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Early Automobile Races and Trials

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Note: This chapter was talen from 'Motors and Motor-driving. Published in 1906.' and has been edited down. Some sections have been replaced by a link to a page on the event. Other 'padding' paragraphs have been removed.


Even with the aid of racing, however, the development of the motor-car has been a matter of slow growth, and by many new recruits to the pastime it may be learned with surprise that a competition was held in France so long ago as 1894, from Paris to Rouen, when the 31-hp cars of Panhard et Levassor and Peugeot Freres shared the leading honours, having averaged nearly twelve miles an hour.

It was not until June 1895, however, that the foundation of a series of classic events was laid by a race from Paris to Bordeaux and back, 732 miles, when a 3.5-hp Panhard et Levassor car accomplished the journey in 48 hours 48 minutes at the rate of nearly fifteen miles per hour.

The good effects of racing have been abundantly displayed since that memorable event, for even minutes Panhard himself was satisfied with the results, and progress might have been stayed for an indefinite period but for the stimulus of competition. The story is vouched for that at a banquet following this event an enthusiastic, yet prescient, speaker expressed the belief that the journey to Bordeaux would eventually be covered not at fifteen, but at fifty, miles an hour. Thereupon minutes Panhard leaned over to the chairman, the Baron de Zuylen, and whispered a regret that on such occasions there was always one person who made an ass of himself.

Only six years later the course was covered at an even higher rate than was predicted by the after-dinner prophet, and, among others, by Panhard cars, though the founder of the firm unfortunately did not live to witness this startling consummation.

In September 1896, a race was held from Paris to Marseilles and back (1,061 miles), and two 4-hp Panhard cars completed the course at the average speed of 15.65 and 15.55 miles an hour respectively, with four passengers, as against the two of the Bordeaux race.

More definite progress, moreover, was soon to he recorded, for on July 24, 1897, a race was run from Paris to Dieppe (106 miles), and was won by a 6-hp. Panhard in 4 hours 36 m., or 23.1 miles an hour.

On July 7, 1898, an 8-hp Panhard averaged 29 miles an hour in a race of 895 miles from Paris to Amsterdam and back, and by the next year the 12-hp. car had appeared upon the scene, the Paris-Bordeaux race being won by a Panhard of that power in 11h. 43m. 29s., or 33.30 miles an hour.

The year 1899 also witnessed the great Tour de France, a race of no less a distance than 1,440 miles, which was won by a 16-hp. Panhard, driven by de Knyff in 44 hours 59 m., or 31.9 miles an hour. The interesting fact may here be stated that in every race yet mentioned the first three cars were all Panhards, and the fourth was invariably a Peugeot, up to the Tour de France, when a Bollee stepped into the place. The Mors vehicle, however, now proved a formidable rival to the Panhard.

In the Paris-St. Malo race two 16-hp. cars of that make came in first and second, driven by Antony and Levegh, in 7 hours 32 minutes and 7 hours 4o minutes respectively, over a distance of 226 miles.

In the Paris-Ostend race (201 miles) Levegh on a 16-hp. Mors, and Girardot on a 12-hp. Panhard, made a dead heat of it, their time being 6 hours 11 m., or 32 miles an hour.

Girardot, however, won the Paris-Boulogne race (143 miles) in 4 hours 17 minutes 44 sesconds; Levegh's time was 4 hours 19 minutes 20 seconds, the winner's speed being 33.3 miles an hour.

A subsequent race from Bordeaux to Bayonne (163 miles) was won by Levegh in 4 hours 24 M.

In 1900 the Circuit du Sud-Ouest race, from Pau over a course of 208 miles, was won by de Knyff, who made the astonishing time of 4 hours 46 minutes 57 seconds, averaging 43.5 miles an hour, and being credited on one stage with 34 miles in 33.5 minutes. He drove a 16-hp Panhard. No other competitor came anywhere near de Knyff's time; the Comte Bozon de Perigord was second in 5 hours 33 minutes 52 seconds

The Nice to Marseilles race was won by de Knyff on a Panhard, at an average rate of 36.6 miles per hour for the 125 miles, two other Panhards being close up. Levegh, however, on a Mors, won the La Turbie hill-climbing race (10.5} miles) at 33.1 miles per hour, the mile race at 36.5 miles per hour, and the flying kilometre at 46.5 miles per hour.

