A Mid-Season Racing Ban, Circa 1900

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

Bicycle, Velo, Fahrad, Radrennen. Paris-Rubaix...
Bicycle, Velo, Fahrad, Radrennen. Paris-Rubaix, 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Levegh_(Alfred_Velghe)_et_sa_Mors_24_hp_de_1900,_victorieuse_à_Bordeaux-Périgueux_et_à_Paris-Toulouse-Paris
Levegh and his 24 horsepower Mors.

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.

Another Photo of Levegh, from the 1900 Bordeaux to Perigueux run.
Another Photo of Levegh, from the 1900 Bordeaux to Perigueux run.

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

Sources:

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

The Motor-Car Journal, April 20th, 1900 (Accessed via Google).