Emile Levassor, driving a Panhard et Levassor car with a two-cylinder, 750-rpm, four-hp Daimler Phoenix engine, finishes a 732-mile course from Paris to Bordeaux, France, and back to Paris, in what is regarded as the world's first automobile race, on June 13, 1895.
Levassor is honored with a monument celebrating the achievement on the Place de la Porte Maillot in Paris.
Levassor, a French businessman and engineer, crossed the finish line in just less than 49 hours at an average speed of 15 mph.
He and a business partner, Rene Panhard, were running one of the largest machine shops in Paris in 1887 when a Belgian engineer, Edouard Sarazin, persuaded Levassor to produce a new high-speed engine for German automaker Daimler. Sarazin had obtained the French patent rights to the engine.
By 1891, Levassor had engineered and assembled a uniquely designed automobile by slotting the engine vertically in front of the chassis rather than underneath or behind the driver. The layout was a radical departure from the carriage-influenced design of early motorized vehicles. He installed a mechanical transmission that the driver engaged with a clutch, permitting travel at different speeds. The layout, known as the Systeme Panhard, would become the model for all cars.
A group of journalists and automotive pioneers, including Levassor and Armand Peugeot, France's top seller of bicycles, organized and promoted the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race to raise public awareness of the automobile.
Levassor died in 1897 after getting injured during a race.
The first automobile race in the United States, sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald, took place Nov. 28, 1895, in Chicago. J. Frank Duryea drove the motorized wagon he and his brother designed and manufactured 52.4 miles in 10 hours and 23 minutes to win the race. Six vehicles started the race and only two finished.
The brothers formed the Duryea Motor Wagon Co. in 1896.