Sorry for this interruption before moving on to my Louwman story part 2, but today DSJ will tell you a detective story not to be missed. Louwman part 2 will follow soon of course! – RAV

Written by Dans Son Jus

History is often seen as boring, but history also hides many beautiful stories which should be told. Here is one of such stories!

Many people know that Gavrilo Princip unchained the first World War with his murder of Franz Ferdinand. But how many people know that the first car race ever was also unchained by a murder? Probably not so many!

One of the French newspapers of the 19th century, Le Petit Journal, was known for its fast reporting of spectacular events. But in 1894 the presses were already rolling when the news came in that someone had been murdered in Saint Denis, a suburb of Paris. Mr. Giffard, director of the newspaper, was absolutely not amused that this spectacular news missed the paper the next day. He screamed at his staff that they should be faster, as the paper would go bankrupt if it didn’t bring the very latest news. Luckily enough for us, sports journalist Jacques Andrée was one of the victims of the madness of his boss. Mr. Andrée incidentally was one of the best friends of Mr. Levassor (this name must ring a bell), one of the first car builders. He suggested that gathering of news would go much faster by using that new machine, the car! As Mr. Giffard did not believe in the durability and future of the car, Andrée insisted on a bet with Giffard. He bet that a race would prove the point, but most importantly that it would attract a lot of attention for Le Petit Journal. This was exactly what triggered Giffard to agree and a race was launched.

The race started in July 1894 at the Porte-Maillot in Paris. Steam cars, gasoline powered cars, compressed air cars and even electro cars were entered. Some of them already broke down a few hundred meters after the start. Fifteen cars reached the finish in Rouen, fourteen of them being gasoline powered cars. The racers of the time were the godfathers of modern motoring: Levassor, Panhard, and Daimler. Ironically, the first car to arrive was the only non-gasoline car, which reached the finish in about 7 hours. Even more ironically this car was a steam driven car, built by count De Dion and Mr. Bouton (also some bell ringing names, aren’t they?). Unfortunately they didn’t win the race because steam cars were not officially allowed to participate. The fact that all other cars were gasoline powered cars convinced De Dion and Bouton that they should build gasoline powered cars. French car racing had started! Horse racing journalists suddenly turned their attention to car racing and many small companies, especially those that had until then built bicycles, started building cars.

Although car racing was a blast to watch, doing it was not so trendy at all. Many of the drivers raced with aliases. And families of racers tried to convince their dare devils to stop with this madness. But as we all know, speed is addictive and they didn’t think of stopping, quite the opposite. For instance Fritz von Opel (also a familiar name, isn’t it?) was threatened that he would be disinherited by his rich family if he did not give up racing. Of course he did not stop and the von Opel family bribed the mechanics of Fritz so that he couldn’t start in his next race. It took some time until this changed and drivers became absolute super stars!

So this is how it all started, with a murder! Racing has caused many more beautiful stories, but I thought it would be best to start at the absolute start of it all! Do you know of more heroic stories? Let us know! Let’s keep history alive.

petit journal