Levegh did another remarkable performance in the Bordeaux-Perigueux-Bordeaux race (195.5 miles), covering the distance in 4 hours 1 minutes 45 seconds The first stage of this race (72 miles) was accomplished in 1 hours 24 minutes 35 seconds, equal to 51 miles an hour.

An exceedingly unfortunate race was that from Paris to Toulouse and back; it was run in three stages during a heat wave, and tyre troubles were numerous. Levegh on his Mors covered the distance of 838.08 miles, excluding controls, in 20 hours 50 minutes 9 seconds, an average of 40 miles an hour. Pinson was second in 22 hours 11 minutes 1s., and Voigt third in 22h. 11m. 51 seconds, each driving a Panhard.

The Pau meeting of 1901 produced a good performance by Maurice Farman, who won the Grand Prix de Pau race (205 miles) in 4 hours 28 minutes 20 seconds on a 24-hp Panhard, thus averaging 46 miles per hour.

At Nice the Nice-Salon-Nice race (244 miles without controls) was won by Baron Henri de Rothschild (35-hp. Mercedes) in 6 hours 45 minutes 48 seconds In the Coupe de Rothschild flying kilometre, a Serpollet car made the remarkable time of 35.8 seconds, or 62.6 miles per hour. Four Mercedes cars came next in order, the best time being 41.8 seconds. In the La Turbie hill-climb the fastest car was Baron de Rothschild's Mercedes, its time being 18 minutes 6.8 seconds, or 34 miles per hour. The Serpollet's time was 24 minutes 11.6 seconds

The Paris-Bordeaux race was won by Fournier on a Mors of 60 bhp, in the splendid time of 6 hours to minutes 44 seconds, an average of 53 miles an hour. Maurice Farman, on a Panhard, was second in 6 hours 41 minutes 15 seconds; and Voigt third in 7 hours 15 minutes 1 t. seconds

A still greater event was the Paris-Berlin race which attracted the attention of the entire Continent. Fournier repeated his previous success, winning in the net time of 16 hours 5 m., Girardot being second in 17 hours 7 m., de Knyff third in 17 hours 42 m., and Brasier fourth in 17h. 42 minutes The distance, excluding controls, was 749 miles, Fournier thus averaging 46.5 miles an hour over the three days' course.

At the Nice meeting in April, 1902, the fastest time in the La Turbie Hill Climb was made by Mr. Stead on a 40-hp Mercedes, the course of 15.5 kilometres being covered in a thick fog in 16 minutes 37.6 seconds minutes Serpollet covered the flying kilometre on the promenade in 29.8 seconds, or at the rate of over 75 miles an hour.

An Alcohol race over the Circuit du Nord was brought off on May 15 and 16, the course being 572.5 miles. The winner was Maurice Farman on a 35-hp Panhard, his time being 12 hours 2 minutes 1.8 seconds, or 47.4 miles per hour. Marcellin on a 20-hp Darracq was second, with an average of 41.2 miles per hour.

The greatest road race yet run, namely, that from Paris to Vienna, took place on June 26-28, the total course being 615.5 miles. Out of 137 starters 80 reached Vienna. In the heavy car class the winner was hours Farman on a 70-hp Panhard, his time being 16 hours 0 minutes 30.2 seconds, or 38.7 miles an hour. In the light car class, however, Marcel Renault finished in 15 hours 47 minutes 43.8 seconds

The Circuit des Ardennes Race on July 31, over a 318 miles course, produced a fine race which was won by C. Jarrott on a 70-hp Panhard in 5 hours 53 minutes 39 seconds, or 54.5 miles an hour; Gabriel being second on a 70-hp Mors in 6 hours 2 minutes 25 seconds, or 53.5 miles an hour.

A record was set up on the Dourdan route by Augieres, on a Mors, of 46 seconds for the flying mile, or 78.21 miles an hour.

