Terrifying Historical Car Races

by Baba

Last updated on July 29th, 2011 at 04:49 am

While travelling on the Dover to Calais ferry to France for our long weekend in magnificent Paris my hubby was reading all about old cars and the races they took part in in the early 1900s to brush up on his cultural knowledge. So I had a quick peek and soon realised how dangerous these cars and races were back then. It makes you more relieved than ever that we had remembered to get some European car insurance just in case anything awful happened while we were away especially with our little girl onboard. The last thing we would want is to be broken down and stuck in a place we werent familiar with. But were lucky, I am sure those olden day races werent insured. They were so dangerous who would have wanted to insure them? They were just lucky to go across the finish line still alive I bet!

Some of these races were so dangerous, that not all the drivers made it back, never mind over the finishing line. So here are some Terrifying Historical Car Races…

Fernand Gabriel driving a Mors in the Paris – Madrid Race in 1903


Marcel Renault had it is first fatality in the Paris to Madrid Race in 1903 but it didnt stop there. After a total of 9 fatalities, French Authorities stopped the race in Bordeaux and proceeded to ban open road racing in France.

Starting Line up at the New York to Paris Race in 1908


This was known for being the longest and most gruelling Motor race in History! Out of the 6 teams (France, Italy, Germany and the US) beginning the New York to Paris race in 1908, only 3 teams made it to the finish line. The torturous route started at NYC and proceeded on to Albany, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Valdez Alaska, Japan, Vladivostok, Omsk, Moscow, St.Petersburg, Berlin and Finally the race ended in Paris. The Worst Part of the Journey would be travelling across the Bering Straits in the dead of Winter! An American Thomas Flyer, driven by George Schuster won the epic 22,000 mile race in 169 days.

Gaston Chevrolet at the Beverly Hills Speedway 1920


This was a 500 lap, 1 mile long board race track which was notoriously treacherous even in the best of conditions. Drivers could reach speeds of anything up to nearly 90mph on this track. Gaston Chevrolet (younger brother of the co founder of the chevrolet  motor car company) was killed aged just 28 at this Los Angeles race track in 1920. The accident also claimed the lives of fellow Racer Eddie O Donnell and his Mechanic Lyall Jolls and also seriously injured Chevrolet’s Mechanic John Brenahan. But Gaston Chevrolet never got to know that he had won the National Race-Car-Driving Championship.

Targa Florio 1906


Named after the founder Vincenza Florio the Targa Florio Race took place in the beautiful but dangerous Sicilian Mountains.The race consisted of 3 laps, totalling 277 miles. This was a terrifying death defying, high altitude race. Full of winding roads with sheer drops and nothing to stop you falling off them. Not only was the landscape dangerous and hard to navigate but the locals were also shooting at the racers and trying to protect their fields and animals. If you happen to break down on this race it might not be just the cold that would get you but also the wolves that prowl these mountains!!

The Carrera Panamericana 1950-55


The Carrera Panamericana is a race on the 2,100 mile stretch of road in Mexico which began in 1950 when the road was completed. The race lasted for 5 days and covered the whole stretch of road. There was absolutely no planning and any type of car was allowed to compete and any one was allowed to enter. The crazy thing is that you did not need to be a Racing Driver. It was so dangerous, especially when you mix Racing Drivers with loads of experienced and total novices. Lots of accidents ensued.

Even Taxis Drivers got in on the act, they took part and collected passengers and fares on route.
There were no rules to speak of but if anyone stopped to help other competitors, i.e. if they had crashed or broken down, they were disqualified. In the 4 years that the race took place, 27 competitors died. It was then banned in 1955 after a horrific accident at the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, where 83 spectators were killed.

The Carrera Panamericana Route


Mille Miglia 1957


The Mille Miglia was a 1,000 mile endurance race that took place 24 times in 30 years from 1927 until it was banned in 1957. A crash that same year killed Spanish (Ferrari) Driver Alfonso de Portago, his Co-Driver Edmund Nelson and 9 spectators, 5 of whom who were children. A blown tyre was suspected to have caused the crash. Later that same race a second crash took the life of Joseph Gottgens who was driving a Triumph TR3. These 2 fatal accidents resulted in the race being totally banned for many years.

Here is the Memorial for those who lost their lives on the Mille Miglia race in 1957.


Hope you enjoyed this little insight into Car Racing in the early days….

Demon Chick xx

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