Early Motor-Boat Racing

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Readers of Motor Sport are, of course, almost exclusively car-minded, but to the vintage contingent among them a few notes on early racing motor-boats may be of interest, especially as names well known in the car world are prominent.

As long ago as November, 1902, the Automobile Club (now the RAC) recognised the importance of the then little-known application of the internal combustion engine for marine propulsion and appointed a marine motor committee to deal with the subject. In 1903 a great impetus was given to the movement by the presentation, by Mr (later Sir) Alfred Harmsworth, of a 100-guinea trophy for an International competition for power boats limited to 40 ft in length. The first race for this trophy was held at Queenstown, in 1903, in connection with the “Irish Fortnight,” and although no foreign entries were received, it created a great deal of interest both in this and in other countries. The race resulted in a victory for SF Edge with a Napier boat of 40 ft, against Messrs Thornycroft’s “Scolopendra” and Mr. Beadle’s “Durendal,” both of 30-ft length.

The year 1904 marked a very great increase in the interest shown, which was taken up by the French and American clubs. Five entries were received from France and two from America for the British International Cup Race of 1904. Very important races were held at Monaco. A race was held by the Automobile Club de France from Calais to Dover. Races from Paris to the sea for the Gaston Menier Cup and many other trophies, were held. The 1904 British International Cup Race produced six boats, of which only five actually started, the American boat “Challenger” being beaten by the “Napier II” owing to some trouble with the ignition ; the French Clement boat “Bayard” unfortunately fouled her propeller at the start ; and the final heat between “Napier Minor” and “Trefle-a-Quartre” was won by “Napier Minor” by 1 min 24 sec. “Napier Minor” was unfortunately disqualified on a technicality and the Cup awarded to “Trefle-a- Quartre.”

The Calais-Dover race must have been an interesting spectacle, the prize for racers in Class 1 being awarded to the “Princesse Elizabeth,” with a 15-hp Delahaye engine, the second class being won by “Mercedes IV” with an 80-hp engine, which beat “Napier Minor” by just over five minutes, “Trefle-a-Quartre” having trouble on the way and being beaten by nearly an hour and a half by the Mercedes. The Paris-to-the-Sea race was again won (in Class 3) by the Mercedes boat, a Hotchkiss being second, “Trefle-a-Quartre” giving up. Class 2 was won by “La Rapee III,” with a Panhard engine, and Class 4 by “Titan IV,” with a Delahaye engine. The Gaston Menier Cup, won in 1903 by SF Edge, was won by the Hotchkiss, “Trefle-a-Quartre” being second, with the “Napier II” third. Only one boat with a steam motor (Gardner-Serpollet) had been built for racing purposes, but she made a very poor show throughout. Not so different from car racing, with Mercedes, Napier and Panhard continuing the struggle which occurred so frequently on land.

AW Butler