The First Electric Car To Go 100kmph

    Imagine a metal cylinder less than 4 meters long, on four wheels, with the driver mounted on top like one rides a horse. No seat belts, no roll cage, or any modern safety measures, hurtling down the road at 100 kmph. That’s Le Jamais Contente, literally “The Never Satisfied”—an electric vehicle and the world’s first road vehicle to go over 100 kilometers per hour. The feat was accomplished by the fearless Belgian driver Camille Jenatzy. The date: April 29, 1899.

    Jamais Contente

    Camille Jenatzy in Jamais Contente. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

    A hundred years ago, the automobile industry was dominated by the electric vehicle, and there were many more electric vehicle manufacturers then than there are today. The first electric car appeared in the 1830s powered by non-rechargeable cells, but it wasn’t until 1859 when rechargeable batteries provided a means for storing electricity on board a vehicle, with the invention of the lead–acid battery, and cars became a practical mean of transport. The first human-carrying electric vehicle with its own power source was tested along a Paris street in April 1881 by French inventor Gustave Trouvé. By the end of the decade, electric cars were setting land speed records.

    The Jamais Contente was designed by Camille Jenatzy himself. The son of a wealthy Belgian rubber goods manufacturer, Jenatzy was one of the first car enthusiasts and designer, whose manufacturing plant would produce many electric carriages and trucks. He fiercely competed against carriage maker Jeantaud in publicity stunts to see which made the fastest vehicles. The two rivals took the land speed record upward from 39.2 mph (de Chasseloup-Laubat), to 41.4 mph (Jenatzy), to 43.7 mph (de Chasseloup-Laubat), to 49.9 mph (Jenatzy), to 57.6 mph (de Chasseloup-Laubat).

    Jamais Contente

    Camille Jenatzy in Jamais Contente. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

    The coup de grâce was delivered on a purpose-built vehicle, shaped like a torpedo and made of partinium, an alloy of aluminium, tungsten and magnesium. It had two direct drive Postel-Vinay 25 kW motors, running at 200 V, and drawing 124 amps for approximately 68 horsepower. Jenatzy cruised through 100 kmph reaching a maximum speed of 105.88 kmph (65.792 mph), besting the previous record, held by Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat driving a Jeantaud, who had attained 92.78 kmph (57.65 mph) just two months earlier.

    When asked to describe the feeling of traveling faster than anybody had ever done before on a road vehicle, Jenatzy said: “The car in which you travel seems to leave the ground and hurl itself forward like a projectile ricocheting along the ground. As for the driver, the muscles of his body and neck become rigid in resisting the pressure of the air; his gaze is steadfastly fixed about two hundred yards ahead; his senses are on the alert.”

    Jenatzy’s record stood for three years.

    A replica of the Jamais Contente is today at the automobile museum in Compiègne, France.

    Jamais Contente

    Photo: Jaimie Wilson/Flickr


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