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SNAPSHOT 54: Renault 1903

As the 19th century progressed, and on into the Twentieth, there was something of a collective view among well-to-do people that in the European winter months ‘Nice was nice’. By 1899 competitions for automobiles and displays of them during ‘Nice Week’ in March had become significant events for participants and onlookers. That year there was a race from Nice to Castellane and back, timed speed trials along the Promenade des Anglais, the 15½-kilometre hill-climb from the town up to La Turbie, whilst these events were preceded by the Corso Fleurie which included many cars bedecked with flowers, and there was also a Concours d’Elegance that took place in Monte Carlo’s Casino Square.

Nice Week continued as an annual occasion and in 1903 a Concours au Bidon – a fuel consumption trial – was added to the event menu. This competition was held at the Place d’Armes on a 333-metre velodrome track and each car received an allocation of fuel based on the vehicle’s weight. The smallest cars were of 4cv, the largest 16cv, with the winner – the 6cv single-cylinder Renault pictured here – covering just a shade short of 34 kilometres before it ran out of fuel.

Round and round was the only action, and The Autocar’s correspondent noted that the attendance was not as large as anticipated, but then continued: “… there were stands, a lawn, good music, etc; in fact the whole affair was carried out with all that brightness and elegance of touch for which our French friends have such a gift and are so justly celebrated”.

The driver of the successful Renault, Monsieur de Millo, looks content enough with the outcome, and despite the unplanned arrival on the scene of the umbrella-carrying gentleman appearing on the glass-plate negative, a further shot was not required since it was possible to trim him off when the photograph came to be printed in the motoring magazines.

The 1903 activities were though somewhat overshadowed by the fatal accident of Count Elliott Zborowski near the start of the La Turbie hill-climb early in the Week and with safety in mind the speed trails on the Promenade des Anglais had to be re-arranged to take place from 5 to 7.30 in the morning, with no spectators allowed  to view the competing cars. Léon Serpollet was fastest over the flying kilometre in 29.19 seconds, more than 3 seconds clear of Werner’s Mercédès that was the quickest petrol-engined car, but the age of steam car successes in such events was rapidly approaching its finale.

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