At the Nice week of 1903 Braun, with a 6o-hp Mercedes, covered the standing mile in 1 minutes 3.72 seconds, or 57 miles an hour. The Rothschild Cup No. 1. was won by minutes Serpollet in 29 minutes 19 seconds for the flying kilometre, or 76.75 miles an hour. Hieronymus, on a 6o-hp Mercedes, won the Rothschild Cup No 2. in 31 minutes 7.6 seconds, or 70.35 miles an hour.

On May 21 was started the first stage of the Paris-Madrid race, from Versailles to Bordeaux. The best times were as follows: Gabriel (70-hp Mors), 5 hours 13 minutes 31 seconds; Louis Renault (Renault), 5 hours 39 minutes 59 seconds; Salleron (70-hp Mors), 5 hours 46 minutes 1 seconds; Jarrott (45-hp Dietrich), 5 hours 51 minutes 55 seconds; Warden (60-hp Mercedes), 5 hours 56 minutes 30.8 seconds Gabriel's average pace was 65.5 miles an hour, although he had to pass nearly 80 other cars. Owing to the number of accidents the race was not continued to Madrid.

The Circuit des Ardennes race on June 22 and 23 was run over a course of 315 miles. Baron Pierre de Crawhez, on a 70-hp Panhard, was first in 5 hours 52 minutes 7.6 seconds, or 53.75 miles an hour, Girardot being second on a C.G.V. in 6 hours 12 minutes 11.8 seconds, and Baron de Brou third on a De Dietrich in 6 hours 24 m.

At the Nice week of 1904 the two Rothschild Cups were won by Rigolly on a 112-hp Gobron-Brillie in 24 seconds and 23.6 seconds respectively for the flying kilometre.

On July 25 the Circuit des Ardennes Race took place over a 373 miles course of five circuits. Heath, on a Panhard, won in 6 hrs. 30 mins. 49 secs. Teste, on a similar car, being second in 6 hrs. 31 mins. 44 secs.; and Clement, on a Bayard, third in 6 hrs. 44 mins. 33 secs. The winner's average speed was 57.5 miles an hour. Hubert Le Blon, on a Hotchkiss, completed the third lap in 1 hr. 9 mins. 45 secs., or at the rate of 65 miles an hour.

A new international race, for the Vanderbilt Cup, was held for the first time in America on October 8, over a distance of 302 miles. Heath, on a Panhard, won in 5 hrs. 26 mins. 45 secs.; Clement, on a Bayard, being second in 5 hrs. 28 min. 13 secs.; and Lytle, on a Pope-Toledo, third, in 6 hrs. 20 min. 13 secs.

The Circuit des Ardennes Race of 1905, over a 372 miles course, was won by Hennery, on a Darracq, in 5 hrs. 58 min. 32 secs., averaging 62 miles an hour. Tart (Panhard) was second in 6 hrs. 13 mins. 37 secs., and Le Mon (Panhard) was third in 6 hrs. 22 mins. 56 secs.

The Vanderbilt Cup Race was held on October 14 over a 273.5 miles course. Hemery won, on a Darracq, in 4 hrs. 36 mins. 8 secs., averaging 61.6 miles an hour. Heath (Panhard) was second, in 4 hrs. 32 mins. 36 secs., and Tracy (Locomobile) third, in 4 hrs. 58 mins. 26 secs.

UK Trials and Races

Of a very different character from these magnificent displays of physical endurance and mechanical speed, but interesting, nevertheless, from many points of view, have been the various trials conducted by the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland. Of necessity they have been tests of efficiency, pure and simple; the Club has never held a road-race of any description, and its only speed tests on the flat have been on a private road in Welbeck Park. Sundry hill-climbing competitions have been held on the public highway, but in cases where a powerful car has been able to exceed the legal limit of speed, such excess has not been officially recorded. The Club has also held petroleum spirit trials, brake trials, and non-stop runs of too miles, in addition to the Thousand Miles Trial of 1900 and the Glasgow Week in 1901.

1899: Richmond Show Trial

1900 One Thousand Mile Trial

1901 Glasgow Trials

A petroleum spirit trial was held on April 13, 1901, over a thirty-mile course from Sheen House, on a very unfavourable day for economical consumption. The best record was one of 7.9 pints by a 6-hp New Orleans car, a 7-h.p. New Orleans coming next with one gallon.

