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New York-to-Paris Race, 1908

Roger Hudson takes a roadside view of the automobiles about to embark on the arduous, 22,000-mile journey.

It is snowing in Times Square, New York, on February 12th, 1908 as six automobiles line up at the start of a 22,000-mile race to Paris. Along Broadway 250,000 people cheer them on as they head north: three French vehicles, De Dion, Sizaire-Naudin and Moto-Bloc; one German Protos; one Italian Zust; and the American entry, a Thomas Flyer. The route they plan to take is across the US via Chicago to San Francisco, from there by ship up to Alaska, across the Bering Straits (which it is hoped will still be frozen), through Siberia to Moscow, then St Petersburg, Berlin and finally Paris. The previous year there had been a race from Paris to Peking, won by Prince Scipio Borghese whose prize was a magnum of champagne, but this is the big one, sponsored by the New York Times and Le Monde.

There were snowdrifts and seas of mud; the roads were dirt tracks, if there were roads at all. If there was a railroad track, they drove along it, straddling the rails and bumping from sleeper to sleeper on deflated tyres. By the time the Thomas Flyer reached San Francisco in the third week in March, its nearest competitor, the Zust, was 900 miles behind.  The secret of the Flyer, capable of 60 mph and retailing at $4,000, was its team mechanic (and soon main driver) George Schuster, endlessly resourceful and determined. The Flyer was then shipped to Valdez in Alaska, where Schuster surveyed the route to Nome, in theory the beginning of the crossing to Eurasia. He reported to the organisers that it was quite impossible, so it was decided the vehicles should be shipped from Seattle to Japan. After problems over Russian visas, the Flyer ended up the last to leave, but was awarded a 15-day allowance for its time in Alaska, while the German Protos got a 15-day penalty for having been put on a train for part of the American leg.

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