Motor Racing, H:O Scale Slot Cars, Classic Cars, the building of my slot car circuit

Les courses automobiles francaises et voitures classiques

Monday, 30 June 2014


It is nowadays generally accepted that the World's first motor race was the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris held in 1895 on the 11th and 12th of June.   Some 109 years later, being an eternal optimist, I decided to go up to the start finish line at the Porte Maillot and see if there was anything there that still remembered this momentous occassion.  Frankly, I wasn't that hopeful as Joe Saward hadn't mentioned anything in his 2001 article in on the area and I hadn't bothered to do any real internet research other than this.  It was just something to do whilst waiting for Jane to finish a demo and before taking her out for a slap up meal of frogs legs, and yes, this is really true!

Thus I was really happy when I stumbled across a magnificent memorial to Emile Levassor who finished first in the World's first motor race.  I nearly missed it but curiosity meant that I eventually found it.
The monument to Levassor by Porte Maillot in Paris.
Emile Levassor was an engineer and partner with Rene Panhard in the early automobile manufacturing company of Panhard et Lavassor located in the Avenue d'Ivry in Paris.  They produced their first car together in 1890 and their cars are widely recognised as introducing many concepts that turned the horseless carriage into the automobile.  Emile also liked to drive and he took part in the Paris-Rouen event in 1894 that is not considered a race as it was judged not just on speed.

The early city to city races were quite epic events held on unsurfaced roads in unsophisticated vehicles and over incredible distances.  Just imagine driving from Paris to Bordeaux and back on bumpy roads rather than a modern motorway.   In 1895 Emile Lavassor drove his yellow Panhard et Lavassor with the number 5 on it for 48 hours and 48 minutes at an average speed of 24.5 kph to be the first home.  The next car finished over five hours later and third car finished eleven hours later than Emile.  This third car, also a Panhard et Levassor and driven by Koechlin was declared the winner as it complied with the rules of having 4 seats whereas the first two cars past the post had only two seats. I'm rather surprised they didn't spot that at scrutineering!   However, funnily enough it is the moral victor, Emile Levassor who is remembered today and has the memorial at the Porte Maillot.

Some of the characters we have met in earlier posts such as Leon Serpollet and Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat also took part but didn't finish.
A magnificent memorial to Levassor and the first motor race
Levassor should have been relieved by his co-driver in Bordeaux but as Levassor got to Bordeaux way ahead of schedule, the co-driver was still asleep in the hotel and thus Levassor had a quick break and some refreshment and set off again back to Paris.  After spending over two days behind the tiller of his car he finished back in Paris.  Quite a feat of endurance and it certainly proved the reliability of his car.

One of the next great races was the Paris-Marseilles-Paris of 1896.  Again Emile took part but was seriously injured, crashing his car whilst trying to avoid a dog.  He never fully recovered and died the following year of an embolism aged 54.
Perhaps, one of the best motor racing statues
If you want to see this memorial that was built in 1907 and the place where motor racing began, then go to Porte Maillot and head towards the Bois de Boulogne.  It is not far from the more modern looking memorial below.  If you do go, don't forget to take in the memorial to Leon Serpollet in the Place Saint-Ferdinand and also the memorial do that great French Grand Prix driver Jean-Pierre Wimille by the Porte Dauphine.  Both are only a relatively short walk away.

Sunday, 29 June 2014


Today after walking the dogs by the Etang du Corra in the Foret de Saint Germain en Laye, we attempted to find the location where Jenatzy set the first flying kilometre in an automobile at over 100kph in April 1899.  I was not sure if it was marked at all but I was looking for a long straight piece of road near Acheres.   To my surprise we found it very quickly and  there had been three memorials to this achievement erected there to mark the 100th anniversary and so we were certain that we were in the correct spot.  If you want to go and find this spot head up the N184 and then turn first right after the Etang du Corra car park onto the D31 Route Centrale / Route de Conflans just south of the River Seine.  You will be heading for a travellers site and a water treatment plant!

