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Léon Théry, (1879-1909), was a French racing driver who won the premier European race, the Gordon Bennett Cup, twice in 1904 and 1905.
1879 April 16th. Born
Théry started out as a mechanic which gave him an understanding of the need to drive according to the car's abilities, and nurse it home to victory. His nickname was 'chronometer' and he became one of the top drivers in the early 1900s.
He competed 'respectably' up until 1903 driving a Decauville automobile and became a Voiturettes Champion. He is regarded as winning 'one of the first Voiturette races, if not the very first'.
1899 His first appearance was the Paris-Bordeaux 'City to city' race in 1899. His 'tiller' steered Decauville had a maximum speed of less than 30 kph for the 565 km race, thus when he reached Bordeaux, he was totally exhausted, struck by amnesia and was heard repeating: “Do not stop me, I have to arrive at Bordeaux!”.
1901 Théry drove a 'Decauville Voiturelle' in the 'Paris-Rouen-Paris' race on 11/03/1900, winning the 'Coupe des Voiturettes'
Théry became renowned for his methodical documentation in a 'race log' of circuit details, road conditions, tyres, engine reliability, and car performance. He then drove scrupulously to the speed he had calculated in the race log.
1902 was a year of trauma. He entered his Decauville in the 'Paris-Vienna' race on 26–29 June, accompanied by his mechanic Muller, unfortunately a brake failure on the Arlberg pass (1,793 m (5,883 ft)) in Austria tested all his skills avoid disaster. In the Ardennes Cup race on the 31 July they hit of a cow at full speed.
1903 Théry joined the French manufacturer Richard-Brasier.
1904 He won the 1904 Gordon Bennett Cup at Homburg in the Taunus mountains of Germany. The event drew entries from eight countries and was considered the single most important race in Europe. Théry's Richard-Brasier 80hp, triumphed over Camille Jenatzy's Mercedes. Each lap was 128 km of primitive roads, but all his lap times were within a 3 minute range.
Théry's victory meant instant fame such that when he and Henri Brasier arrived in Paris they received an enthusiastic reception at the ACF premises, appearing on the balcony to acknowledge thousands of cheering Parisians. A series of banquets and festivities followed, whence - during one of them - Fernand Charron announced that the subscription that he had started had raised 12,200 FF (circa €34,000 Euro in 2006). Théry was awarded the interest of a lifetime bond, and another subscription was opened for the three mechanics that had accompanied him, including Muller his riding mechanic. Brasier presented Théry with the winning car that he took to America, earning a big purse, but little racing success
As an honorific to the previous years winner, the Gordon Bennett Cup was held in France.
1905 Théry, and his riding mechanic Mueller, won the 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup driving an eleven litre 96hp Richard-Brasier over 4 laps (548 km) of a circuit in the Auvergne mountains of France. Théry and Charles-Henri Brasier received a hero's welcome on the streets of Paris, before being received in the Elysée Palace by the President of France, Émile Loubet
Although his success in the 1904 and 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup events had contributed to the Automobile Club de France (ACF) organising the 1906 Grand Prix de l'Automobile Club de France, he did not enter the 1906 or 1907 French Grand Prix. He tried to build his own racing car, a financial enterprise that failed completely, and forced him to work as chauffeur for the La Vie au Grand Air reporter at the 'Bordeaux-Paris' bicycle race in May 1908
1908 He returned to driving for Brasier and entered the Grand Prix of France, but he retired on the last lap of the 10 lap race with a collapsed wheel. He was running fourth overall and first of the French cars. This was the last race of his career
Théry worked for Michelin. Some sources report him as responsible for naming Bibendum, the Michelin Man. The rubber-man had had been popular with the French public since the Michelin brothers introduced it at Lyon in 1894, and had acquired a variety of nicknames. At the 1898 'Paris-Amsterdam-Paris' motor race, Léon greeted André Michelin with a shout of "Here comes Bibendum!". Michelin immediately adopted the name (Latin for "time to drink") to show that his tyres could 'drink' spikes, nails, glass, etc.
1909 He died of Tuberculosis at the age of 29. His tomb is in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.