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).

Early Automotive Races in 1899

While Jenatzy was still perfecting La Jamais Contente, the 1899 racing season got underway.  As was quickly becoming tradition, the season began with a “speed week” of sorts in the south of France along the Riviera.

Nice – Castellane – Nice, 1899

The first race of the 1899 season took place on March 21st.  The Riviera speed week, or semaine automobile, was organized by the automobile club of Nice.  The club was headed by Jacques Gondoin.  According to Robert Dick, the speed week was a complete affair including a long distance race, a touring car race, a one-mile sprint, a hill climb, and an exposition at the end of the week.

As for the long distance event from Nice to Castellane and back, there were some last minute changes to the route due to narrow roads; however, nobody seemed too dissatisfied.  Albert Lemaitre’s Peugeot was the popular favorite for the week.  His Peugeot was rated at 20 horsepower, with a two cylinder engine (140 x 90 mm.).  The Panhard and Levassor’s of 1899 were four cylinders (80 x 120 mm); however, they were only rated at around eight horsepower.  Only Lemaitre had the new, faster Peugeot.

According to Gerald Rose:

“The only important incident in the race was the accident to Marcellin.  The redoubtable cyclist had started ten minutes late and was going at top speed behind a car, as the habit was of tricyclists, and so failed to see a turn in the road in the cloud of dust which encompassed him.  He collided with the parapet that edged the corner, and short over it, rolling down the slope beyond.

Marcellin was shaken, but unhurt.  Another driver, Ducom, experienced a similar incident where he was blinded by dust and collided with a hall.  His car was out of the race, but Ducom was also unhurt.  Giraud, driving a Bollée had transmission  problems, an apparently recurrent problem for him.

There were only a few spectators waiting when the first cars and tricycles began to roll in.  Lemaitre, as was the favorite, won with an average speed of 26.0 miles per hour.  Girardot, rocking a Panhard et Levassor was second in his eight h.p.  Koechlin was third, averaging 22.2 miles per hour.

Lemaitre also won the standing mile and the Le Turbie Hill Climb.

Pau – Bayonne – Pau

This race took place four days after the final day of the Riviera speed week.  It was organized by A.C. Bearnais.  Lemaitre and his badass 20 h.p. horsepower won this event as well.  The weather was terrible.  There were not many competitors.  Nevertheless, the event was considered a great success.

Paris – Roubaix

On April 2, 1899, La Vélo hosted its annual trike race.  Again, according to the authoritative Gerald Rose, “It was won by Osmond on his de Dion in 5 hrs. 35 mins. 30 secs., which represents an average speed of about 32 m.p.h.”

On April 11, 1899, Le Matin  announced the creation of event to be known as the “Tour de France.”  It was to be a massive race of around 2,500 kilometers.

Paris – Bordeaux

This race returned to an only rarely used method of racing that we now associate as critical to motorsport: a mass start.  The Paris to Bordeaux race took place on May 24, 1899 and was something of a preview of the new cars that would be seen at the Tour de France.

74 entries were received.  65 entries showed up on race day.  There was 37 motorcyclists and 28 cars.  The en bloc start was something of a train wreck, of sorts.  Lemaitre ran into another racer, and his mechanic–seeing that an accident was about to occur–just got up and jumped off.  Yes, at high speed, he simply jumped.  He was severely injured, though Lemaitre escaped by running off the road.  Lemaitre could have continued; however, he opted to remain with his badly injured riding mechanic.

“At Venome, the first important pace on the route, Leys and Charron were leading with De Knyff 11 minutes behind, closely followed by Giraud.  Unfortunately, Giraud took a turn too fast, burst a tire, and turned his Bollée over in a ditch.

Hourgieres, who was the one to nearly collide with Lemaitre, was shaking down a brand new Mors for the Tour de France.  At Poitiers, his car was in third.  Charron remained in the lead, but Leys was down to fourth.  De Knyff was about 12 minutes back from the leaders.

In the end, Charron drove with excellence and won the race in his 12 h.p. Panhard with an average pace of 351 miles of 29.9 miles per hour.  René de Knyff was second, averaging 29.6 miles per hour.  Girardot was third, with an average of 28.0 miles per hour.

