Found on a wall: the first Grand Prix

I was on my way to a restaurant in London the other day when I came across a striking building I hadn?t seen before.

But the beaming face of a character whose body appeared to be made out of tyres and letters spelling out the word ??Bibendum? made it unmistakeably clear this was an old Michelin building:

Bibendum Restaurant

Bibendum Restaurant

I later discovered this was Michelin House, which was built as the tyre manufacturers’ UK headquarters in 1911.

And portrayed on the side of the building was a picture of a special event that took place five years before Michelin House was built: the first ever Grand Prix:

Ferenc Szisz winning the 1906 French Grand Prix

Ferenc Szisz winning the 1906 French Grand Prix

The race was won by Hungarian Ferenc Szisz. But apart from the title ??Grand Prix? and the constructor of Szisz?s car ?ǣ Renault ?ǣ the event had little in common with what we recognise as Grand Prix racing today.

The event was run over two days, with 12 laps of a 64-mile loop of public roads. It was organised by the Automobile Club de France, and the significant innovation that set it apart from the road rallies that preceded it was that the roads would be specially closed for the occasion.

The roads were mainly made of tar, in the days before tarmac became ubiquitous. In little time the cars cut the road to pieces and the race became a gruelling struggle against dust, debris and punctured tyres.

Szisz’s tyres – which were, of course, Michelins – gave him a decisive advantage. As the cars burned through their rubber at a frantic rate, speedy tyre changes were vital. The detachable rims on the Michelin tyres allowed new tread to be fitted in two minutes instead of the usual 15.

Szisz took the chequered flag having covered the 12 laps – split into two days of six laps’ running – in 12 hours, 14 minutes, 7 seconds. His closest rival, Felice Nazzaro, was 32 minutes behind. It is not recorded whether the crowd grumbled about how processional Grand Prix racing had become.

You can take a peek at the building, now the Bibendum Restaurant, on Google Street View:


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21 comments on Found on a wall: the first Grand Prix

  1. Noel said on 30th June 2009, 12:28

    Nice closing comment there :)

  2. I’ve eaten here. It’s a very nice restaurant (and a fantastic building!)

    They have a great decor including a big stained glass window version of this vintage Michelin poster (that was sold at auction for £2000 last month.)

  3. Alex Bkk said on 30th June 2009, 12:58

    Ah…but what did you have for dinner?

  4. Rob said on 30th June 2009, 13:09

    Look at you eating out in Chelsea, did you go shopping on Sloane St and the Kings Road after?

    The blog must be paying well ;-)

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 30th June 2009, 22:42

      LOL! I’d taken my girlfriend out for a birthday meal at a restaurant around the corner – definitely a once-a-year treat kind of thing in that part of town.

      Over dinner I popped the question I’d been longing to ask for some time:

      “Do you mind if I borrow your camera again for the Goodwood Festival of Speed…”

  5. Dougie said on 30th June 2009, 13:20

    WOW! What a cool find a interesting snippet of history, nice one!

    There is however a great pointer to its original owner on the right hand pillar ;-)

    Seriously though, did you eat there? Whats the menu like and is it pricey? I’m heading down to London later this year, and may try to get the family there for lunch if we’re in the vicinity.

  6. Brakius said on 30th June 2009, 16:51

    I would have had to at least bought one of those butter dishes/ashtrays.

  7. Sush Meerkat said on 30th June 2009, 18:23

    wasn’t that Renault also the first ever Turbo Charged engine, actually built by a dude called Renault.

  8. scunnyman said on 30th June 2009, 21:51

    Thanks for the article Keith.

    Nice to have a change of pace after all the politics of late.

  9. F1Yankee said on 1st July 2009, 0:21

    looks fantastic! the prices are tres spendy, but only a bit more than what the equivalent would be here in the states. i’d like to go if i ever get the chance.

  10. J-Canada said on 1st July 2009, 20:19

    This is an excellent find Keith! This is the stuff that seperates your site from the rest!

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