THE GORDON BENNETT CUP A Project for its Revival
IAM feeling rather pleased with myself. Writing in this paper a year ago in December 1929, I remarked, while generally deploring the sad plight of the Grand Prix type races, “Why not revive the Gordon Bennett Cup idea, that is to say, make the contest one between nations rather than between firms ? ” I cannot pretend that anyone took very much notice of the suggestion at the time. But “the grand spirits re-encounter themselves,” as the French say (more or less), if the Chevalier will pardon my impertinence in coupling myself with him as a “grand esprit.” For, to come to the point, when Vincenzo Florio arrived in Paris this October to attend the session of the International Sporting Committee of the recognized automobile clubs as the representative of Italy, he brought with him just the suggestion which I made last year. “We must do something,” he said in effect, “to revive a great international event for real Grand Prix type cars. At present our difficulty is lack of entries, but if we insisted that nations should enter the cars instead of factories or amateurs, patriotic feeling should surely overcome this difficulty. Why not put the Gordon-Bennett cup up for competition again ? “
The proposal met with a considerable amount of criticism, both favourable and unfavourable. Monsieur Charles Faroux, the great French journalist, commenting on it, remarks that France won the Cup outright by her double victory in 1904 and 1905 and that, therefore, the permission of the A.C.F. would first have to be obtained. But here, possibly owing to my condition of excessive elation, I am afraid I must beg to disagree even with one who is probably the most eminent automobile journalist of the day. I have a copy of the original rules of the Gordon Bennett contest before me, and in them I can find no reference to any circumstance which could lead to the Cup becoming the permanent possession of any of the national clubs. What I think actually happened was that France, after her victory in 1905, expressed herself dissatisfied with its regulations, and announced that if any other country challenged her for it in 1906, she would not defend her title to it. After a
great deal of excitement no country did challenge her in 1906, and the rules stipulate that in this event the Cup shall remain in the possession of the holder until a challenge has been received. As no challenge has ever been issued since that date, the Cup has remained in the library of the A.C.F., but it has stayed there in trust and not as the property of the French Club. Therefore, as far as I can see, if Vincenzo Florio wants to remove it, he has only got to get the Italian Club to challenge the A.C.F.; then if France declines to defend her title and no other challenges are received, all that is necessary is for one Italian car to complete a course between 550 and 650 kilometres in length chosen by the A.C.F., and the Cup becomes the property of the Italian Club.
Thus far, therefore, the rules would appear to offer no difficulty to the revival of the contest. The next point however, which Monsieur Faroux brings up is the very question which led to the original trouble which ended the series of these races. The rules stipulate that no country shall be represented by more than three cars, and this, he says, by placing, say, France and Spain on an equal footing is manifestly unfair. On the other hand if you allow each country an unlimited number of entries, half the point of reviving the race disappears. If any manufacturer could run cars, human nature being what it is, none would be so keen to do so as if only three (or at any rate a definite number) could run and competition to provide the cars and represent your country existed. It has been suggested that some form of proportional representation should be resorted to, such as allowing England and France six cars each, Italy and Germany four, Belgium two and any other European country one, but it must be remembered that on this principle America would have to be allowed at least twenty cars if any consideration was taken of the size of her automobile industry. However, if this difficulty was overcome, the question remains, could any rules be found that would attract entries ? At present the only stipulation made by the rules with regard to the cars, except that they shall be entirely made in their country of origin, is that they shall be two-seaters and weigh between 400 and 1000 kilogrammes (about 8 cwt. and 1 ton), and nowadays this would be practically equivalent to placing no limitation on them at all. To find a formula on the other hand which would please everyone is extremely difficult, and the easiest solution appears to me to make the race a free-for-all event, and limit the speed of the cars by the course. It is obvious that we have got to wait some years until roads are made available for the speeds which fast cars can already attain in ordinary use, and the
qualities which really need developing are acceleration and braking. Each club would, therefore, have to choose a course which would limit the average speed of the race to say 60 m.p.h. Italy could use the Targa Florio course, France a similar one say in the Auvergne, Germany in the Bavarian Alps, Belgium in the Ardennes, England might be faced with a difficulty as I doubt if the Isle of Man course is slow enough, but I expect that a suitable one could be found somewhere.
At any rate even if there are difficulties, Vincenzo Florio is usually a man who succeeds. He has made the Targa the greatest road race of the year ; he has rescued Monza from failure and brought it to success ; and I have high hopes that he will succeed in his project to revive the greatest of all motor races and allow other names to be added to those of Charron, Girardot, Edge, Jenatzy and Thery.—K.