Touring Car verses Thoroughbred Racer

To date, the so-called voiture de course (racing car), was merely a stripped down touring car, often with a more powerful engine than would otherwise have been fitted to the car.  Previously, there was little differentiation between touring cars and racing cars.

Suddenly, changes started to become apparent in the race entries.  The new breed of cars, especially those to be shown at the Tour de France, were lower, sleeker, and faster.  The center of gravity was dropped significantly from touring models.  Engine sizes began to increase dramatically around this time.  This is, in fact, the beginning of the lead up to the massive displacement engines seen in the early 1900s.

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Sources:

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

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

The 1898 Racing Season Concludes.

The last race I covered, the 1898 Paris to Amsterdam to Paris race, ended on July 13th.  At the end of the month, on July 22, 1898, the standing 100 kilometer record was broken.  Jamin set the new record at 1:53:15.  In doing so, he beat the previous 100 km record by three minutes and thirty seconds.

According to Gerald Rose, about a week later, there was a race from Lille to Calais.  It was only “remarkable for the large mortality in live-stock which occurred at the same time.”  Then, on August 21, 1898, the last major race of the year took place.

1898 Bordeaux to Biarritz

On August 21, 1898, the Bordeaux to Biarritz race marked the final major race of the 1898 racing season.  The route, starting in Bordeaux, went through Le Réole, Marmande, Casteljaloux, and Mont de Marsan.  The race was set for 180 miles.

The race was “tropically hot” according to Gerald Rose.  The competitors, and particularly the motorcyclists were exhausted after the 180 mile race.

Giraud started in a Bollée.  He was soon passed by Lemaitre, a participant in the 1894 race from Paris to Rouen.

Lemaitre was in the lead until he came up on a gated bridge at Marmande.  As he approached, the bridge-keeper through the gate closed, forcing Lemaitre to slam on his breaks.  In doing so, Lemaitre destroyed the rear-end mechanicals of his Peugeot.  Lemaitre and bridge-keeper got in a heated argument lasting until the townspeople threatened to throw the bridge-keeper into the river, below.

There was also some sort of cattle affair, which the drivers has to get special permission to drive through.

In the end, Loyel’s Bollée was first in 6:48:00, at an average speed of 26.7 miles per hour.  Mr. Koechlin, of the tiny suit shenanigan from the last post, was second.  He finished in 7 hours and 36 minutes.

Lemaitre, in a Peugeot, was third, in spite of his run in with the bridge-keeper.  He completed the course in 8 hours and four minutes.  There were no other timed finishers.

1898 Saint Germain to Vernon to Saint Germain.

This was a minor city to city race.  It took place on October 20, 1898, and was only for the make, “Mors.”  Tires, and especially the puncture thereof, continued to be problematic.  Otherwise, the race was rather uneventful.  It was certainly only a minor, one-make, late-season race, decades before the days of a championship.

And so, the 1898 season came to a close.  The seasons are still very loosely structured.  Paris remains the center of the racing world.  However, the tentacles of influence of the grassroots motoring movement are reaching farther and farther into continental Europe.  Moreover, the regular racing is causing cars to develop at a comparatively rapid rate.

A Brief Commentary.

Altogether, these late season races, and really all of the 1898 races exemplify the problems of the “great” city to city races.  Essentially, unforeseen obstacles inevitably are both dangerous and dispositive to the race outgoing.  In other words, externalities were causing drivers to lose, when they were otherwise fastest and most reliable.  For example, Lemaitre would have done much better had he not needed to deal with the bridge-keeper.  I, for one, will champion the advent of proper circuit-based racing.

On a separate note, as the creator and author of GPevolved.com, I question what is the useful scope of this blog.  A gather this is a problem forced upon most any non-fiction writer.  How microscopic must you be to tell a story accurately?  At what point do you lose the forest through the trees.

Certainly, there is no need to go into every hillclimb and speed trial.  Well, even that cannot be made a rule to govern the scope of this project.  For, if it did, I would miss the entire story of La Jamais Content.  So, perhaps, it is a matter of judgment.  In any event, stay tuned for the next story about Camille Jenatzy and the electric racer that made him the first person to average faster than a mile a minute.

 

/ Travis Turner of GPevolved.com

Source:

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