Paris-Rouen centenary

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Paris-Rouen centenary

On Saturday June 4, when the Allies were finalising preparations for the 50th Anniversary of the Normandy landing, another group of veterans from France, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Holland, Belgium and other countries gathered in Paris to commemorate the centenary of another significant event — claimed to be the world’s first motor race, which ran from Paris to Rouen on the Iuly 22 1894. Some 250 cars, the oldest of which was an 1892 Panhard and the youngest a 1917 Chenard et Walcker, recreated the event. The start was at the Place de la Concorde at 8.00, and the 125 km route — as close to the original as possible — ran up the Champs d’Elysees, past the Arc de Triomphe, and then followed the river Seine through Poissy, Rosny and Bonnieres, before traversing Gaillon, St Etienne du Vauvray and Le Vaudreuil, and finally heading to Rouen on Route Nationale 15. In 1894 the rules called for “selfpropelled vehicles (steam, electric, gas or petrol) with a minimum of four seats”, and stated that the first car home would not necessarily be the winner — first place would be judged on a combination of “safety, passenger comfort, minimal damage to the road, and speed”. Qualifying took place during the week preceding the race, when entrants had to cover 50 km in less than four hours. A total of 21 competitors (14 petrol driven, the remainder steam) started the race at 8.00 in perfect weather, and about half of them finished. First across the line after 5h 40m was the steam powered De Dion Bouton et Cie entry (a four-seat Victoria); however the winner was judged to be the second fastest finisher (5h 45m), a petrol driven 4-seat Phaeton entered by the freres Peugeot. On June 14 this year, cold and wet weather conditions kept engines cool, and probably accounted for very few of the 246 competitors failing to finish, with the fastest cars completing the course in under nine hours. It would have been quicker had the event run non-stop, but this being France however, there was serious entertaining along the route. C.W.

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