Paris to Dieppe in 1897

Val-Saint-Nicolas, near Dieppe in the Morning
Val-Saint-Nicolas, near Dieppe in the Morning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As early motor racing seasons go, 1897 was not the best.  January’s race had generally been a success, as I detailed in my last post.  However, the Automobile Club de France (ACF) did not exactly go big in their planning for 1897.  Gerald Rose blames the lack of mechanical progress in the 1897 cars on the absence of a major city to city race.  One must remember, it is nearly another ten years until the usefulness of major circuit based races is really discovered (i.e. the Grand Prix).

The run from Paris to Dieppe is relatively short.  The course measured only 106.2 miles.  It was to be a simple one-day affair.  The lack of a major race did not translate to a lack of amateur enthusiasm in the 1897 races.  Nearly 70 entries were received for the 1897 run from Paris to Dieppe.  59 of those entries managed to show up for the race.  It is clear that more amateurs were rolling around in increasingly reliable machines, at this point in history.

It was a hot day.  The roads were dusty.  The officials had a grand idea; they would officiate the start and then take a chartered railcar to beat the cars to the finish.  That way, they could manage both ends of this relatively short city to city race.

At Beavuais, one Mr. Vicomte de Soulier had been leading, until a tire burst.  Pneumatic tires were still in their infancy and prone to failure.  However, speeds had exceeded the useful range for solid rubber tires.  Metal wheels, were just terrible, and had since been abandoned.

English: 1897 Leon Bollee
English: 1897 Leon Bollee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After de Soulier’s tire failed, Jamin, in a Bollée “tricar” took the lead.  However, in the hot wind, his ignition failed.  By Gourney, Amédé de Bollée rolled through leading in a car of his own make.

Fernand Charron, introduced in my last post, rolled through in his Panhard et Levassor, just a couple minutes behind a Mr. Hourgieres.  Shockingly, as the cars started to cross the finish line, the officials were nowhere to be seen.  Their plan of chartering a railcar had failed.  As such, the competitors were left to their own devices when it came to certifying finish times.  Thus, Rose’s finish tables (in my estimation) should be viewed with caution.

What is certain, however, is that average speeds had again increased.  The two-seated car leaders averaged upwards of 22 to 24 miles per hour.  The four seated cars, which included the De Dion steam car, were even faster.

Gerald Rose, one of the only sources for these early races, notes that this race hosted a couple of technical advancements with the new cars that ran.  For example, aluminum components began to replace their (often brass) counterparts.  Moreover, the gilled radiator also made it’s first appearance at this race.

 

Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Primary Source:

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

 

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).

 

The 1896 Paris to Marseille to Paris.

GPevolved title graphic for Paris to Marseilles, 1896

The Formation of the Automobile Club de France.

Men of the Day No.761: Caricature of Le Comte ...
Men of the Day No.761: Caricature of Le Comte Albert de Dion. Caption reads: “Automobile” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was November 1895.  The committee that sponsored the major city to city race last summer 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.

Das benzinbetriebene Dreirad Voiturette von Lé...
Das benzinbetriebene Dreirad Voiturette von Léon_Bollée, 1896; Damit legte er die Strecke Le Mans – Paris in sieben Stunden zurück. 650 ccm, Cité de l’Automobile – Musée National – Collection Schlumpf, Mülhausen, Frankreich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

 

//Travis Turner

Primary Source: Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908.

1895: Paris to Bordeaux and Back.

“Who has ever attended a gathering of motoring enthusiasts for any purpose, whether it be at a race, or a hill-climb, or outside a Court of Justice, without noticing the feeling of brotherhood which seems to pervade the atmosphere?”  —Gerald Rose.

Following the success of the 1894 Paris to Rouen trial, another contest was organized for 1895.  This race  was to be pure race (although the cars were still to be started in interval fashion).  The winning prize was top be split 50 percent to first place, 20 percent for second place, 10 percent for third prize, and five percent each for fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh.  Additional rules included a provision that a manufacturer could not enter more than one car of identical design and drivers could be changed en route for the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race.

Panhard et Levassor's Daimler motor carriage, 1894
Panhard et Levassor’s Daimler motor carriage, 1894 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again, spectators were given easy access to the cars; a tradition long since forgotten in motorsport.  Gerald Rose commented:

“It was an excellent idea, as it not only afforded those interested an opportunity of examining the cars both before and after the race, but also gave those makers who had not had time to complete their tests a chance to bring before the public possibilities offered by their vehicles.”

In modern parlance, it was good to give the crowd an opportunity to check out the new rides and helped sell a few cars too.

1895 Paris to Bordeaux Race

The race itself started on June 11, 1895 at 9:00 am.  The race started under the Arc de Triomphe.  Some of the cars, such as the Peugeot Number 16, driven by Koechlin, had some difficulty getting out of the city center.  This was a result of the “rough pavé.”

Initially, the steam cars started strong led by the De Dion steam brake number 3, followed by an older “omnibus” made by Bollée.  The De Dion steam car was in trouble soon thereafter with a broken driveshaft.  This allowed the number 5 Panhard et Levassor, driven by Mr. Levassor himself, to take the lead.  Remember, there were no HID headlights, in these days; the competitors were tasked with driving through the night using unreliable oil lamps.

Nevertheless, between 8:45 ppm and 5:30 am, the next morning, Levassor kept a strong pace of around 15 miles per hour.  Of note, this is nearly a 25 percent increase over the pace of the prior years’ race.  Records indicate that there was a close battle for second, third, and fourth with car numbers 8, 6, and 15.  They passed and re-passed each other throughout the night.

1895 Peugeot in Paris to Bordeaux race.
1895 Peugeot in Paris to Bordeaux race.

According to Rose, “Levassor reached Bordeaux at 10:40 am, signed on at the control, turned his car, and started off at once for the journey back to Paris.”  In my mind, this qualifies Mr. Levassor as a proper driver, one consumed by the desire for speed, quickness, and ultimate victory.  This inference is supported by the fact that he would not allow another driver to replace him, in spite of being at the wheel in excess of 24 hours.  He stopped roughly every 60 miles for water and supplies.  Other than that, he could not be stopped, except for a single 22 minute stoppage on the return trip.

46 cars entered the 1895 Paris to Bordeaux to Paris race.  22 actually started the race.  11 of those cars reached the midpoint at Bordeaux.  Of those 11, 9 completed the entire pace.  The final results of the top five were as follows:

  1. Mr. Levassor; Panhard et Levassor; Petrol; 48:48; 15.0 miles per hour.
  2. Mr. Rigoulot; Peugeot; Petrol: 54:35; 13.4 miles per hour.
  3. Mr. Koechlin; Peugeot; Petrol; 59:48; 12.2 miles per hour.
  4. Mr. Doriot; Peugeot; Petrol; 64:30; 11.3 miles per hour.
  5. Unknown driver (Car #12); Peugeot; Petrol; 72.14; 10.1 miles per hour.

 

Sources:

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

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