Peking to Paris

When it came to early motor competitions there was no better way to test the chops of your vehicles like a good city-to-city race. These kinds of races were taking place all over Europe and America from 1894 onwards; however, by 1907 it was time to crank it up a notch. No race would test the mettle of these automobiles like the Peking to Paris, a course that ran 9,317 miles from China to Paris over some of the roughest terrain on the planet. As is often the case with these races the competition was set by a Parisian newspaper named Le Matin, there were just over forty entrants however only five teams actually turned out and shipped their cars to Peking. The committee cancelled the event, but these men weren’t going to let that stop them, they stood their ground and the race was held on June 10th 1907.

There was a total of three entrants from France, two in DeDion motors and one in a three wheeled Contal cyclecar, a Dutch entrant driving a Spiker and an Italian racer, Prince Scipione Borghese driving an Itala. The last of these vehicles was the favourite to win due to its technical superiority over the others. Initially the event wasn’t intended as a race but this along with the prospect of the course turned it into a competition.

The race didn’t have any set rules, only a prize to the first car that arrived in Paris which was a magnum of Mumm champagne. It was run mainly along a telegraph route, each car had both a driver and a journalist to cover the journey and thanks to the telegraphs the race was well covered throughout the duration of the event. Other than this however there was no assistance given, there were no roadmaps and often no roads as the course ran through countryside and desert terrain. At the time much of the Asian areas of the track had not yet been introduced to automobile travel, in fact the route had only previously been attempted on horseback.

The advanced ingenuity of the Itala paid off, Borghese won the race. He was so confident he would do so that he even took a detour from Moscow to St Petersburg for a special dinner that was held for the Italian team, after he drove back to Moscow, rejoining the race with ample time to spare. In second place was the Dutch Spyker driven by Charles Goddard, though in a surprising revelation it was discovered that the man borrowed and lied his way to the race and was arrested for fraud towars the end. The two DeDion motors placed third and fourth with the Contal never finished the race, having broken down in the Gobi Desert the crew were luckily discovered and rescued by locals.

Throughout the competition each of the contestants had to tackle things like ravines, quicksand, boggy mud and even crossing (and collapsing) bridges not built for vehicles. Despite this the race has been run several times, the last as recently as 2013, so keep your eyes peeled for the next of these wacky races.

Written by Donato