The good question: what’s the world’s first race car?

world's first car race
photo by seriouswheels

Today almost every weekend is going one of the world motorsport races rounds: even if it’s winter. The world’s progress demanding new car testing, as a result – new challenges.

You’ll be wondering, but only 126 years ago the average speed of cars was equal to 12 km/h! 12 kilometers per hour, even horses passing faster. But let’s first things first!

  • What’s the world’s first car race?
  • When did racing start?
  • Who were the “Godfathers” of autosport?
  • What’s the world’s first race car?
  • When was the first race car made?


In 1894 becomes the world  Le Petit Journal’s new issue with the announcement on the main pages –  “Competition for Horseless Carriages”. So here is, there were horses yesterday, but the cars for today! 

Pierre Giffard, the main editor of Le Petit Journal, had decided to stimulate interest in motoring and to develop French motor manufacturing. Sporting events were a tried and tested form of a publicity stunt and circulation booster. Mr. Giffard organized the world’s first motoring competition from Paris to Rouen and publicize it in his newspaper.

Le Petit Journal
Le Petit Journal

Le Petit Journal

This challenge was promoted as  “not dangerous, easy to drive, and cheap during the journey”, the main prize being for “the competitor whose car comes closest to the ideal” and there  were some points for cars:
  • easy to drive
  • simple design
  • good appearance 
The “easy to drive” clause effectively precluded from the prizes any vehicles with steam-powered.
The race Paris–Rouen took place at 8:00 am on Sunday 22  July 1894, the 126-kilometer-long route with the main prize – 5,000 francs to the winner. 
It was the start of the first-ever race that we can call the car race.
The winners of the race from Paris to Rouen were vehicles from Panhard Levassor and Peugeot.

world's first race car
Panhard Levassor 1894 photo by seriouswheels
world's first race car
Peugeot 1894-1896 photo by autowp

Yes, these cars we can call as the first-ever race cars, but it’s not official.
After the race on the next day 23 July the newspaper “Le Petit Journal”, will sum up the result of the competition: “How can you travel other than in a motor car?”  (« Comment peut-on voyager autrement qu’en automobile? »).
Since that moment will be paved the way for the unique tradition of 120 years of Mercedes-Benz motorsport history. After all, on the 126-kilometer-long route, the motor vehicle powered by the fast-running Daimler engine demonstrated its superiority over road-going vehicles with other propulsion systems.

In the race of 1894 were no clear regulations. But what people wanted, it was a pure shock for people, clearly first ever car race! So, it’s still unclear about Panhard Levassor’s car: it was 2-seats car but should have been a 4-seat car as it required by regulation.
But, let’s go back to the official results. When did racing start?

winner of the race (1895)
The Peugeot Car, the winner of the race (1895) (photo by
world's first race car
Emile Levassor and Rene Panhard  photo by Pinterest

On June 13th in 1895, the world’s first official automobile race took place. There were only a few cars with top speeds as twenty kilometers per hour. This race was organized by two French engineers and businessmen, who had an automobile shop in Paris.

The Godfathers of autosport. 

Emile Levassor and Rene Panhard came up with the idea of racing their cars, as a way of promoting their business.

Initially, Emile Levassor and Rene Panhard had sold Daimler cars but the actual engine that they used was their own design. The Panhard-Levassor engine was considered to be superior to anything that the Germans could make.
Panhard and Levassor developed the idea of a race with journalists. They wanted to advertise the new automobile and they generate popular enthusiasm for the new invention.

In 1891, Levassor had been able to build a far superior car to Daimler. He had been one of the first to recognize that the engine of the car had to be in front of the vehicle.  No longer was the automobile a ‘horseless carriage’ but something like our modern automobiles.
They also developed a new transmission system that was named after the two men.

Race 1985
Race 1985

The race in 1895. 

Levassor drove a car that he and his partner designed and built, it was the Panhard-Levassor, with a twin-cylinder, 750 rpm engine. Levassor easily won the race. He won the race a full eleven hours before the next car, which was a Peugeot.
However, later he was disqualified on a technicality and the second-placed Peugeot was declared the winner.

Emile Levassor and Rene Panhard were able to establish France as the leading nation in the automobile industry. So we can rightfully say they were true “Godfathers” of autosport, but France is the place where this sport was born. 

Moreover, the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race established Panhard and Levassor as a major force in the automotive industry. The race-inspired the founding of the Automobile Club de France and helped to establish the automobile in France and gave a great boost to the fledgling industry. Inspired by the Paris-Bordeaux race,  many people held car races and eventually they laid the foundation for Formula One racing.

Who would have known, 3 years later in 1898 will be born Enzo Ferrari and autosport will enter into a new era.

I hope you’ll like this post.  If you are, then leave comments or write me to email, will conceive the great history of autosport together ??

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