This Day, That Year: World’s First Automotive Race Was Held 123 Years Ago On 22 July

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In today's time and age, racing a car has become an easy thing to do. Anyone with enough time, money and skills can do it irrespective of their age or gender. At one point in time however, it was a different story, and only the wealthiest, and strongest men could endeavour to do such a thing.

Yes, we are talking about the world's first automotive competition. Held exactly 123 years ago, it was essentially the world's first car race, but was called a competition instead, because a race had never happened before, and also because its organisers apparently put together this 'Competition' to test if cars can be trusted as reliable modes of transport.

On July 22, 1894, more than 20 people turned up at Paris in their cars - some powered by petrol and some by steam - for the 'Le Petit Journal Competition for Horseless Carriages.' The 'Competition' was said to be more of an exhibition than a race.

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The first ever automotive race as it turns out was an endurance rally, as the 79 mile (127 kilometre) route from Paris to Rouen was in no way short, and we can safely assume that it was on unpaved road or sometimes no roads, since it was 123 years ago.

The route was apparently designed to test the reliability, safety and ease-of-use of these early contraptions. The word contraptions has been used since, they weren't even called cars back then, they were steam powered carriages, and were rare. Petrol-powered cars had just arrived on the scene after German inventors Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler invented the first internal combustion engine in 1886.

Sensing the opportunity to boost sales, the 'Le Petit Journal', a paris-based newspaper which was known for organising various competitions, put together the Paris-Rouen race and called it, 'The 79-mile Competition for Horseless Carriages'. A 5,000 franc prize amount was announced for the winners of this race, and a 10 franc entry/registration fee was collected from each of the participants.

The cars would be judged on how easy and cheap it was to operate while being the least dangerous alongside who finishes first. By doing so, the newspaper conveniently avoided calling it a race. The organisers of this race though might be pleased to know that the same criteria is used to judge races such as the Dakar rally even after 123 years.

102 drivers registered by paying the 10 franc fee, but only 26 showed up for the qualifiers on 18 July 1894. Five cars were eliminated during the qualifying runs held over the next three days, and only 21 cars chugged off the start line on 22 July, 1894. Only one of the 21 cars used a steering wheel, while the others used levers and pulleys to steer and accelerate.

After 8 a.m, the cars were allowed to start at 30-second intervals. Only three of the cars were powered by petrol, and the rest had to be shoved with coal in order to get them going, however it might surprise you that a steam-powered car was the first to finish the course, clocking a time of Six hours and 48 minutes. The petrol powered cars came in a short while after.

The first place and the prize money though was split between the petrol-powered cars which arrived second and third because of the judging criteria. The drivers of the petrol-powered car arrived at the finish relatively relaxed and fresh, whereas the steam-powered car's driver was covered in sweat and soot from all the heat and coal shoveling.

That, is how automotive racing first began.

DriveSpark Thinks!

The beginnings of motor racing then, were very humble. As a result of that one day when 'The 79-mile Competition for Horseless Carriages' was held, we have reached this position in the domain of motor racing.

Images: Wiki Commons

Read more on: #motorsports
Story first published: Saturday, July 22, 2017, 13:30 [IST]
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