first race car

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

When did the first race car appear? People who love vehicles will always have a passion for racing, as though it pours through their blood. The desire for adrenaline appears to be all around us, and it seems to get better as technology advances. While the desire to be first is a part of us. As a result, racing, such as the world’s first race car, arose almost soon after the world witnessed the first automobile. Motor racing has come a long way in the last century. You reflexively cast a glance back and wonder, “What was the world’s first racing car?” It’s an interesting question to consider how far technology has progressed since the horse was the dominant mode of transportation barely two centuries ago.

 A few words on the progress of motor racing

You might be surprised to know, but 127 years ago the average speed of cars was 12 km/h! 12 km/h. Even horses were traveling faster.

Progress is taking leaps and bounds. Thus, F1 cars 2022  are the next generation of race cars that run on biofuel! In 2020, Formula 1 management unveiled the strategy and claimed a new engine aims to be 100% sustainably fueled and carbon-neutral by 2030. Wow! 

Progress has extended beyond Formula 1. WRC season 2022 marks a historic milestone for the World Rally Championship: the beginning of a hybrid era.

It’s difficult to imagine, but just a century ago you would have been mistaken for a madman, or a genius after these words. Formula 1? Rally? The speed is 300 km per hour! Outrageous!

History of first race car: How it started?

Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler were the forefathers of the automobile craze. The rest of the world saw the automobile, the gasoline car, because of them.

The first stationary gasoline engine from Carl Benz was a single-cylinder two-stroke engine, which was tested for the first time on New Year’s Eve 1879. With the commercial success of this engine, Benz could devote more attention to his idea of constructing a lightweight construction car with a gasoline engine.

In 1885, Gottlieb Daimler developed the forerunner of the modern automobile engine. He first used it in a two-wheeled vehicle and the following year developed the first four-wheeled gas vehicle in the world.

Carl Benz received the first patent for a gasoline-powered automobile in 1886. Thus, the first car in the world as evidence. The three-wheeled Benz patent motor car, model no. 1, first appeared in public in July 1886, when the event made headlines.

After the invention of cars, the question arose: “Which car is better?.” There is no better way to do this than to let the participants take part in a race! Since the first race, it has set a new milestone. Consumed by the enthusiasm for racing, the brightest minds in the world debate the appearance of a real racing car! That’s it, there was less than ten years of difference!

First car race in the world

The race Paris–Rouen 22  July 1894

Le Petit Journal

In 1894 Le Petit Journal published the announcement on the main pages – “Competition for Horseless Carriages”. Yesterday there were horses, but today there are cars! 

It is the enthusiasts, who keep the passion for racing alive, who advance motor racing.  Pierre Giffard, the chief editor of Le Petit Journal, was that one. He wanted to attract interest in motoring and to develop French motor manufacturing. Giffard organized the world’s first car race competition from Paris to Rouen and made people talk about it, as he published the news in his newspaper.

There was the additional benefit, as a brand new event took place, the circulation of Petit Journal also increased.

The first-ever requirements for cars at the races were so simple that they included only three points: easy to drive, simple design and aesthetics.

They promoted this challenge as not dangerous and easy to drive. The major prize being for “the competitor whose car comes closest to the ideal” as there were scores for cars.

Le Petit Journal
Le Petit Journal

Where was the first motor race held?

First race car
Panhard Levassor 1984

The race Paris–Rouen – the world’s first car race held in France in 1984. At 8:00 am on Sunday 22 July 1894, Paris-Rouen took place, the 126-kilometer route with a prize of 5,000 francs. 

The sixty-nine cars of entrants ranged from serious manufacturers like Peugeot, Panhard, or De Dion to amateur owners. After the selection, only 25 participants started the race.

The race began at Porte Maillot and ended in the Bois de Boulogne. Count Jules-Albert de Dion arrived first in Rouen after 6 hours and 48 minutes, traveling at an average speed of 19 kilometers per hour. He finished 3’30″ ahead of Albert Lemaître (Peugeot), Auguste Doriot (Peugeot) at 16’30″, René Panhard (Panhard) at 33’30″, and Émile Levassor (Panhard) at 55’30″.


The next day after the race, the newspaper “Le Petit Journal” sums up the results of the competition with “How can you travel other than in a motor car? 

First race cars

What was the world’s first race car?  

Albert Lemaître  Peugeot
Paris–Rouen, Peugeot Albert Lemaître

Peugeot and Panhard Levassor were the official winners of the world’s first car race.

Althought, Paris-Rouen 1894 had no clear regulations. Thus, the victory of Panhard Levassor became in doubt, as it was a two-seat car, rather than a 4-seat car, as was required by regulation.

Therefore, Peugeot, with a Daimler engine, became the world’s first car race winner.

The era of Mercedes-Benz motorsport history has begun since then. 

The Godfathers of auto racing

Emile Levassor and Rene Panhard came up to market their business by racing their vehicles.

Initially, Emile Levassor and Rene Panhard offered Daimler automobiles, but the engine they used was their own creation. The Panhard-Levassor engine was thought to be superior to anything the Germans could produce. Panhard and Levassor came up with the concept of press coverage of an auto racing event. They sought to publicise the new car and raise public interest in the new creation.

Emile Levassor and Rene Panhard
Emile Levassor and Rene Panhard

They are therefore the godfathers of auto racing, as Panhard and Levassor were more than just at the origins of the sport; they were its leading figures.

Emile Levassor was able to produce a significantly superior automobile to Daimler in 1891. He was among the first to discover that the car’s engine needed to be in front of the vehicle. The automotive was no longer a ‘horseless carriage,’ but rather something like our modern autos.
Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor
also created a new transmission system that bears their names.

First race car

The race cars in 1895. 

If the Paris-Rouan race was the experiment, then next year came the world’s first official car race, which took place on June 13, 1895. There were just a few race cars that could reach speeds of up to twenty kilometers per hour. Two French engineers and business executives managed the event.

Emile Levassor drove the Panhard-Levassor, a car he and his partner created and manufactured. It had a twin-cylinder, 750 rpm engine. Emile Levassor won the race eleven hours ahead of the following vehicle, a Peugeot! However, he got disqualified on a technicality. Peugeot was the winner after finishing second.   

Emile Levassor and Rene Panhard established France as the premier nation in the car industry, and auto racing originated in France.

Panhard and Levassor were formed as prominent players in the automobile industry because of the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race. The race spurred the formation of the Car Club de France. This aided in the automobile industry’s establishment in France and provided a significant boost to the young sector. Many individuals conducted vehicle races inspired by the Paris-Bordeaux race, laying the groundwork for Formula 1 racing.

Three years later, Enzo Ferrari was born and after a while auto racing entered a revolutionary era.

You can take a racing quiz to test your knowledge of race cars.