The first marker for where the run started
The rear of the first marker
The road at the start of the run, flat and straight but nowadays with a speed limit unfortunately!
The Compte de Chasseloup-Laubat established a record for the one-way kilometre on the 18th December 1898, also in this spot near Acheres.  Driving a modified Fulmen battery electric Jeantaud touring car, he drove at  63.15kph (39.24 mph).   Jenatzy was inspired to beat this and took along to Acheres an electric car that he had built and achieved 41.42mph on Jan17th 1899.  On the same day, Gaston de Chanteloup-Laubat took back his record at a speed of 43.69mph.  Thus started a real battle for the land speed record for automobiles. It, perhaps, should be mentioned that trains could go faster at this time but I wouldn't want to belittle these two gent's achievements.

Ten days later on January 27th 1899 Jenatzy took back the record with a pass at 49.92mph only for Count Gaston to retake the record again with a jump to 57.60 mph on 4th March 1899.  All of these records took place along this strip of road near Acheres.

This inspired Jenatzy to build his very streamlined cigar shaped La Jamais Contente.  Powered by 2 electric motors that were geared direct to the rear wheels it ran on pneumatic Michelin tyres and was steered by a tiller.

La Jamais Contente 1899 Electric Car
If you wish to see this car, I believe it is in the Musee Nationale de la Voiture et du Tourisme in Compeigne just to the north of Paris.

Jane standing by the second memorial stone and old house at the mid-point of the run.
The mid way memorial commemorating the Fulmen batteries used.
So who was Camille Jenatzy?   He was a red headed and bearded Belgian, born in 1868, who initially trained as a civil engineer but set up a business in Paris manufacturing electric cars, cabs and delivery vans.  He used racing and land speed record attempts as publicity for his business.  Later in his career he drove other manufacturer's cars and scored a significant victory for Mercedes in the 1903 Gordon Bennet Cup over 328 kms in Athy, Ireland. He took over his father's Belgian tyre manufacturing business in later life.

A portrait of Camille Jenatzy.
The final memorial stone at the end of the run
So on April 29th 1899 Camille Jenatzy in his CITA No25 electric car named La Jamais Contente raised the World Land Speed record for Automobiles to 65.79 mph or 105.882kph.  This was the first time anyone had driven on the road at over 100kph.
The rear of the final memorial erected in 1999 and commorating the 100th anniversary
Looking back down the course that now includes a roundabout!
There were I believe a number of other record attempts at Acheres but it was the first run at over 100kph that was the landmark and deserves to be commemorated.  I believe Count Gaston gave up further attempts after this marvellous performance by Jenatzy.   It is worth remembering that up to and including this run all of the Land Speed Record cars were electric battery powered.

The record stood for nearly three years and then Leon Serpollet took his short chassis Gardner-Serpollet steam car called L'Oeuf de Paques down to Nice and raised the record to 75.06mph on 13th April 1902.  Apparently he took over a kilometre to bring the car to a stop after hitting this speed!    Leon Serpollet's early successes with steam cars, often referred to as phaeton at the time, are commemorated by a statue in Paris near the Porte Maillot.

Where to find the statue of Leon Serpollet
The statue of Leon Serpollet and his steam car
A rather strange statue to this automobile pioneer!
These early motoring heroes achieved much public adoration.
Leon Serpollets's record stood for less than a year and then internal combustion engined cars took over the record for a while.

Leon Serpollet, as well as being a holder of the Land Speed record, is remembered as the inventor of the flash boiler that made steam power suitable for automobile use. He built both steam cars and steam trams.  As a racing driver he won the Coupe de Caters Quatre Chemins in 1902 and the Course de Cote du Val Suzon in 1904.  Born in 1858 in France he had his factory in the Rue des Cloys in the 18th arrondissement.  Nowadays, there is a park there named after him.

Neither, Jenatzy nor Serpollet lived long lives.  Leon Serpollet died from Tuberculosis in 1907 aged 48.   Camille Jenatzy met a stranger death.  In December 1913 he was hunting with friends when he decided to play a practical joke on them; he went behind a bush and made animal noises.  Unfortunately, they thought he was a wild boar and shot him and he died soon after, aged 45.
The author of this blog and the Jenatzy LSR memorial

Thanks to those who fought for and sponsored these important memorials to the LSR pioneers.

Tags:  Where exactly did Camille Jenatzy set his land speed record near Acheres?

