22 Jul: The World’s First Motor Race

Billed as a concours for ‘horseless carriages’, the Paris–Rouen competition which took place on 22nd July, 1894, is now widely considered the world’s first motor race. 

Only 21 vehicles qualified. Some of them had solid iron tyres. One was an eight passenger wagonette that weighed four tonnes. The car that came in first – a 20 horsepower steam tractor – was ruled ineligible.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly consider the wisdom of interrupting proceedings for a 90 minute luncheon, ask whether horsepower has become an unhelpful measurement of speed in the 21st century, and explain how the UK’s Locomotive Act of 1865 killed England’s chances of competing…

Further Reading:

Vintage cars repeat the Paris-Rouen route in 1966 (Associated Press):

• An account of the race from Goodwood’s historic motorsport pages (2019): https://www.goodwood.com/grr/race/historic/2019/6/the-1894-paris-rouen-trial-the-race-that-wasnt-a-race/

• Race-winner Albert Lemaître and his ‘crime of passion’: