On the Trail of Camille Jenatzy

By Bill Moore

Posted: 25 Dec 2010

While air travelers in France were stranded by heavy snows in Paris, Gildo Pastor, the president of Venturi Automobiles, and his wife decided to take advantage of the situation while staying with his in-laws for Christmas in the Paris suburb of Maisons Laffitte. Pastor, a citizen of Monaco, has built his company on a reputation of pushing the technology envelope for electric cars; engineering the first all-battery-powered motor vehicle to drive from Shanghai to Paris this summer, as well as the world's fastest electric vehicle, the Jamais Contente, named in honor of the first motor vehicle to go faster than 100km per hour. That record likely was set just 3 miles to the northwest of Maisons Laffitte along what is today known as Route Centrale, not on the Route dí Achères where historians claim it took place.

On Christmas morning, Pastor shared his discovery with a few of his friends. Here, with some modest editing (English is not his first language) and his consent, is what he and his wife found yesterday while braving France's "White Christmas" of 2010.

Today, Clementine and I have decided to find the exact road where Camille Jenatzy made his speed record with his Jamais Contente in April 1899.

We drove on the snowy roads from Maisons Laffitte, where we are staying at my wife's family house for Christmas, to the City of Achères. There we met at the library, which happened to be open by chance on 24th of December, a lady that knew a lot on Jenatzy's history.

She offered to collect the archives for us, which will allow me to inform you more precisely in the future. We have also decided to create an event in 2011 to celebrate the history of the Jamais contente of 1899... I'll be happy to invite you all there.

Let's go back in time and try to find that road: on all the websites you will read that the speed record was made on Route dí Achères. We drove there and it looked just not right: too short, not even flat.

Thanks to the lady at the library's explanations, we learned that in 1898-1899, the village of Chanteloup-les-vignes was a major birthplace for racing.

On November 27, 1898, this village just near by Achères hosted the first hill climb of the racing history. The purpose was to prove that cars were able to climb difficult hills, a known weakness at the time.

Camille Jenatzy won this first race in front of 57 other participants and was the only one in the top 10 to use an EV. A good start.

At the time there weren't many straight roads to be used for a speed record. Near the hill climb road was a long concrete road used by the city of Paris for spreading manure on the fields.

Along this road, now called la route centrale, which runs from Achères through Chanteloup to Gonflans Saint Honorine, is the largest water treatment station after the one of the City of Chicago. Luckily for us, it does not smell today, probably thank to the snow. It even looked nice.

The road, now in asphalt, was ideal for a speed record, except for the trees that were probably already there.

This is the reason why on December 18th 1898, next to this Chanteloup village (the singing wolf) and near by Achères, the Count Gaston de Chasseloup (the wolf hunter!) set the first speed record ever with 63.15 km/h on 1 km. The car was also electrical, a Jeantaud Duc model.

A month later, on January 17th 1899 Chasseloup achieved an average of 70.31 km/h, beating Jenatzy and its recent 66.66 km/h record.

10 days later Jenatzy arrived to 80.35 km/h.

On March 4th Chasseloup made 92.78 m/h.

Finally Jenatzy stopped this duel with Chasseloup with 105.88 km/h, the first man to pass the 100 km/h barrier - on April 29th 1899.

La Jamais Contente happens also the first car in the history to be designed to be a speed record vehicle.

Probable Route of 100km/h Record Run in 1899

Using Pastor's directions and Google Earth, it appears that the most probable location for Jenatzy's run at the 100 km/hr (62 mph) speed record may have been along the yellow highlighted section of Route Centrale measuring 2.65 kilometers long, just across the Seine from town of Gonflans Saint Honorine. Central Paris is some 21 km to the southeast. The reason this road was concrete was to make it all-weather. Paris, like, most cities of the time, still relied heavily on horses and mules for transport. Their manure had to be picked up and disposed of on a daily basis to avoid disease. It literally amounted to thousands of tons of waste every day, so being able to access the fields in the bend of the Seine would have been vital. Interestingly, it is here that the city also chose to build its water reclaimation plant, one portion of which is visible in this Google Earth image.

Probably location of 100km/hr record set by Camille Jenatzy in 1899

Probably route of La Jamais Contente record run. Photo taken by Gildo Pastor on 24 December 2010.

"Probable route of La Jamais Contente record run driven at same speed as back in 1899. Photo taken by Gildo Pastor on 24 December 2010.

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