The word “car racing” would probably make you think of colourful single-seat cars competing for the trophy. But do you know that before becoming an actual sport, car racing was as lawless as letting someone without a driving license compete in the race?
Before cars were available to the mass, it was a faulty and deadly machine that had a hefty price tag, yet it still was very much favoured by the rich. The rich at that time would love to flash their cars, going among horse carriages and pedestrians, despite the high probability of causing an accident.
Many factors contributed to the hazardous traffic landscape of that time: cars could go up to 70 mph (113 km/h) yet the brake was almost useless and there were no safety features; traffic signs were hardly available; a few worked as traffic police; traffic law was at a fledgeling state, etc. Nonetheless, cars were new and they were trendy. The people who had money (and lives) to spare would organise and take part in the most hideous car races which served as nothing but fast tracks to Hell.
1. The Paris - Madrid race of May 1903
The epic race from Paris to Madrid took place in 1903, which was 5 years before the famous Ford Model T went into production, and when cars were more or less a metal box put into motion by an engine. No matter how funny they made the riders look, cars were still the favourite toys of the aristocrats and the businessmen. You could somehow guess that when the rich decided to hold a “car race” from Paris to Madrid, a lot of crazy and high-risk things would happen.
1903 was the time when cars were more or less a metal box propelled forward by an internal combustion engine
As expected, people were so excited to take part in one of the first car races in the history that hundreds of questionable vehicles of all shapes and sizes registered for the competition. The plan was that all cars would start in Paris, have a night rest in Bordeaux, and proceed to the finish line in Madrid. However, whatever was prepared all went down the drain because most vehicles crashed or blew up a few hours after the race started. Predicting that no one could arrive at the original finish line, the organisers reached a decision that the new finish line would be in Bordeaux, hoping that at least somebody could complete this race. Nonetheless, the race was abandoned altogether, because not only many participants of the race were injured and killed, but lots of spectators also had the same fate.
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In the end, all vehicles that survived the outrageous and hazardous race were towed back to the starting point, Paris, by train, and the remained “racers” were forever banned from driving ever again.
The Paris - Madrid race of May 1903 literally ended up in smoke
2. The Peking to Paris motor race in 1907
1907 was not that far from 1903, so the technology of cars in this daring cross-continent race was not very different from those in the Paris - Madrid race of May 1903. The race was indeed so daring and reckless that there was hardly any road from Peking to Paris, yet they still decided to organise a race. Can you guess what the prize was? A single magnum bottle of Mumm champagne for the one winner. And the amazing thing is that a group of 11 people in 5 vehicles did show up in Peking to participate in this competition, for that bottle of champagne and perhaps empty glory.
If you think the lack of roads was hard enough for the 11 people taking part in the race, you would be dead wrong because the real obstacles would meet the competitors on the way.
The engines of the 5 cars were pretty weak; therefore, under some circumstances like climbing hills, the cars were propelled forward using the strength of human and animals. Also, China and Russia at that time were in chaos, so you could probably imagine that they were racing through some places like Iraq or Syria today. At some point, the competitors had to be accompanied by Marines to protect themselves from the potential dangers.
The competitors had to drive through war zones and difficult terrains with inadequate engines
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Nonetheless, after 2 months on the road, one team did succeed, reached Paris, and won the race. During the course of the race, the Italian team, the winner, had their car on fire, almost got hit by a train, and fell through a bridge, yet miraculously, they did not have any major injuries.
The Italian team had many near-death experiences, but they were still the winner of the famous Peking to Paris motor race in 1907
(to be continued...)