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Camille Jenatzy was a true star of the early years of the sport. His fiery shock of red hair and beard to match earned him the nickname "The Red Devil".
Land Speed Record holder
He trained as a civil engineer but sought fame and success through sport. Originally this was in cycle racing but the advent of the motor car brought new opportunities with racing and early Land Speed Record attempts.
That latter discipline brought great publicity and commercial gain to successful manufacturers and Jenatzy and rival Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat went head-to-head to establish the fastest average speed over a flying kilometre. They traded speeds on January 17 1899 and again 10 days later when Chasseloup-Laubat emerged as the fastest man on earth.
Jenatzy responded by building the aerodynamic electric-powered "La Jamais Contente". He raised the mark to 65.79mph on April 29 1899 – way out of reach of his rival. The first man to average over 100kph, his record stood for almost three years.
Winning racing career
The Belgian was also a leading racing driver at the time and he gained a reputation as a wild but fast competitor in the marathon city-to-city events. He represented his country in the inaugural Gordon Bennett Cup in 1900 but his Snoek-Bolide retired.
But a switch to the German team and Mercedes for 1903 provided Jenatzy with his greatest triumph. He finished 11th on the curtailed Paris-Madrid race before travelling to Ireland for the Gordon Bennett which he won for his adopted country.
The 1904 race was therefore held in Germany at Homburg but Jenatzy could only finish second – relinquishing his title to impressive French newcomer Léon Théry. Indeed, Jenatzy was lucky to finish at all for he nearly hit a train on a level crossing at Wehrheim – motor racing had added perils back then.
He finished the very first French Grand Prix in 1906 in 10th position and was fifth in that year’s Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island. His last chance of victory came in the 1907 Circuit des Ardennes when his Pipe ran second only to retire. Jenatzy continued racing until 1910 but was in decline.
He had predicted he would die at the wheel of a Mercedes and that premonition came true but with a bizarre twist. Rather than being killed on the world’s racing circuits, Jenatzy was fatally wounded during a wild boar hunt. He apparently was hiding in the bushes and making animal noises as a joke. Unfortunately his imitation proved too realistic and he was shot by accident. Distraught friends rushed him to hospital in his Mercedes road car, but he was dead on arrival.