Arpajon — record road

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An enjoyable, if time-consuming, aspect of writing for Motor Sport is tackling interesting problems put to me by readers. The most recent one relates to a fine picture of a racing car, to be identified. It is of a sleeve-valve single-seater Panhard-Levassor in a speed-trial. Almost certainly, I thought, at Arpajon.

Oh, Arpajon, that road some 20 miles north of Paris, made forever famous as the last place where an LSR was made on a public road, such an unsuitable venue. It was in 1924 that the irrepressible Ernest Eldridge let loose his 21.7-litre aero-engined Fiat there and set the LSR to 146.01mph for the two-way kilometre — he had been slightly faster during the speed-trials. But Rene Thomas, who recorded 143.31mph with the 10.5-litre V12 Delage, protested that the Fiat had no reverse gear and Eldridge was disqualified. With that rectified, he got permission to try once again, the road closed by the gendarmerie.

He was a brave man. The Arpajon course was 4-1/2 miles long, narrow and bordered by trees and ditches. The Autocar described the 300hp Fiat as “skidding continuously, at some 150mph and taking the entire width of the road, the spectators finding cover behind trees or in the ditches”. Gedge, the Fiat’s intrepid passenger, was truly courageous, his only previous experience being with GNs at Le Mans and at Brooklands in the Isotta-Maybach.

Back to the problem Panhard. The photograph, by Meurisse, is of the 8-litre racing car with which Eyston took the world’s hour record to more than 132mph in 1930 and then on to 133.01mph at Montlhery in ’34.

The open-sided cockpit indicates it is in the latter form. The caption says the picture is of Michel Dorequi doing 222.8kph; probably this was at Arpajon, in the Panhard used by Eyston and driven by Dore at Arpajon in high-sided form back in 1930, timed at 138mph.

It had twin rear wheels at one time, for long-distance record bids, when driven by Ortmans.

The historic Arpajon road still exists but the actual course is difficult to define; when on the way to Montlhery after WWII, even Jenks wasn’t able to point it out to me, although we were on the main Paris-Orleans road…