The Peking to Paris motor race was an automobile race, originally held in 1907, between Peking (now Beijing), then Qing China and Paris, France, a distance of 9,317 miles or 14,994 km.
The idea for the race came from a challenge published in the Paris newspaper Le Matin on 31 January 1907, reading: “What needs to be proved today is that as long as a man has a car, he can do anything and go anywhere. Is there anyone who will undertake to travel this summer from Peking to Paris by automobile?”
There were forty entrants in the race, but only five teams ended up going ahead with shipping the cars to Peking. The race was held despite the race committee cancelling the race.
1) Itala, 7 litre engine, finished 1st, driven by Prince Scipione Borghese and Ettore Guizzardi
2) Spyker, finished 2nd, driven by Charles Godard with Jean du Taillis
3) Contal, did not finish, three-wheeler Cyclecar, driven by Auguste Pons
4) DeDion 1, finished 3rd, driven by Georges Cormier
5) DeDion 2, finished 4th, driven by Victor Collignon
The race started from the French embassy in Peking on 10 June 1907. The winner Prince Scipione Borghese arrived in Paris on 10 August 1907
There were no rules in the race, except that the first car to Paris would win the prize of a magnum of Mumm champagne. The race went without any assistance through countryside where there were no roads or roadmaps. For the race, camels carrying fuel left Peking and set up at stations along the route, to provide fuel for the racers. The race followed a telegraph route, so that the race was well covered in newspapers at the time. Each car had one journalist as a passenger, with the journalists sending stories from the telegraph stations regularly throughout the race.
It was held during a time when cars were fairly new and the route traversed remote areas of Asia where people were not yet familiar with motor travel. The route between Peking and Lake Baikal had only previously been attempted on horseback. The race was won by Italian Prince Scipione Borghese of the Borghese family, accompanied by the journalist Luigi Barzini, Sr. He was confident and had even taken a detour from Moscow to St Petersburg for a dinner which was held for the team, and afterwards headed back to Moscow and rejoined the race. The event was not intended to be a race or competition, but quickly became one due to its pioneering nature and the technical superiority of the Italians’ car, a 7,433 cc (453.6 cu in) Itala 35/45 HP.
Second in the race was Charles Goddard in the Spyker; he had no money, had to ask others for petrol, and borrowed his car for the race. He was arrested for fraud near the end of the race. Some of the other cars had difficulties in going up ravines, across mud, quicksand, and bridges across rivers not designed for vehicles. The Contal cyclecar became bogged down in the Gobi desert and was not recovered, with the crew lucky to be found alive by locals. Barzini published the book Peking to Paris in 1908, filled with hundreds of pictures.
This blog is about the second attempt to bring a Contal Mototri from Peking to Paris. Where Auguste Pons nearly died in the Gobi desert, a new crew will bring this three wheeler home to Paris, 112 years after the first attempt.