The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2007
May 27 - June 30 2007
The 2007 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge Event History
All you could ever need to know...
Five cars set out in 1907 – Prince Borghese was the best organised, best-funded, and was the favourite from the outset. He specially commissioned a seven-litre grand-prix Itala engine to be de-tuned, and dropped into a truck chassis, with the lightest, simplest bodywork.
Floorboards were ripped up and experimented with as mud-guards. “One day, all cars will have mud-guards like us.” Be grateful Prince Borghese’s design seen here in the hotel courtyard in Peking failed to catch on...
What do you do for money? The crews all carried bars of silver, and just shaved off a lump when bartering and haggling for supplies.
A wooden wheel was made en-route by a local blacksmith, and rescued the Itala....punctures were few and far between, with no roads they saw few horse and carts, so nails from horseshoes were less of a problem...
Fuel was organised in advance....Charles Goddard blagged some off Prince Borghese, but knew as he muttered his gratitude that his rival had not spared him enough....
A new endurance speed record for non-stop driving for 24 hours single-handed was set up by Charles Goddard in the Dutch Spyker, in a desperate bid to make up lost time after a magneto failed....his drive was not equalled until the advent of Le Mans many years later.
Goddard didn’t know how to drive a car when he first read of the great race, picking up a newspaper blowing in the breeze while working in Paris as a Circus ground-worker hammering in a tent-peg, he spotted the announcement in Le Matin and vowed he would change his life, find the money somehow, learn to drive, find a manufacturer to lend him a car....and drive to victory.
The first “tyre war” between Michelin and Pirelli centred on the Peking to Paris of 1907. Pirelli sponsored Prince Borghese’s Itala, and one tyre survived the whole trip and then out of Paris to Pirelli’s Milan factory without a puncture...Michellin supported Goddard, who flogged off some of the tyres to pay for the shipping to China...Dunlop came third supporting the De-Dions.
There were no marshals or officials. The person who went to Peking to flag away the cars caught the ship back to Paris and arrived in time to flag them across the finish line.
Positions were decided by drivers sending telegrams from Telegraph relay-stations. One telegraph operator announced that the drivers were the first customers he had seen since he opened – and he had waited to seven years to send his first telegram. He needed to be shown how to send morse-code by the drivers... and as he couldn’t understand the language, sent the message back to front, starting from the bottom right hand side of the page.
Crews slept under their cars, and emerged in the morning covered in oil-drips. Only the three wheeler Contal driven by Pons, father of a girl who was to become a famous opera singer, failed to survive the course – the remains of the car are still in the Gobi Desert...trying to drive a wicker-basket with three wheels to Paris nearly cost him his life.
The Itala survived several river crossings in Siberia and the disaster of falling backwards through the planks of a bridge into a ravine. The engine never missed a beat... preparation is everything.
Promising to pay for the shipping out of his winnings, Goddard talked his passage onto a slow boat to China. Upgrading himself from third-class to first, he hoisted a piano onto the top deck and earned his lst-class ticket by playing the piano to passengers.
After persuading Spyker to build a Dutch car for a Dutch driver set on winning, Charles Goddard then secretly sought some driving lessons....he had never even as much as sat behind the steering wheel of a motor-car before seeking out his sponsor.
Today, the Itala is in the Italian Motor Museum at Turin, and has been restored by Fiat. The second placed Spyker is in the Dutch museum, and has never been restored. The two cars have not stood side-by-side since 1907.
The Itala was painted red for the race. After display at an American motor-show, the car was dropped in the harbour while being unloaded. It was then painted battleship grey – the nearest paint can to hand, as nobody else painted cars red. But because of Prince Borghese’s big win, Italy adopted red as its racing colour - and always worn by Ferrari Grand Prix cars to this day.