The Paris-Madrid ends

29 / 05 - In the upper gallery, after the historical images, we leave you the photos of the arrival of the rally in Madrid. They have been kindly provided by Testanell Photography and Francisco Lázaro, alias «Campari» in Bull skin, both contacts of our columnist Francisco Carrión.


22 / 05 - On Saturday the 25th, the Vintage Rally Paris-Madrid, which is intended to be a tribute to the fateful race that ran between the French and Spanish capitals in 1903 and which marked the end of the first era of motor sports, in which the queens of racing were held on the open road between large cities , the more distant from each other, the better.

Organized by the English company H&H Classic Rallies, the participants will have to travel between Friday and Sunday the approximately 1.300 km that separate the mentioned urban centers. Perhaps the crux of the matter is that they will have to do it with prewar cars, so the official definition of the test as «Challenge of reliability and resistance» it's probably quite right.

Much of the list of registered vehicles -at least 70- is scandal, and possibly it is a new valuable opportunity to get closer to Bugatti, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Invicta, Riley, Delahaye or Alfa-Romeo that are not usually seen in our country. Special mention should be made of the six pre-1915 cars that are going to dare with the challenge: Mercedes 60 HP from 1903, Gladiator from 1904, Competition Bra from 1908 (!), Buick 10 from 1910, Hispano Suiza Alfonso XIII from the same year (!, Again) and Knox Roadster from 1911. Of course, it takes a lot of bravery.

Good material has been seen in other activities carried out by H&H (Courtesy of H&H)
Good material has been seen in other activities carried out by H&H (Courtesy of H&H)

Nor is it to despise the presence of two racing Aston-Martin and two Alfa-Romeo 6Cs, especially when All passengers must be dressed in accordance with the era of their vehicle.

On the 25th, approximately from 16:30 p.m., the participants will arrive at the Castle plaza from Pamplona; on the 26th, around 15:30 p.m., at Parque Juan Carlos I from Madrid. Leaving the capital of Navarra at seven thirty in the morning, they will pass through Olite, Caparroso, Castejón, Ágreda, Almazán, Baraona, Jadraque, Miralrío, Tórtola de Henares and Guadalajara. They will stop in Olite, Almazán and Tórtola de Henares. All the mentioned localities are scattered along the highways N-121, N-113, CL-101, CM-101 and CM-1003.

Finally, it is noteworthy that, although it has finally only welcomed cars, the test was also designed for motorcycles and tricycles, with internal combustion, steam or electric engines, vehicles and mechanics all admitted in the original race. And it is that at the dawn they were already experimenting even with alternative energies, although sometimes the price to pay for technological progress was too high. In any case, it seems that the hitherto unfinished Paris-Madrid will have an end.

Also, it seems that they are not afraid of getting their hands dirty ...
Also, it seems that they are not afraid of getting their hands dirty… (Courtesy of H&H)

Paris-Madrid: The Great Hunt

[su_quote] What do I remember from that race?

“Long avenues of trees, thick, covered by foliage but stark in the nakedness of their trunk; a long, endless, white ribbon that always stretched to the horizon; the perpetual endurance of a bullet that inexorably advanced toward that point where heaven and earth meet; fleeting visions of the towns we passed through, and of the masses of people who, mad, sick and reckless, put themselves ahead of the bullet, risking being killed or mutilated, avoiding it at the last moment only thanks to a frantic gesture; a revitalizing relief that washed over me every time we left the crowd behind and once again escaped catastrophe; but above all, the horrible feeling of being the prey of a hunt. Hundreds of cars of all conditions behind us, and all of them on our heels, perhaps hitting the road faster, struggling to overtake and fill us with dust, leaving us behind as they drove away towards the distant finish of Bordeaux. " [/ su_quote]

Gabriel, who would be the winner of the day, at an average of 105 km / h with his Mors (Courtesy of H&H)
Gabriel, who would be the winner of the day, at an average of 105 km / h (Courtesy of H&H)

