According to the Official Programme, the race which was held at Rheims on July 18th, 1948, was the 35th Grand Prix of the Automobile Club de France, and this fact is stated not once but too many times for the statement to be due to a mere misprint. Nor could I find anyone in the bar of the Lion d’Or, although half the motoring world seemed to be gathered together there, who was in any way perturbed by the statement. But I suppose it was my incurably historical mind that became worried about it. The first Grand Prix, I reflected, was run in 1908, so that if it had been run every year since, the 1948 race would be the forty-third. But in fact the first World War interrupted it so that it was not run in 1915 to 1920 inclusive, that is six years; and the second World War prevented its being run in 1940 to 1946 inclusive, that is seven years, making a total of thirteen years; so that on this score alone, it would seem that the 1948 race, so far from being the forty-third, or even the thirty-fifth, as claimed, was no more than the thirtieth. And besides that, we know that there was the great interruption, from 1909 to 1911, which would seem to bring this year’s number down further, from 30 to 27.
Indeed, the programme itself gives a list of previous winners, which may be analysed like this:
1906 to 1908 … 3 races
1912 to 1914 … races
1921 to 1939 … 19 races
1947 … 1 race
But if this race was the thirty-fifth, there must have been thirty-four previous ones. Where, then, are the missing eight races?
The most intelligent suggestion made to me in the bar of the Lion d’Or (where, admittedly, it was difficult enough to count one’s drinks and one’s change, let alone count races) was that the Gordon Bennett contests, regarded in retrospect as equivalent to Grands Prix, should be added to the score. But alas! this won’t work. The Gordon Bennett race was run annually from 1900 to 1905, that is six times, which is not enough, anyhow, for our purpose. And in 1903 it was run by the R.A.C. in Ireland, in 1904 by the K.A.C. in Germany, so that the A.C.F. only ran it four times. We need twice as much as that.
Should we then take every annual race run by the A.C.F. since the days of the town-to-town races? Apparently not. According to the programme, “from 1896 to 1947 inclusive, the A.C.F. has organised fifty-two great annual races.” That, for our purpose, is too many.
Can we, then, make up the required number by adding the subsidiary races run in conjunction with the real Grand Prix? This seems more hopeful, on these lines:
1906-1947 Grands Prix proper… 26 races
1907 Coupe de in Commission Sportive … 1 race
1908 Grand Prix des Voiturettes … 1 race
1912 Coupe de l’Auto … 1
1922-1925 Grands Prix de Tourisme … 4 races
This is so close that l think it might have given the right answer if I hadn’t forgotten something, which I very probably have.
However, there is at least an alternative possibility. The Grand Prix was first mooted, I believe, at the Salon of 1904, to take the place not only of the Gordon Bennett race, which was run in the country of the victor, but also of the A.C.F.’s own eliminating race therefor. These eliminating races were run in 1904 and 1905. Would it be fair to count them, in retrospect, in the Grand Prix series?
Next, although the Grand Prix was not run in 1909 or in 1910, that was for lack of entries, and on each occasion the race was announced as due to take place. Should these years, therefore, be counted as those of sort of Grands Prix fainéants? And should the same apply to every peacetime year in which the race has not been run? If so the sum comes out like this:
1904-1905 French Eliminating Races… 2 races
1906-1947 Grands Prix proper… 26 races
1909-1911 Grands Prix manqués … 3 races
1919-1920 Grands Prix manqués … 2 races
1946 Grand Prix manqué …1 race
Well, that calculation produces the right answer, and although I do not for a moment doubt that I may have reached the right result for completely the wrong reason, I consider that I have done better than could anybody, myself included, in the bar of the Lion d’Or. Perhaps now some of my more erudite readers will enlighten me.