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The Paris-Amsterdam Rally

17-23 June 2018

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Celebrating the 130th anniversary of a pioneering drive by Bertha Benz and 120 years of international motor racing

An Event to Remember

With a passion for historic machinery, Rally Round has traditionally run a period-dressed summer event to celebrate the pioneers of early motoring, and in 2018 we have two special anniversaries to commemorate: it will be 130 years since Bertha Benz, wife of automobile inventor Karl, made the world’s first long-distance car journey, and 120 years since the first international motor race, from Paris to Amsterdam and back.

Our 2018 Paris-Amsterdam Rally will be easier than the events that inspired it (see below). Unlike Bertha Benz, you won’t have to follow muddy cart tracks or find fuel in pharmacies, and you won’t be opposed by armed troops, as the 1898 racers were. Nevertheless you may expect lots of excitement on thrilling roads through France, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, with some classic race circuits thrown in for good measure. The pre-war categories will again compete for the Charles Jarrott Trophy, named after Britain’s first motorsport hero, whilst the Classic (pre-1969-type) category will have its own awards. In honour of Bertha Benz, we might even offer a special prize for the highest-placed female driver with a teenage navigator! You may read the brochure and route recce report via the links on this page, and if you have any questions or would like to reserve your place on this remarkable event simply contact the Rally Office via the Enquiry button above.

We already have a great bunch of competitors. Returning Paris-Prague participants include Spirit of the Rally Award winners John and Catherine Harrison with their 1917 American LaFrance; not to be outdone, David Wenman and Jeff Robinson are bringing a 1929 model. Also returning are Irish-American crew Tom Hayes and Frank McDonagh with their 1970 BMW 2002ti Alpina, Dr Michael Feichtinger and Sebastian Haberl and their 1963 Porsche Carrera 2 roadster, father and daughter Martin and Alexandra Tacon with their 1933 Aston Martin Le Mans, Steven Collins and Dimitros Stoliopoulos with ‘Gypsy’, a lovely 1922 Bentley 3-litre, and Richard Dresner and Colin Mackenzie in the 1934 Talbot they hoped to drive last year before fate put them into a MGB V8 Costello. Experienced rallyists Andy and Liz Owler are bringing a fabulous 1971 Alpine Renault A110 Berlinette, Anthony and Fiona Galliers-Pratt are in a 1965 Porsche 911, Jan and Marion van Gemert will drive a 1929 Buick Roadster and Jan Woien and Jan Erik Hansen have entered the 1935 Alvis Speed 20 they drove on our Samurai Challenge in Japan. Another notable entrant is Richard Cunningham, who secured his place at an auction in aid of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust (click here for details) and will drive his 1933 Lagonda M45 Tourer. We’re also delighted to welcome rally novices Linda Tucker and Sarah Jennings, who are coming from Bermuda with a 1971 MGB GT; challenging them for the Coupe des Dames trophy are Kate Lawson and Teresa Mathers in a Jaguar XK140, while their husbands Dougie Lawson and Bill Mathers will drive an XK150. Returning Odyssey Italia award winners include Aussies Steve and Ruth Lambert in their 1935 Ford Sedan, Andy Actman and Jackie Quinan in their 1963 MGB and John and Moira Hilbery with their 1950 Bentley special. Other familiar faces include Stephen and Julia Robertson in their 1955 Triumph TR3, Peter Homes and Cliff Clifton in a 1969 Volvo and Andrew Wenman and Tom Goddard in their 1968 Ford Escort. Tim Wilkinson and Chris Evans plan to drive a Jaguar XK150 while Mark Seymour and Chris Seaton have yet to decide between their 1934 Lagonda or something more modern. We’re also pleased to welcome Peter Thornton and Robert Maxted in a 1939 Ford V8 Coupe and friends Alec and Barbara Hammond and Chris and Judy Beighton in a pair of Ford Mustangs. New entries are arriving all the time, so don’t delay if you want to join the fun!

Bertha Benz

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Bertha Ringer in 1871

Bertha Ringer was born on May 3rd 1849 to a wealthy family in Pforzheim, on the edge of Germany’s Black Forest. She inherited an interest in technical matters from her father, a successful carpenter, and it’s said that when she found a disparaging note about her birth written in in the family Bible –  ‘Unfortunately only a girl again’ – she determined to prove that women were capable of great things.

In 1872 Bertha married engineeer Karl Benz. She had already used part of her dowry to support his struggling iron construction business in Mannheim, and she continued to finance the development of his Motorwagen, the world’s first practical automobile, although at that time German law decreed that as a married woman she had no rights as an investor.

The first Benz Patent Motorwagen was unveiled in 1886. The next year saw the advent of the Model 2, with several modifications, and in 1887 a Model 3 with wooden wheels was displayed at the Paris Expo. In August 1888, without telling her husband and with no official permission, Bertha borrowed it and set off with two of her children, Eugen (15) and Richard (13), on the 106km (66-mile) drive from Mannheim to Pforzheim, ostensibly to visit her mother. Of course she had other motives as well, not least to show Karl that the machine in which they had both invested so heavily could be a commercial success if properly marketed as a useful device for the general public. In making the journey she was the first person in the world ever to drive a motor car over a significant distance – previous outings had been brief test runs, accompanied by mechanics.

