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SNAPSHOT 49: Peugeot racing cars 1920

On obtaining a photograph such as this, which clearly shows a team of Peugeot racing cars, the obvious place to check out what exactly is on view is to consult the book: 50 ans de Competitions Automobiles by Paul Yvelin. This details and comprehensively illustrates the firm’s racing activities from 1891 to 1938 and was published under the auspices of the Company in 1970, but these cars are nowhere to be found within it.

The driver of the car seen here on the left is Jules Goux, whose long and successful racing career was almost exclusively with Peugeot.  In the middle car is André Boillot, who won the 1919 Targa Florio at the wheel of a 2½-litre voiturette racer, one of those built in 1914 for the Coupe de l’Auto that did not take place due to the outbreak of war. The driver of the car pictured on the right is currently unidentified.  So we have Peugeot drivers and cars.  But what are they?

The presence of front-wheel brakes indicates 1914, or later, but the cars’ size and shape means they are not 1914 4½-litre GP racers, and whilst photos of the voiturettes are few, they do not measure up either.  The principal clue to their identity lies in the fore part of the chassis profile, most clearly seen on Goux’s car, where it curves up and over the front axle.  On all the pre-War racers the chassis side-rails were flat, though of course with down-curved dumb irons.  So there is only one model that fits.

Peugeot had been very successful in the Indianapolis 500-mile races, and for the 1920 event with its 183 cubic inch/3-litre formula ingénieur Marcel Grémillion designed appropriate cars.  A team of four was built, three to compete plus a reserve.  These took the twin overhead camshaft engine of the earlier models a step further, having triple camshafts and five valves per cylinder.  Whilst possibly sound in theory, the outcome was disappointing, the cars having neither the anticipated speed nor reliability.  It is these 1920 team cars that are seen here, prior to their journey to America.

Once back in France two of the chassis were fitted with sleeve-valve engines, power units of a type that were to bring racing successes for Peugeot in the 1920s.  The other pair were re-engined with twin overhead camshaft motors but both retired in the 1921 Indianapolis race.  One of these two twin-cam cars does though survive.  Their lack of achievement presumably accounts for their non-inclusion in the book.

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