Camille Jenatzy was a red-bearded Belgian who favoured
villainous looking fur coats and later became a successful
racing driver. His rivalry with Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat
and the Count's elder brother, the Marquis (who built
the cars that the Count drove), led to Jenatzy and
Count Gaston both competing for the World Land Speed
Record in electric cars before the steam, and then
the petrol engine, virtually drove the electric car
off the roads.
Jenatzy had no backer, but himself
headed a company intended to produce electric-cars
in mass production. Count Gaston took the record first
in December 1898, but the next month, January 1899,
Jenatzy and Count Gaston met on the same stretch
of road outside Paris, between St. Germain and Constans,
to pit their skill and their cars against each other.
The Belgian went first and achieved 41.42 mph, a
new record. Count Gaston answered with 43.69 mph.
Then both returned to their workshops to construct
bigger and better batteries to boost the speed of
their electric motors.
Jenatzy was ready first and
put the speed up to 49.22. Count Gaston, with the
honour of France at stake, replied with 57.60 mph. At
this point the French ruling body of motor sport, the
Automobile Club of France, stepped in and announced
that in view of the growing interest in these records
and the high speeds being reached they would impose
a set of rules and themselves appoint official timekeepers.
Jenatzy, not deterred by the appearance of officialdom,
turned out again, this time with bigger batteries
and more powerful electric motors in his car, which
he had named "La Jamais Contente".
body was made from thin metal sheets and he stuck
out from the waist upwards. With a speed of 65.79
mph he took the record for the third, and last, time
with an electric car. It was freely said at the time,
and believed, that there was some magic about this
figure and that no driver would survive the effects
on his breathing and nervous system of traveling
at more than 60 miles an hour. Jenatzy's car was
more business-like in appearance than that of his
rival and certainly the first recorded vehicle to
make use of a aerodynamic shape which would later
come to be known as "stream-lining".
It was torpedo-shaped with a pointed nose and tail,
and the driver sat in the middle, steering the vehicle
via a tiller. All wheels had a primitive form of
coach-like spring suspension, and power was transmitted
by 25.6-inch diameter rear wheels. The batteries
provided enough energy to drive the electric motors
to 900 rpm at full speed.