This is how Charles Jarrot begins to tell in his book "Ten years of Motors & Motor Racing" the Paris-Madrid of 1903, the last of the legendary races disputed by the pioneers between big cities. And it is that, in the beginning, spurred on by the need to demonstrate to the world the validity of the then new automobile, its enthusiasts traveled longer and faster distances more and more quickly: always from the French capital, to Marseille, Berlin, Vienna, Madrid… It all started in 1895 between Paris and Bordeaux, a route that between the outward and return journey amounted to more than 1.200 km. and it was covered in about 45 hours. Ten years later it could well be done in just over 11 years, such had been the dizzying technological development.

Cars of up to 14 liters, 90 hp and 1.000 kilos in weight, maximum speeds of about 115 km / h that did not hesitate to be increased by the pilots on the slopes down, with the aim of reaching averages in the race of up to 140 km / h on dirt roads paved for carts and carriages, dotted with people who, as is still done today, recklessly exposed themselves to danger. All this can give us an idea of ​​what it implied to launch into one of the new infernal machines called automobiles; and yet those heroes did not think too much about it.


In the early morning of May 24, 1903 the members of the De Dietrich team, Jarrot, Barrow and Stead, got up at two o'clock. The start was scheduled for 3:45, from Versailles, and Jarrot had won the previous great competition, played at the Circuit de la Ardennes, so he would start first in one of the biggest automobile odysseys ever carried out. The rest of the participants would follow him separated from each other for a time of one minute. Spurred on by haste, he left Barrow trying, perhaps unsuccessfully, to start his car; it would be the last time I would see him.

Edmond Darracq, Prepared for the End of the World (Courtesy of H&H)
Edmond Darracq, Prepared for the End of the World (Courtesy of H&H)

[su_quote] “I asked what would happen to the swaying crowd of people blocking the road on my way out, and the response I received was a shrug of the shoulders and an affirmation that they would move away as soon as I started to move forward. The soldiers in charge of keeping the runway clear were absorbed by the enormous number of enthusiasts present, so that disorder reigned… »[/ su_quote]

At the first races, held during the previous decade, hardly anyone had come to see them. However, for two or three years the sport of the automobile moved masses, to such an extent that it was not possible to foresee exactly what the response of the growing public would be to each specific event. And the Paris Madrid was exceeding all expectations.

Even as far as participants are concerned: 275 unbelievers! Of which, finally, 221 attended. The event, governed by a rather lax regulation, was open to all types of vehicles and forms of propulsion, from motorcycles to cars, from ordinary vehicles to competition. from internal combustion engines to steam, through electricity; From quadricycles and light vehicles to 12- or 14-liter monsters, the grosse voitures forerunners of Grand Prix cars. Of course: these last three categories should not exceed 400, 650 and 1.000 kilos, respectively.

Louis Renault, when passing through one of the checkpoints or upon arrival in Bordeaux (Courtesy of H&H)
Louis Renault, when passing through one of the checkpoints or upon arrival in Bordeaux (Courtesy of H&H)

Jarrot -which you can see in the main photo, at the top- started and, after the start, accelerated above 100 km / h, after verifying that the passionate gathered would move away at the last moment regardless of the speed of He passed. He carried his biggest rivals - in many cases also friends - on his back, so it is easy to understand the feeling of hunting prey that we read earlier. He plowed through the French roads until Luois Renault passed him like a breath on his way to Bordeaux, the end of the first stage of the competition. This time his car was superior.

De Knyff and Werner also passed in front, the latter with a colossal Mercedes 90 HP, but both would break later. In reality, breakdowns were very common and that is why it was run in teams, always with a mechanic on board, a custom that would still continue until the 30s. And they did not have to be routine or easy to repair breakdowns: although tires frequently burst - which, at the speeds that such mounts circulated, gave quite scary - it was not unusual for any other element of the machines to break, including the axles or the chassis. And yet, miraculously, until Paris-Madrid there were hardly any deaths or injuries to mourn in the endless fight for speed.

