1900 Gordon Bennett Cup

Preparations

After a failed race between Alexander Winton and Fernand Charron, Gordon Bennett dispatched the Cup intended for the winner at the offices of Automobile Club de France in Paris (see Prelude) with the intention of setting up a new racing series.

The Gordon Bennett Cup, which its instigator called Coupé Internationale, was to be a competition between recognized national automobile clubs initially representing France, Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, the United States and Italy. Each nations were allocated a colour, which their representatives’ cars would be painted. These were blue for France, yellow for Belgium, white for Germany, and red for the USA. Later on Great Britain received green, Italy black, Austria black and yellow and Switzerland red and yellow.

Any club wishing to take part in the race was required to deposit the sum of 3,000 francs with the A.C.F. before 1 January 1900. The actual race was to be held sometime between 15 May and 15 August. The race distance would be not less than 550 nor more than 650 kilometers. The cost of race organization would be divided amongst each of the participating clubs.
As usual the devil was in the details. As Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (with the help of Michael Sedgwick) put it: “Not only were the entrants and drivers representing a national club to be members of that club, but the cars themselves had to be made in their entirety in the country whose colours they wore. Finally, each nation’s representation was restricted to a team of not more than three vehicles. Therein lay contention, for it was obvious that this rule would give a small country with one or two effective manufacturers parity with a large industrial state supporting forty such concerns”.

 

The 1900 Cup

After some squabbling, France were to be represented by three Panhard-Levassor cars – to the contention of Mors. Belgium nominated Camille Jenatzy with a car built in Belgium by Ets. Mathias Snoeck, under licence from the French company, Lefébvre-Bolide.
In the next months both British and American teams were announced and then withdrawn. Finally a Winton joined the three Panhards and the Belgian Snoeck-Bolide.

As the date of the race, 14 June got closer a growing anti-motoring sentiment hindered the chances of a race. At the very last minute the event was grenlighted.

lt was by the light of lanterns that 150 to 200 curious spectators gathered to witness the start of the event on 14  June at 3 M, in the presence of officials from the Automobile Club de France, but also of its official timekeepers who were there to validate the results

The 566 km took five contestants from Paris to Lyon. There were  seven entrants, but two did not start including the German Benz of Eugen Benz and the American Winton of Anthony L. Riker.  The three Panhards with their 5.3-litre, four-cylinder 24 hp engine led the charge.  The Winton driven by Alexander Winton, who had previously boasted of its qualities was hopelessly underpowered compared to its competitors.

Just two cars finished the race: Fernand Charron, driving a Panhard-Levassor
at an average speed of 62.107 km/h, completing the journey in 9 hours and 9 minutes. He was followed by his teammate, Girardot, with an average of 53.740 km/h, completing the journey in 10 hours, 36 minutes and 23 seconds.

Despite a disappointing first edition, judging from the list of vehicles entered in the event, the international character of the race was effectively well confirmed, not noly through the representativeness of the teams taking part in the event (America, Germany, Belgium, France), but also through cosmopolitan and multilingual media coverage.