Gordon Bennett

James Gordon Bennett, proprietor of the New York Herald, presented in 1900 a trophy for an international car race. The first Gordon Bennett motor race took place in France in 1900. In 1902 the race was won by the Englishman Selwyn Edge in his napier car and, in accordance with the competition rules, England was to host the 1903 race. As racing was forbidden in England, the organisers looked to Ireland for a suitable racecourse and legislation was passed to allow the race to take place in this country.

The course chosen for the 1903 Gordon Bennett motor race was centred on Athy. It consisted of an Eastern circuit of 40 miles which the competitors tackled first followed by a Western circuit of 51 7/8 miles. The road from Athy to Ballyshannon where the start and finishing lines were located was common to both circuits. Each circuit was lapped three times with an extra lap of the Western circuit so that the racing cars passed through Athy seven times.

In the weeks leading up to the event, locals were removing road gullies, improving sharp bends and cutting hedges.

Twelve competitors representing Germany, France, England and the USA took part in the race on Wednesday 2 July 1903. The course distance was 327.5 miles with four laps of a circuit taking in Ballyshannon, Kilcullen, Kildare, Monasterevin, Stradbally and Athy alternating with three laps of a smaller circuit in Kilcullen, Carlow and Athy. The cars were required to keep within the national 12 mph speed limit when passing through towns and villages and were preceded by cyclists acting as pilots. Each car passed twice through Athy on each circuit.

Of the twelve cars which started the race only five completed the course. Britain’s S.F. Edge was disqualified for receiving assistance in Athy where buckets of water were thrown over his tyres to cool them and help keep them on the wheel rims. The winner was the German driver Jenatzy with a Mercedes in a time of 6 hours 39 mins and an average speed of 49.2 mph.


1900 – Paris-Lyons, FRANCE

  1. F.Charron Panhard 61.11kph/38.60mph
  2. L.Girardot Panhard
  3. R.de Knyff Panhard

1901 – Paris-Bordeaux, FRANCE

  1. L.Girardot Panhard 59.53kph/37.00mph

Only one finisher

1902 – Paris-Innsbruck, FRANCE

  1. S.F.Edge Napier 51.17kph/31.80mph

Only one finisher

1903 – Athy, IRELAND

  1. C.Jenatzy Mercedes 79.16kph/49.20mph
  2. R.de Knyff Panhard
  3. H.Farman Panhard

1904 – Taunus, GERMANY

  1. L.Thery Richard-Brasier 87.69kph/54.50mph
  2. C.Jenatzy Mercedes
  3. H.Rougier Turcat-Mery

1905 – Auvergne, FRANCE

  1. L.Thery Richard-Brasier 77.88kph/48.40mph
  2. F.Nazzaro Fiat
  3. A.Cagno Fiat

The Museum has an exhibition & video footage of the 1903 race. Every year in June, the Gordon Bennett Vintage Car Rally is held in Ireland around the original circuit.

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