Published: April 24, 2016
The record books show that on this day Georges Bouton “won the world’s first motor race”. But it was a hollow victory and there was no champagne celebration – because Bouton and his co-driver were the only ones taking part. And, in fact, it wasn’t even a car. It was a steam-powered quadricycle.
The event was a “test” organised by the newspaper Le Velocipede to see if Bouton’s machine, which had boasted speeds of 60kmph, could make the 29-kilometre distance between Neuilly Bridge in Paris and the Bois de Boulogne.
Bouton, born in 1847, was an engineer scraping a living building and selling mechanical toys with another engineer, Charles Trépardoux. They had long dreamed of building a steam car but did not have enough money to finance the project.
That was to change when in 1881 the wealthy Marquis Jules-Albert de Dion bought a toy locomotive that he saw in the window of the shop run by the engineers. He asked them to build another and, impressed by their skill and their passionate interest in building a car, he went into business with them.
That was the start of the de Dion-Bouton automobile company which, for a while in the early 20th Century, established itself as the largest car manufacturer in the world, renowned for quality and reliability.
For the record, Bouton and de Dion completed the test course in 1 hour and 14 minutes riding La Marquise, the quadricycle named after the aristocrat’s mother.