As the English pilot advanced in his De Dietrich, he was quite surprised that he was not encountering more competition. It was because he was doing it wonderfully himself, but also because the race had turned into a real carnage from behind. It is said that the laxity of the regulations, which allowed the registration of anything, both in terms of vehicles and drivers, as well as the dryness of the terrain, were to blame. It did not necessarily have to be this way, since, as we have just said, previous tests had been held under similar conditions with hardly any incidents.

Gabriel, cruising the French roads, aboard a Mors (Courtesy of H&H)
Gabriel, who would be the winner of the day at an average of 105 km / h, plying the French roads (Courtesy of H&H)

Be that as it may, through sections that could possibly reach up to 140 km / h, the Paris-Madrid was leaving a river of deaths and injuries of varying degrees in its wake. Cars stamped against the trees - this is how Barrow, Jarrot's companion, died in a spectacular accident that occurred after ramming a dog that should never have invaded the road, in theory closed. The photographs that were taken of the remains are overwhelming- burned equipment in the cabins, cars that finally overwhelmed the public when trying to avoid the run over of a child who had rushed to the track ... And endless more mishaps that dotted the route of damaged vehicles in the hard shoulders.

Once the first riders -Renault and Jarrot- reached the finish line of the first stage, in Bordeaux, confusing information began to be received. Until Charron arrived, another legendary runner, who, having made the journey in a car together with the women - he could not finish his racing car in time - had been able to see what happened from the rear. He stated that he had never seen such a thing before, and further confirmed that Marcel Renault, Louis's brother, had died. From then on, the only patron of the Billancourt brand would never run again.

Faced with what happened, the French government suspended the race, put the cars in train wagons dragging them with animals and sent them back to Paris. We must not forget that at that time, the car was still regarded not only as a promise of progress, but also as a danger. And before the demonstration of their destructive power, on this occasion the authorities did not even allow them to be started again. Fortunately, the waters would soon return to their course, although always in circuits that, although they continued to be planned for some time on the open road, were circular and, therefore, much more controllable in every way.

Mayhew and his Napier (Courtesy of H&H)
The last of the great races of the first era (On loan from H&H)


Fernand Gabriel was considered the winner of the race, that is, of the part that could be held (the stages to Vitoria and, finally, Madrid were still pending), who, although he did not arrive first in Bordeaux, covered the 557 km. that separate this city from the French capital, at the controls of a Mors, in 5 hours and 47 minutes, at an average of 105 km / h. Behind, Renault and our narrator, Jarrot, classified.

It is difficult for me to explain, but there is something very special about these races, always understood in their historical context. Thanks to the pilots who raced them, the car stopped being a more or less curious invention to become one of the most revolutionary of the XNUMXth century. People like those mentioned so far are the true parents of the car, the culprits that today it is understood in the way that so many of us are passionate about. I think that we especially owe it to them to be able to enjoy our fans today.

[su_quote] “It was the last great race to take place on French roads. Because I cannot put in the same category those that are now held on circuits; Paris-Amsterdam, Paris-Berlin, Paris-Vienna, they all belong to the past and will never be repeated. And I think it was a successful ending, there, on the road that connects Paris with Bordeaux, where so many great tests were held and where Levassor himself showed the world, eight years earlier, at last, the enormous possibilities of motor-powered vehicles. . " [/ su_quote]

It was undoubtedly the end of an era, perhaps the most heroic of all that make up the history of the automobile.


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Full-size images (1.280 px. Approx.)


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Javier Romagosa

Written by Javier Romagosa

My name is Javier Romagosa. My father has always been passionate about historic vehicles and I have inherited his hobby, while growing up among classic cars and motorcycles. I have studied journalism and continue to do so as I want to become a university professor and change the world ... View all


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