A French Aristocrat Establishes a New Type of Record for Automobiles

December 18, 1898

French aristocrat Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat set the first official land speed record for an automobile. The 32-year-old Chasseloup-Laubat established this record of 39.3 miles (63.3 kilometers) while driving a Jeantaud Duc electric car at a competition that was sponsored by the magazine Le France Automobile and held in the commune of Achères in north-central France.

Chasseloup-Laubat, whose father served as Minister of the Navy and Colonies under French emperor Napoleon III, had achieved at least one other automotive claim to fame prior to that competition in Achères. In 1897, he won a long-distance automobile race that was held between the city of Marseille and commune of La Turbie in southern France. For this event, Chasseloup-Laubat drove a steam car that had been built by the manufacturer Trépardoux & Cie. That Marseille-La Turbie race is widely regarded as the only major competition of its kind to be won by a steam-powered vehicle.

On January 17, 1899, Chasseloup-Laubat pioneering automobile speed record of 39.3 miles (63.3 meters) from the previous month was broken at a race that likewise took place in Achères. (The above photo shows Chasseloup-Laubat and his Jeantaud Duc electric car at that January event.)

Chasseloup-Laubat’s recently attained record was broken by Camille Jenatzy, a Belgian race driver who was given the nickname La Diable Rouge (The Red Devil) because of the color of his beard. Jenatzy reached a speed of 41.4 miles (66.6 kilometers) while racing in his CGA Dogcart automobile. (That vehicle and others similar to it in appearance were called “dogcarts” because of their resemblance to horse-drawn carriages.) Not to be outdone, Chasseloup-Laubat mounted a comeback later that same day in Achères. Chasseloup-Laubat beat Jenatzy’s record that had broken his own by reaching a speed of 43.7 miles (70.3 kilometers) during another race.

Additional information on Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat’s establishment of a new automobile speed record in 1898 is available at https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/first-recognized-land-speed-record

For more information on records in this category, please check out https://landspeedrecord.org/speed-records/

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