Marcel Renault at Speed! 1903 Paris Madrid Road Race

The race was held in 1903, 1307 kilometers, in three legs, from Versailles to Madrid, but was stopped at Bordeaux.

“Hundreds of cars of all sorts, shapes and sizes. Some un-safe, unsuitable and impossible. Some driven by men with every qualification as racing drivers; others with drivers having no qualifications-all let loose over that long, broad road to ‘Get there!’ ” Charles Jarrott

1903b

The Paris – Bordeaux section had hosted the Gordon Bennett Cup  in 1901, but the road from Bordeaux south was full of sharp turns, climbs, narrow bridges, rail crossings, stone roads and long, paved stretches, and  high speeds would be possible.Overall, half the cars would crash or break down, and at least twelve people were presumed dead, and over 100 wounded. The actual count was lower, with eight people dead, three spectators and five racers. Cars were flying into crowds, children were wandering into the road. Spectators were hazards, public roads closed for the event became dustbowls, The race may well be equally remembered for the iconic photo of Marcel Renault and his mechanic, at speed featured above.

1903_Paris-Madrid._Henri_Rougier_(Turcat-Méry_45-hp)_11th_overall,_9th_in_heavy_car_class

1903_Paris-Madrid._Henri_Rougie

“…. fleeting glimpses of towns and dense masses of people – mad people, insane and reckless, holding themselves in front of the car to be ploughed and cut and maimed to extinction, evading the inevitable at the last moment in frantic haste; overpowering relief, as each mass was passed and each chance of catastrophe escaped….”  

I went back over the road after the race and I marveled, not that several had been killed but that so many had escaped. Cars in fragments, cars in fields, some upside down, others with no wheels. The sufferers were not all in-experienced and two of the old brigade, Marcel Renault and Lorraine Barrow, handled the steering wheel for the last time, drove their last race and paid the extreme penalty.”   Charles Jarrott

Paris - Madrid 1903 Road Race

Paris – Madrid 1903 Road Race

 

“Road racing was dead. Never again would it be possible to suggest a speed event over the open roads and the sport-which, while it was sport, was in my opinion the best of all sports-was finished. The peculiar thing about it all was that the outside world had not appreciated up to that moment that there was an element of danger in motor racing. One or two drivers had certainly been injured, but accidents were very rare; and then, suddenly, by one of those compensations which occur with all things in life, the toll was paid in one event, and so heavy was it that with a shudder and a gasp the world at large realized that motor racing might be really deadly.

The French Government decided the matter for every-body concerned. The race was stopped forthwith and all the racing cars taken possession of by the authorities. Special trains were secured and the cars were dragged to the railway station behind horses and returned to Paris; not even the motors were allowed to be started.”

Charles Jarrott   drove a de Dietrich in the 1903 race and wrote an account of the race. It may be found Here

Charles Jarrott on a 1902 Panhard

Charles Jarrott on a 1902 Panhard

Wikipedia also has an account and detail of the race and results.