At the end of the 19th century, the automobile was still in its very earliest stages, but before anybody could even buy a mass-produced car, people were ready to race them. Wired reports on the story of two separate teams building dueling electric cars that propelled one team to take the title of World’s Fastest Car.
A Belgian named Camille Jenatzy used his family’s rubber fortune to finance his first electric car, which set a record 17 MPH (measured by tape and watch). Three weeks later a French Count named Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat trotted out an EV of his own, doubling Jenatzy’s record with a blistering 39.2 MPH run. Jenatzy then sent the Count an official challenge, and the two raced back and forth, each pushing the top speed higher and higher.
In his pursuit to build the world’s fastest car, Jenatzy crafted an all-new vehicle he christened La Jamais Contente, which in French means “never satisfied.” Equipped with all-new pneumatic (air-filled) tires from the Michelin brothers (yes, THAT Michelin), a bullet-like aluminum body, and two 25-kilowatt motors churning out 68 horsepower, La Jamais Contente zoomed to a new record 105.9 KPH, or 65.8 MPH, and it was Jenatzy at the helm when the record was set.
This brave Belgian was a pioneer of speed before any notion of safety regulations or governing bodies existed; there’s no rollcage, no helmets or fire suits (not that you’d need one in an EV). Besides his massive balls of steel, Jenatzy didn’t have a whole lot in the way of protection.
Today we take 65 MPH for granted, but it is a little forgotten piece of history that a cobbled-together electric vehicle was the first to ever go that fast, and without so much as a windshield.