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Celebrating One of the World's First Hillclimbs

Chanteloup les Vignes, a little to the west of Paris, held one of the first hillclimbs ever held in the world on 27 November 1898.  They claim it was the first but at least one other site in France claims to have held one in 1897 (*see bottom of the blogpost).  Whatever, it is a charming location that still commemorates this historic occasion with some demo runs up the hill.   The original course was 1,782 metres but nowdays the re-run is over a hill that is 900 metres long.   There are many cars that take part that are Pre-Second World War and there are more modern cars and also motor bikes as well.   A fun little event that this year was on Sunday 15th June.
A Barré exits the second corner and makes the climb up the Chanteloup hill

One of the vehicles to climb the hill was none other than a Solex!  Keep pedalling hard!
A somewhat faster two wheeled machine
This Yamaha entertained us with a wheelie!
A Volvo P1800 takes the flag at the start
A Facel Vega takes the first corner
Lancia Fulvia soon after the start
Alfa Romeo enters the second corner
A Hurtu exits the second corner
Perhaps my favourite car of the day, a pre-war Simca-Fiat Berlinette Le Mans
An MG enters corner three
Vintage car passes equally beautiful house on the exit of turn three
A Delehaye in turn four
Further up the hill
A fun little car
Bugatti T35 makes the climb
A rather modern Renault powered single seater
Ford GT40
A Sports Racing Car makes a rapid ascent
Which we hqd earlier seen having an interview in the paddock
Healey Silverstone gets to the top of the hill
As does this Porsche
Monument celebrating the first event at the top of the hill
Thanks to the town of Chanteloup Les Vignes for an enjoyable afternoon

For those interested, the first Chanteloup hillclimb in 1898 had over 50 participants and was won by Jenatzy in an electric car at just over 28 kph.   Amazing how it is only now again in the 21st century that we race electric cars again.  Watching the older cars run today made one realize just how challenging hillclimbs were for cars back in the early days of racing.  Jenatzy of course also drove the first road vehicle to go over 100 Kph and he achieved that in nearby Acheres.

Wonderful character driving a wonderful Hispano-Suiza
* Historical footnote:  Chanteloup lers Vignes appears to have a claim to have held the first hill climb that was held as a separate event.  La Turbie had a hill climb in January1897 but this was part of the Marseilles-Nice-La Turbie 240km event.   Interestingly, the Marseilles-Nice-La Turbie race was won by none other than Count Gaston de Chasseloup  Laubat, the great rival of Camille Jenatzy who won the Chanteloup event.  I  note that some lists of hillclimbs list Charles River Park near Boston, USA as having had a hill climb just before the original Chantloup runs in November 1998.  However, this was not a Course de Cotes or Speed Hillclimb as we would know it today as it was more a test to see if cars could negotiate specially constructed wooden ramps of varying gradients.

The Marque CG at Sancerre

I had seen a CG climb the hill in the Course de Cotes de Sancerre the previous week, and on Saturday 7th June 2014, the CG club made a visit to Sancerre.
Pascal Simonot in his CG Simca at the Course de Cote de Sancerre 2014

CG is a French Marque that existed from 1966 to 1974. They produced sports cars using components from Simca production cars and their own fibreglass bodies.  In fact CG started as a body work shop named Chappes Freres et Gessalin; amongst other things they did the body work for racing driver Charles Pozzi's Talbot and Delehaye.  They also worked with Bonnet, Panhard and Alpine.   In 1966 they decided to launch their own marque.

The CG that particular took my eye was this spider parked outside the Hotel Panoramique in Sancerre.

CG Simca Spider
CG Simca Spider
Driver's eye view of the controls of CG Simca
There were a number of models of the CG Simca, the CG 1000, the CG1200S and the CG1300.  Most had Coupe and Spider versions.  the marque really took off after it gained extra power with use of the Simca 1200S Bertone components.  

The Simca 1200S Bertone was a pretty car in its own right.  Seen earlier this year in Sancerre.
Below see some other pictures of CGs seen in their "concentration" in Sancerre.

A CG modified for competition use
No problems seeing using night rallies
CGs come in many colours
CG Spider with its hood up

Thanks to CG Amicale for bringing their nice cars to Sancerre
Not a car you see much outside of France