Peking to Paris
To commemorate the historic victory of Prince Scipione Borghese, Luigi Barzini and Ettore Guizzardi driving a 7.4 liter Itala in the 10,000 mile Peking to Paris race of 1907. The event began when a Parisian newspaper Le Martin issued this challenge: “As long as man has a car he can do anything and go anywhere - anywhere! That is the boast of the infant automobile industry. All right! We ask this question in France and abroad. Is there anyone willing to travel, this summer, from Peking to Paris by automobile?”
Five cars showed up for the challenge - an Itala, a Spyker, two De Doins and a Contal three-wheeler driven by the father of opera star Lilly Pons. All but the three-wheeler made it to Paris! That one, it is said, may still be buried in the sands of the Gobi Desert. Nomads found the delirious crew, almost dead, crawling through the sands of the Gobi.
The winning car was the Itala, described as a “giant seven-liter...specially combining a truck chassis with an engine from a racer” and driven by an Italian count: Prince Scipione Borghese. He was so confident of victory that he detoured from Moscow to St. Petersburg to take in a ball attended by “many fine ladies,” then raced 500 miles back to Moscow to continue the event, which he won by a clear week! The prize was a bottle of champagne.
There were many adventures along the way. For example, the driver of a De Dion set fire to so much prairie grass in Siberia that he had to race for 200 miles flat out at 45 miles per hour just to stay ahead of the flames. The Itala tumbled through a rotted wooden bridge. A grand lama demanded a demonstration ride before the racers could continue.
The winning Itala survives in the National Motor Museum in Turin, and the second-place Spyker, driven by former fairground barker Charles Goddard, is preserved in a Dutch museum.