Motor racing rewards have varied immensely over the century-plus since it all began. But don’t think that commercial pressures are necessarily very different today from what they were 100 years ago. From the earliest days the pioneering motor manufacturers involved in racing were well aware of the truth in the slogan ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’.
In 1893 a well-to-do middle-class client could buy a Panhard-Phénix teuf-teuf with top-of-the-range Pavilion bodywork for 6000 Francs. After Emile Levassor had stayed awake for 48hr 48min to win the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race – at an average speed of 15mph – his winning Panhard was sold for 30,000fr to a British syndicate of Harry J Lawson, Charles McRobie Turrell and H O Duncan, followed by 75,000fr for the ﬁrst three cars home in the 1896 Paris-Marseilles-Paris. So great was the contemporary cachet of pioneer-race success that after Panhard had won the latter event a long-ordered Phénix was delivered to its new owner for the catalogue price of 12,000fr, he cashed it in that afternoon for 22,500 and it ended up with Alfred Harmsworth, proprietor of The Daily Mail, for 45,000. Who said there’s no such thing as an ‘instant classic’?
German historian Robert Dick has traced the pre-Great War era superbly well in his book Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque, 1895-1915. Where prize funds are concerned the ﬁrst success of racing’s perhaps most elegant early star – French dandy Fernand Charron – provides telling perspective. He was fêted as Parisian society’s ﬁrst gentleman to venture outdoors minus a top hat, but as a sportsman he won his ﬁrst bicycle race aged 15, receiving a cash prize of 2 Francs 50 Centimes, plus a live chicken…
By 1903, when the great Fernand Gabriel won the ﬁrst leg of the doomed Paris-Madrid race, he’d been asking for 20,000fr just to change teams pre-race, from Mors to Mercedes. When Ray Harroun won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911, ﬁrst prize included US$10,000. Top-level motor racing has always been highly commercial… as in some international players’ approach to Test cricket, it’s nothing new.