Paris-Rouen: Concours des voitures sans chevaux- The first motor car race.

I can’t say I am a great fan of car races. To be honest I don’t get the fascination of the F1-Formula One. However, I have to admit that despite my lack of enthusiasm for the sport, I am still proud that the current world champion is a Dutch man.

It made me think though where did it all start?

Surprisingly enough it goes back further then I expected .It was n this day in 1894, 128 years ago, the first car race took place. It was called “Paris-Rouen: Concours des voitures sans chevaux” translated it means race of cars without horses. The race was between Paris and Rouen.

The contest was organised by the newspaper Le Petit Journal and run from Paris to Rouen in France on 22 July 1894. It was preceded by four days of vehicle exhibition and qualifying events that created great crowds and excitement. The eight 50 km (31 mi) qualifying events started near the Bois de Boulogne and comprised interwoven routes around Paris to select the entrants for the main 126 km (78 mi) event.

Pierre Giffard was editor of Le Petit Journal, a very popular magazine of the time. Through it he had organised cycling competitions to attract public attention, and now he decided to do the same for the motor car. Writing under the pseudonym “Jean sans Terre”, in the issue of Le Petit Journal for 19th December, 1893, he proposed organisation of a competition for Voitures sans Chevaux (Carriages – or ‘Cars’ – without Horses) during the following year. First prize was to go to the car which the Judges deemed best to be “without danger, easily handled, and of low running cost”. Initially the objective was to cover 50km (31 miles) in three hours, later amended to four because many would-be competitors deemed the original average speed of 10mph “dangerously high”. The final route from the Porte Maillot, Paris, to Rouen would total 126km, nearly 80 miles. Each car’s finish in terms of coachwork and painting was considered immaterial – all that was required was that the car should move under its own power.

Giffard’s entry window closed on 30th April, 1894, by which time no fewer than 102 entries had been received. Their listed means of propulsion contains some wondrous aspiration. Rousselet of Paris entered a car powered by ‘gravity’, Roussat of Paris power source was described as ‘hydraulic’, Victor Popp’s was ‘compressed air’, Leval’s was “Baricycle moved by the weight of the passengers”. Loubiere’s was by “multiple system of levers”, De Prandieres of Lyons enigmatically ‘Automatic’, while Cesar Barthelemy of Yebles cited a ‘system of pendulums’. Others entered machines variably propelled by ‘system of levers’, a ‘combination of animate and mechanical motor’, ‘electro-pneumatic’, ‘weight of passengers’, ‘high pressure gas’ and… ‘self-acting’… The vast majority, however, cited petrol, or steam.

The run to Rouen was fixed initially for 1st June, but was then postponed to 7th June, before it became very apparent that most competitors would never be ready in time. So a vote was held to fix an alternative date, and by 68 votes to 13 the date of 22nd July was chosen.

69 cars started the 50 km (31 mi) selection event that would show which entrants would be allowed to start the main event, the 127 km (79 mi) race from Paris to Rouen. The entrants ranged from serious manufacturers to amateur owners, and only 25 were selected for the main race.

The race started from Porte Maillot and went through the Bois de Boulogne. The distance from Paris to Rouen was 126 km.

The official winners were Peugeot and Panhard as cars were judged on their speed, handling and safety characteristics, and De Dion’s steam car needed a stoker which was forbidden.

The order of the finishers was as follows:

  1. De Dion (Steam) – Count Jules-Albert de Dion
  2. Peugeot (Petrol) – Georges Lemaitre
  3. Peugeot (Petrol)
  4. Panhard et Levassor (Petrol)
  5. Peugeot (Petrol)
  6. Le Brun (Petrol)
  7. Panhard et Levassor (Petrol)
  8. Panhard et Levassor (Petrol)
  9. De Bourmont (Petrol)
  10. Peugeot (Petrol)
  11. Vacheron (Gasoline)
  12. Peugeot (Gasoline)
  13. Panhard et Levassor (Petrol)
  14. Roger (Petrol)
  15. Le Blant (Steam)

Count de Dion was the first to arrive in Rouen after 6 hours 48 minutes at an average speed of 19 km/h (12 mph). He finished 3 min 30 sec ahead of Albert Lemaître (Peugeot), Auguste Doriot (Peugeot) (16 min 30 sec back), Hippolyte Panhard (Panhard) (33 min 30 sec) and Émile Levassor (Panhard) (55 min 30 sec).The winner’s average speed was 17 km/h (11 mph).

It is funny to see that the winning car used steam as the fuel for the engine. Maybe a good alternative for electric cars?

sources

https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/1894_Paris-Rouen_Race

https://www.goodwood.com/grr/race/historic/2019/6/the-1894-paris-rouen-trial-the-race-that-wasnt-a-race/

https://group-media.mercedes-benz.com/marsMediaSite/en/instance/ko/Competitive-motorcar-race-from-Paris-to-Rouen-on-22-July-1894-The-birth-of-motorcar-racing-125-years-ago-closely-associated-with-Mercedes-Benz-from-the-outset.xhtml?oid=43973577