Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 17 June 1904.
Click here to watch silent footage of the 1903 Gordon-Bennett cup race, held in Ireland.
The weeks of preparation that Homburg has undergone are now virtually complete, and a few hours’ work will see everything ready for the great motor race. The roads bear witness to the excellent work done to pave the way for the high-speed vehicles. They look like billiard-tables fresh from the smoothing iron in places.
The Automobile Club of Germany, which has had the arrangements in hand, has been allowed great freedom in its treatment of the track, a matter which in a military country like Germany speaks to the fact that a personal interest is being taken in the race by some very high authority indeed.
The town presents a singular picture of mingled pleasure and business. It is easy to see from the whole appearance of the place that the Gordon-Bennett race is merely a means to an end – the best form of advertising motor-cars.
With regard to the prospects of the various competitors, few people can be got to indulge in this gratuitous form of error. Most are agreed that the English have not a ghost of a chance of winning. It is openly whispered that Mr Edge’s car is not up to its own form. If the event were a betting one, the short odds would be found to lie solely with the three French and two of the German cars, with the field quite unsupported.
A stream of flame
The weighing of the machines began (Reuter’s correspondent says) with a most alarming incident. Mr. Edge was waiting at the town weighing machine, in Elizabethstrasse, with his Napier car, and behind were Opel and four or five others of the competitors. Suddenly someone threw down a lighted match, which ignited the petrol under Opel’s car, which was slightly leaking. Immediately loud explosions occurred, and the whole side of the narrow street became a running stream of flame.
The spectators were seized with panic, and stood wringing their hands and screaming. The drivers and mechanicians, however, preserved their sang froid and all the cars got out safely. Then people began to realise that no mischief had been done, and laughed and talked gaily until the flames were smothered with sand.
[James Gordon Bennett Jr succeeded his father at the New York Herald and became an admired editor and promoter. In 1870, he sent Henry Morton Stanley to find David Livingstone. As well as having a reputation for being a playboy, Bennett also sponsored perilous sports such as balloon racing, yachting and motor racing]