22 July 1894: Paris to Rouen motor car competition

The Paris to Rouen motor car competition of 1894 pitted petrol cars against steam-powered vehicles in a thrilling 79-mile event.

If you've ever negotiated the Periphrique around Paris, you'll know that wishing to see more cars around the French capital is masochistic. But that's exactly what Le Petit Journal set out to do on this day in 1894.

The previous December, the newspaper's editor, under the nom de plume of Jean sans Terre (real name Pierre Giffard), announced with fin-de-siecle pomp a "concours des voitures sans chevaux" from Paris to Rouen. This competition for cars without horses is often cited as the world's first motor race.

Only, it wasn't really a race at all. It was a competition for engineers both professional and amateur to showcase "the vehicles of the future".

Ten thousand gold francs were up for grabs, with 5,000 francs going to the car that was judged to be closest to the ideal standards set by the newspaper: not dangerous, easy to drive and cheap during the journey.

One hundred and two readers answered Le Petit Journal's challenge, of which only a handful made it to qualifying, each paying ten francs.

At one minute past eight on the morning of 22 July 1894, the 21 qualifiers set off on the 79-mile-trip to Rouen. Roland, the newspaper's reporter, waxed lyrical on the fine weather and the great crowds thronging the pavements and, much to the consternation of the police, the roads too.

Riding in the lead car, Roland noted the amazement on the faces of spectators as the cars left Paris, winding their way through the French countryside. Old men waved from windows, pretty girls threw flowers, whilst "braves paysans" came up to offer fruit to the drivers.

Averaging a blistering speed of 12mph, Jules-Albert de Dion was first to cross the line in his steam-powered car. But as his vehicle required a stoker, it wasn't deemed easy to drive, so he had to make do with second prize.

Five minutes later, Albert Lematre came pootling along in his petrol-powered Peugeot to claim the 5,000 francs, which was shared with Panhard today a maker of armoured cars.

Recommended

What will happen to the price of gold in 2022?
Gold

What will happen to the price of gold in 2022?

Gold is traditionally the go-to asset during inflation. But with inflation at 30-year highs, it has gone nowhere. Dominic Frisby investigates why, and…
20 Jan 2022
UK inflation is at a 30-year high and it hasn’t peaked yet
Inflation

UK inflation is at a 30-year high and it hasn’t peaked yet

UK inflation has hit 5.4% - its highest in 30 years. And it could be heading higher. John Stepek explains what it means for you and your money.
19 Jan 2022
Index fund
Funds

Index fund

Index funds (also known as passive funds or "trackers") aim to track the performance of a particular index, such as the FTSE 100 or S&P 500.
18 Jan 2022
Model Y: Tesla has nailed it once again
Cars

Model Y: Tesla has nailed it once again

The electric carmaker’s new SUV crossover, the Model Y, sets the benchmark in the sector.
18 Jan 2022

Most Popular

US inflation is at its highest since 1982. Why aren’t markets panicking?
Inflation

US inflation is at its highest since 1982. Why aren’t markets panicking?

US inflation is at 7% – the last time it was this high interest rates were at 14%. But instead of panicking, markets just shrugged. John Stepek explai…
13 Jan 2022
Interest rates might rise faster than expected – what does that mean for your money?
Global Economy

Interest rates might rise faster than expected – what does that mean for your money?

The idea that the US Federal Reserve could raise interest rates much earlier than anticipated has upset the markets. John Stepek explains why, and wha…
6 Jan 2022
Tech stocks teeter as US Treasury bond yields rise
Tech stocks

Tech stocks teeter as US Treasury bond yields rise

The realisation that central banks are about to tighten their monetary policies caused a sell-off in the tech-heavy Nasdaq stock index and the biggest…
14 Jan 2022