Camille Jenatzy

Apr 30, 2017

Born 4 November 1868 in Schaerbeek, Belgium
Died 8 December 1913 near Habay-la-Neuve, Belgium

The “red devil” celebrated one of his greatest triumphs in a white car: On 2 July 1903 red-bearded Belgian Camille Jenatzy won the fourth race for the Gordon Bennett Cup at the wheel of a Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP in Athy, Ireland. This competition, which was staged annually from 1900 to 1905 by the “Automobile Club de France” and named after James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the “New York Herald”, was regarded at the time as the most prestigious motorsport event worldwide. Jenatzy completed the 527-kilometre race at an average speed of 79.9 km/h – an exceptional result for the time. The build-up to the race was also full of suspense: Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft had intended to field the new Mercedes-Simplex 90 HP in Ireland, which had only been used once up to this point, in the Paris–Madrid race. However, three weeks before the race a major fire destroyed the factory in Cannstatt on the night of 9 June 1903. More than 90 vehicles were consumed by the flames, including the three 90 HP racing cars intended for Ireland. In its hour of need, DMG borrowed three Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP high-performance sports cars from its customers. This vehicle had previously been the top-of-the-range model from Cannstatt. The end result went down in the history of motorsport: Jenatzy finally became a motorsport star driving the vehicle which belonged to American millionaire Clarence Gray Dinsmore.

Jenatzy’s intrepid driving style came into its own in this race, as British racing driver Charles Jarrott reported: “The road presented one bend after the other, but Jenatzy went at it full throttle. He skidded around the corners in breakneck fashion, missing a number of perimeter walls by a whisker and leaving graze marks everywhere.” Jenatzy’s contemporaries described him as a fiery racing driver who pushed himself and his car to the absolute limits. After his victory in Ireland he was recognised as the most daredevil racing driver of his time. The “New York Times” describes his driving style as being “characterized by demonical fury and stark determination”.

By then, Jenatzy was already a well-known figure. The quest for speed shaped his life. On 29 April 1899 he was the first person to top the magical 100 km/h mark in an automobile. A speed of 105.8 km/h was recorded at the end of the 1000-metre stretch. The record-breaking electric-powered vehicle designed uncompromisingly for speed and bearing the name “La Jamais Contente"
(“The never-satisfied”) was developed by the young engineer himself.

Jenatzy frequently drove a Mercedes after the 1903 Gordon Bennett race, but no subsequent triumph was to outshine his victory in Ireland. The racing driver with the high-risk driving style died on 8 December 1913. Far from the race track, he was killed in a hunting accident in the Belgian Ardennes.