1901 Dashwood Hill Trial (May)

1901 Dashwood Hill Trial (July)

In the quarterly 100 miles competitions initiated in November 1899, the following vehicles have made the journey without a stop:-3-hp. Benz, Daimler, 16-hp. Milnes, 6-hp Simms, 24-hp Beeston tricycle, 5-11.-p. Peugeot, r2-hp Gladiator, 9-hp Earl, 12-hp Herald, 22-hp Rochet-Schneider, 12-hp Boyer, 14-hp Brooke, 6-hp Siddeley, and 5-hp Beeston Humberette.

1902 Welbeck Brake Trial

On April 16 and 17, 1902, a non-stop trial was held from Glasgow to London. Six cars and two tandems started, and marks were awarded as follows to the three cars which finished:— 8-hp De Dion, 86 marks; 8-hp M.M.C., 74 marks; and 16-hp Napier, 68 marks.

1902 Reliability Trial

A Four Thousand Miles Tyre Trial was also held in September and October, and lasted six weeks. The first prize of £100 was awarded to the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co.; the second prize of £10 fell to the Collier Tyre Co; while the third prizes of £10 each were awarded to the Dunlop Co. and the Maison-Talbot Syndicate.

The Glasgow to London Non-Stop Trial of May 1903 showed excellent results. The maximum number of marks were earned by two 12-hp Sunbeams, two 12-11.-p. Arrol-Johnstons, a 10-hp Lanchester, a 10-hp Wolseley, and a 12-hp Argyll, while nine other competitors earned over 990 marks out of a thousand.

1903 Reliability Trial

In May, 1904, the Automobile Club held its first Side-slip Trials, consisting of a preliminary 850 miles road test, an absorption of power test, and a final indoor test on a specially prepared and highly greasy surface. The first prize of £150 and a gold medal fell to the Lempereur device, the second prize of £100 and a silver medal to the Parsons Non-Skid chain, and the third prize of £50 and a silver medal to the Billet band. Silver medals were also awarded to the Wilkinson tread and to the Vivian and Cavendish devices respectively.

The Scottish Automobile Club's third Glasgow-to-London trial was also held in May, 1904, with thirty starters, of which twenty-six finished. Gold medals were awarded to the 6-hp Wolseley, 10-hp Argyll, and 20-hp Thornycroft, and, in addition to these cars, non-stop runs were made by a 12-hp Eagle, 12-hp Arrol-Johnston, i8-hp James and Browne, and 12-hp Sunbeam.

The annual reliability trials of the parent Club were this year abandoned in favour of a trial of light cars from August 29 to September 3, on routes radiating daily from Hereford for six days. Of thirty-five starters, twenty-three completed the total distance of 620 miles. Gold medals were awarded in respect of two Wolseleys, one Siddeley, and two Swifts; silver medals were earned by two De Dion-Moutons, one Humber, and two Alldays. Six bronze medals were also awarded.

The Scottish Automobile Club's Reliability Trial of May, 1905, extended over four daily runs and a total distance of 595.125 miles. Out of forty-four competitors gold medals were gained by a 6-hp Wolseley, a 16-hp Albion, and a 20-25 h.p. Ariel, and a silver medal by a 24-32-hp Mors. The Glasgow Cup for the lowest fuel consumption per ton-mile was won by a 12-hp Arrol-Johnston. Non-Stop Certificates were awarded to the following: 8-hp De Dion, 9-hp Cadillac, 6-hp Wolseley, 16-hp Albion, 16-20-hp Beeston-Humber, 20-25-hp Ariel, 24-32-hp Mors, 24-hp Germain, 24-hp Thornycroft, 12—16-hp Richard-Brasier, 30-40-hp Belsize, 15-20-hp Brooke, 20-hp Vinot et Deguingand, 12-14-hp Gladiator, and 12-14-hp Argyll.

1905 Tourist Trophy Race

In March and April 1906, the Automobile Club held a 4,000 miles trial of tyres, speedometers and lamps, the entry list, however, being of a disappointing character.

See Also


Sources of Information