The world's first race is generally regarded as being the Paris-Rouen trial of 1895, but there was indeed an earlier race in 1887 - billed as "Europe's first motoring competition", run by the editor of France's top selling bicycle magazine, Le Velocipede - only one car turned up to race - this car. It completed the course, and although it's arguably not possible to have a race without two competitors, this is the car that "won" that race, achieving a claimed top speed of 37 mph on the straights.
Commissioned by French entrepreneur, Count de Dion, and built by Georges Bouton and Charles-Armand Trepardoux, the 1884 De Dion steamer was nicknamed "La Marquise" after the Count de Dion's mother. Measuring just nine feet in length, La Marquise features twin compound steam engines, "spade handle" steering and seats four people "dos-a-dos" (back-to-back). The seats are located on top of the steel tank, which holds 40 gallons of water, good for about 20 miles; its sophisticated boiler, fed by coal or coke, can be steamed in 45 minutes.
If there's a surprise, it's the functional nature of the prototype - it seats four dos-a-dos, takes more than half an hour to prepare before it can drive, and requires watering every 20 miles, but it is one of the most significant automobiles in history and it goes to auction on October 6. The de Dion is naturally expected to create quite a bit of interest with auctioneers RM Auctions expecting somewhere beyond US$2.0 million.
We're currently looking into the history of the car and the claims it was the winner of the world's first full automobile race in 1888 and will report back. In the meantime, check out the photo gallery.