Bertha left Mannheim at dawn, and solved countless technical problems en route to Pforzheim, following rutted roads previously used only by horse-drawn traffic. With no fuel tank and only 4.5 litres in the carburettor, she had to search for the required petroleum solvent (ligroin) at pharmacies – the world’s first fuel station was a chemist’s shop in Wiesloch. She cleared a blocked fuel line with her hat pin, used her garter as insulation material, summoned the help of a blacksmith to mend a broken chain and instructed a shoemaker to cover the failing wooden brake blocks with leather, thereby creating the world’s first brake pads. She had to find water to cool the motor at every stop, and persuade her teenage sons to push the car up hills. She reached Pforzheim in the dark, notifying her husband of her journey by telegram, and drove back to Mannheim via a different route (to avoid steep gradients) several days later.

Several observers were terrified by the sight of a woman and two young boys on a smoking monster, surely an infernal creation. Nevertheless Bertha’s journey drew a great deal of positive publicity, just as she had hoped, and also prompted several technical improvements to the automobile, such as the introduction of brake linings and a third gear for climbing hills.

In 1944, on her 95th birthday, Bertha Benz was awarded the title of Honourable Senator by the Technical University of Karlsruhe. She died two days later. As Karl Benz recalled: “Only one person remained with me in the small ship of life when it seemed destined to sink. That was my wife. Bravely and resolutely she set the new sails of hope.”

In 2008, the 194km Bertha Benz Memorial Route was officially approved as a route of the industrial heritage of mankind, marking her pioneering journey through wonderful scenery from Mannheim via Heidelberg to Pforzheim and back.

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paris-amsterdam-hero-3 Race winner Fernand Charron (Panhard et Levassor)

The Paris-Amsterdam-Paris Race of 7-13 July 1898 was the world’s first international motorsport competition, covering 1431km in seven days including a rest day in the Dutch Capital. Yet although the event generated great excitement, it almost failed to start.

Problems arose when the chief engineer of the Paris police, Monsieur Bochet, demanded that every new vehicle should have a certificate of roadworthiness, to be issued personally by him. The technical regulations he referred to were obsolete, overtaken by the accelerating pace of automobile design – the Panhard et Levassor, for example, sported a newfangled steering wheel, rather than the traditional tiller – and Bochet declared the vast majority of cars unfit to be driven on public roads, threatening any who dared to start the race with half a squadron of the 23rd Hussars and two cannon placed in the middle of the road.

Undeterred, the organising Automobile Club de France (ACF) moved the start to Villiers, just outside M Bochet’s jurisdiction. The cars could be towed there by horses. Problem solved, or so they thought…

The race itself was a thriller. Fernand Charron was first away on an 8hp Panhard et Levassor, car number one. He was closely pursued by Gilles Hourgieres (also on a Panhard) until an engine seizure delayed him by 15 hours, thereby promoting Leonce Giradot (on another Panhard) to second place. Hourgieres was fastest on day two but unable to recover all the time he had lost, and Giradot overtook Charron to reach Amsterdam with a lead of three and half minutes. The return journey was equally exciting, a close-fought battle between Giradot and Charron with ‘Gaudry’ (Francois Giraud) close behind on a Bollee. Charron dropped back to third for a while, leaving Giradot with a nine-minute lead over Gaudry, who lost even more time when he overturned.

Meanwhile in Paris, Monsieur Bochet had recovered his officious composure, and declared that anyone driving a car that had not passed his original inspection would be arrested on arrival in Paris. However, the ACF outflanked him again, moving the finish to Montgeron, on the outskirts of the city. There it was Charron who arrived first, having suffered fewer punctures that his rivals on the final day; he had covered the total 1431km (889-mile) race distance in 33 hours, four minutes and 34 seconds, at an average speed of 43.4km/h (27mph). Girodot and Gaudry came second and third to complete a French 1-2-3. Another notable arrival was George Heath, the first American to race abroad, who brought his Panhard home in 13th place.

There remained one more humiliation for Monsieur Bochet. Large crowds had gathered at the expected finish line in Versailles and implored the ACF to allow the winning cars to complete the course. Accordingly Charron and Giradot drove on to a rapturous reception in Paris and Bochet was obliged to withdraw, fearing a riot if he moved to arrest these new national heroes.

For anyone unaccustomed to Veteran and Vintage motorsport, it is hard to imagine what it must have been like to drive such 19th Century machines flat-out on unsurfaced public roads. A few years later, British racer Charles Jarrott wrote of the winning Panhard: “For a car to be fitted with an 8hp motor and four cylinders seemed to be tempting Providence in regard to the speed which it would attain, and when Charron averaged forty-three kilometres an hour we almost came to the conclusion that finality had been reached in the matter of speed. I have no doubt that many enthusiasts at that time would have given much for the opportunity of a run on a car capable of such performance.”

In fact a month after the race, Jarrott was given just such an opportunity when Charron took him for a quick spin in the race-winning car through Paris and the Bois de Boulogne, in the dark, and without lights. With characteristic British understatement, Jarrott described the experience as “somewhat nerve-shattering”.