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

Key dates for 2023: here are the dates you need to know when it comes to your money in 2023
Personal finance

Key dates for 2023: here are the dates you need to know when it comes to your money in 2023

There is no shortage of important dates to be aware of next year – which are likely to affect your financial health. We run through the key dates in 2…
6 Dec 2022
What is a recession and how will it affect you?
UK Economy

What is a recession and how will it affect you?

The UK economy is heading towards a recession, according to economists. But what is a recession, and what does it mean for your money?
6 Dec 2022
Investment scams are infiltrating Facebook and Instagram
Investment strategy

Investment scams are infiltrating Facebook and Instagram

Research from Which? found hundreds of investment ads on Facebook and Instagram that could be misleading investors into potential investment scams.
6 Dec 2022
Is it a good time to buy an annuity as rates hit a 14-year high?
Pensions

Is it a good time to buy an annuity as rates hit a 14-year high?

Average annual annuity income has risen by nearly £1,000 since the start of the year. We look at whether now is a good time to buy an annuity.
6 Dec 2022

Most Popular

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?
Personal finance

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?

The weather is getting colder and energy bills are rising, but is it really cheaper to leave the heating on low all day or should you only turn it on …
1 Dec 2022
Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?
Personal finance

Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?

We compare the costs, pros and cons of radiators and electric heaters and see which one will help keep your energy bill as low as possible.
28 Nov 2022
State pension errors – why tens of thousands of mothers could be missing out on millions in state pension payments
State pensions

State pension errors – why tens of thousands of mothers could be missing out on millions in state pension payments

LCP launches Mothers Missing Millions campaign amid DWP state pension errors.
3 Dec 2022