On February 12, 1908, New Yorkers witnessed an unusual spectacle: in their city, the start of the first ever transcontinental automobile marathon was launched, in which nine crews from France, the USA, Germany and Italy took part. The super rally was initiated by two newspapers: the American "New York Times" and the French "Maten". The launch date was not chosen by chance, this day marked the 99th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States in 1861-1865. The final destination of the marathon was to be Paris.
Participants in the rally could be called desperate adventurers, not everyone would have dared to go on such a risky journey at the dawn of the automotive industry. it was a real challenge for both people and machines. In addition, the head of the New York auto club said that the winner will receive a very solid amount for that time - $ 1, 000.
The riders had to drive from New York to Alaska, then overcome the endless expanses of Russia, and then through Europe to reach the French capital. The official name of the car races sounded like this - "New York - Paris without the aid of a steamer." The organizers planned the rally in such a way that the Bering Strait, separating America and Asia, was covered with ice at that time, and the participants did not have to use a steamer.
It will be useful to remember the names of at least some brave motorists. The main favorite was considered the crew of the American Heinrich Gentzen on the Thomas Flyer, whose engine power was 72 horsepower. The French crew, led by the driver Bursier, chose the "De Dion-Bouton", the Italian Henry Haaga set off on the road in the "Brixia-Zust" car, the German Köppen preferred the "Protos".
The starting shot was fired by Major General George McClellan, after which the caravan set off on a long journey. And the road was not easy at all. After 200 kilometers the French car "Sizer-Nordin" left the race. The breakdown turned out to be serious, it was not possible to quickly fix it. Further, more, breakdowns happened one after another.
The organizers were afraid that none of the cars would be able to reach the finish line, therefore, they decided to urgently change the route. There was no longer any question of overcoming the Bering Strait on the ice. It was decided to take the participants by steamer to Vladivostok and from there continue their journey to Paris. To the delight of the Americans, the first part of the distance was won by their compatriots in a Thomas Flyer car. But, everything was just beginning.
It is interesting that the Germans, who took off in the far from the most powerful and fastest car "Protos", found an original way to overcome snow obstacles in the state of Illinois. They drove onto a railroad bed and drove part of the way along it. I had to go at night when the trains did not run. Later it turned out that this tactical trick had serious consequences.
The participants arrived in Vladivostok on May 22, 1908. More than three months have passed since the start. Now they had to overcome the endless Russian expanses. Unexpectedly, the German “Protos”, which until recently was considered a hopeless outsider, joined the fight for victory. During the race, an experienced mechanic, Kaspar Neuberger, was included in its crew, which bore fruit.
But the Americans began to pursue endless breakdowns. German racers were the first to reach Chita, then to Yekaterinburg, and even Russian Emperor Nicholas II met them in St. Petersburg. Now there was very little left to Paris. The victorious finish of the German crew took place on July 11, 1908. The racers accomplished the almost impossible, covering a distance of more than twenty thousand kilometers in a few months.
Only on July 26, the Parisians met the Americans who finished second. However, it was they who were declared the winners of this most difficult race. It turned out that the German racers not only drove along the railway track, but also used the services of this type of transport after a car breakdown. As a result, 15 more days were added to their result and they were the losers.
American George Shuster became a real hero of the transcontinental race, he was the only one of his crew to overcome the whole path. But the promised bonus of $ 1, 000 was not paid to him. It turned out that this race did not bring profit, so they did not find money for the winner. The injustice was not corrected until 60 years later, when 95-year-old George Shuster finally received a check for this amount. True, their cost was completely different than at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Motorists in the United States and Germany still remember their fellow countrymen who participated in the race. The American "Thomas Flyer" is kept in a museum in the state of Nevada, and "Protos" is in the technical museum in Munich.