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The history of racing cars: Early underslung racers

The history of race cars: Early underslung racers
In a previous post on the history of the underslung car in Europe I had expected comments as I had omitted the earliest examples: in the racing world the concept had been applied already much earlier. In fact, the first, though only partly underslung car was the 1899 Amédée Bollée racer, which competed in the Tour de France of that year. These racers with bathtub-like bodies had a very low chassis with two transverse springs at the front and longitudinal quarter-elliptic springs at the rear. In a technical sense only the rear of the car was underslung. They were not very succesful as out of four participating Bollées only Castelnau would finish. The first fully underslung racer was a 45 HP Wolseley with horizontal 3 cylinder engine, intended to take part in the 1902 Paris-Vienna race and the concurrently held Gordon Bennett race. The other cars in the team were 30 HP cars of conventional chassis design. Mr. Crowdy, in the lead photo seen in the passenger seat, would drive the car to the start of the race. He never reached Paris however, just like an according to rumours existing reserve car of similar design, which even didn't make it out of England. Problems with the newly designed 3 cylinder engine seemed to be the cause, but details about this 'failure' were never revealed. In 1905 Renault applied the underslung design on their racers during the eliminating trials for the Gordon Bennett race. Also the underslung Renault was not a succes, although according to driver Szisz the reason for the failure was exceptional wear of the tyres. He was quite satisfied with the behaviour of the car. Neverthless the Renault with which he would win the first Grand Prix in 1906 was of conventional design, though fitted with wheels with quickly detachable rims!

Words and photos: Ariejan Bos


#2 2017-03-20 22:21
Great piece of history
#1 2017-03-19 15:52
My Grandfather Leslie Porter drove his Wolseley Beetle from England to Paris and took part in the 1903 Gordon Bennett. Sadly a well documented crash at a level crossing point killed his mechanic Willie Nixon. Both men were from Belfast where I still live.It is believed the front wheel collapsed. The works cars had additional wire spokes to the outer end of the hub.

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