  A privately entered Daimler, entered by Prince Lubecki, broke two wheels when attempting to give Charron room to pass.  These events, perhaps, were a harbinger of what was to come later in the week.  These accidents were compounded by the sheer difficulty in driving the short wheel-based Daimlers.

As the race progressed, Levegh’s 7.5 liter Mors was clearly the fastest car.  However, power and speed are only good so long as they can reliably transmitted into motion.  Levegh lost over 30  minutes dealing with torn up tires.  One might recall that the modern pneumatic tire was but in its infancy in 1900.

Due to the difficulties of Levegh, De Knyff was able to carry the day in his lightweight 16 horsepower Panhard.  He averaged a shocking 43.8 miles per hour.

Death at the La Turbie Hillclimb

For several years, a hillclimb outside of Monaco, leading up to La Turbie followed the touring car race.  For the Cannstatt Mercedes entry, Bauer was driving, while Braun was riding with him.  According to Gerald Rose, Bauer “ran wide at the first corner into the rocks which bordered the road, and was killed.”  This, as far as I can recall, is the first death of a notable driver occurring as a result of racing incident.  As such, it signals the inclusion of a certain darkness that has continued to be a part of motorsport to this day.

Certainly, attitudes toward death in sport have changed dramatically in the last century.  In fact, it is probably fair to say that modern attitudes toward death in general differ significantly from those a century ago.  However, one result of Bauer’s death is certain: it was terrible “PR.”  Specifically, following Bauer’s death, Cannstatt-Daimler’s were often viewed as dangerous, difficult to handle, and unrefined.

A notable automotive journalist from Paris, the epicenter of the turn of the century automotive scene, defended the Cannstatt Daimler’s.  He noted that, “Before the race, Bauer had practised the hill forty time.  He knew it better than anyone else.”  He suggested that his death was the result of spectator placement and a lighter, better handling car would still have likely met the same fate given the speed the field was racing at.

Conclusion

In summary, the 1900 season is witnessing the beginning of the race toward giant displacement engines.  The Daimler’s were over 5 liter engines.  The new Mors, the benchmark of speed for the 1900 season, was up to 7.5 liters.  In coming years, the engines would grow to staggering sizes.  These giants came about from limitations in engine design.  Given an inability to raise engine revolutions, the next obvious way to increase power was to increase engine size and displacement. Ultimately, it would take the advances in technology from the first world war to design smaller, but more efficient engines.

 

Sources

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

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

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).

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 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

 

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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).