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.

The 1896 Motorsport Season Begins…

Bordeaux Gets into the Game.

The 1896 motorsport season began with a couple relatively minor races out of Bordeaux, France.  Admittedly, Gerald Rose’s tome, cited below, is my only source for these races.

In short, the excitement of being the destination of the major 1895 city to city race led some interested folks in Bordeaux to organize a couple of their own races.

April 26, 1896: Bordeaux to Langon.

This was a relatively short race of 28.75 miles.  Six cars finished the race, which was won by a Mr. Bord; however, accurate times for this race have been lost to history.

Another driver, by the name of Marly, drove into a house.  However, as noted by Mr. Rose, the accident was not that bad as he still finished the race in fourth place.

There was a dinner at the end of the race.  Clearly, there must have been some excitement over the success of the event, because they decided there and then to organize another–longer–race for May 24th and 25th of that year.

May 24-25, 1896: Bordeaux to Agen to Bordeaux.

Day one was the race from Bordeaux to Agen.  The second day was the return trip.  The total race totaled somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 miles (171.25 according to Rose).For whatever reason, the race was only open to folks who had possessed cars before January 1, 1896.   This seems to be an odd, and possibly elitist rule; however, it had the effect of curtailing the number of entries.

Like many of the early races, there were far fewer starters than entrants.  Of the 30 cars entered, only seven made it to the starting line.  There were three Peugeots, two Panhard et Levassors, a Hildebrand-Wolfmüller, and a De Dion.  One Mr. Bousquet was the first to reach Agen, the midpoint of the race.  On the second day, he was also the first to get back home to Bordeaux.  Thus, Mr. Bousquet won.

This race did not receive the attention that the Bordeaux organizers had hoped for, primarily because the race occurred at the same time as another, much more popular event: the Bordeaux to Paris bicycle race.

A Cosmopolitan Failure.

The magazine “Cosmopolitan” (which it turns out is a much older publication than I had ever expected), organized a race in New York City for May 30, 1896.  Again, according to Gerald Rose, the race was a “complete fiasco.”

There were only six cars entered for the tour around through Central Park and through New York City.  Only one car, a Duryea, managed to complete the course.  The race was such a failure that Rose opines it “seriously damaged” the reputation and future of the self-propelled vehicle in France.

In Conclusion.

I find these early races fascinating because you can literally see the foundation and future of  motorsport being figured out by a few interested groups of people.  I cannot help but wonder if they knew the destiny that motorsport would end up having world-wide?  Were they cognizant of the virtual certainty of the cars’ future as the dominant mode of transportation (at least in America)?

I also have a sense of regret that these early races are disappearing into the darkness of history.  Motorsport is inherently a forward-looking sport.  It is always looking for new technology and new drivers to be ultimately quickest.  In this regard, motorsport is a cruel friend to history.  I find this quite sad.  And so, perhaps in some humble way, Project GPevolved can bring a bit of forgotten history into the light again.

 

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

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

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)