in The early 1930s, the young journalist Arthur Koestler flies over the North pole aboard an airship. Confined in a small cabin, it is cold. And he is bored among scientists very busy and not sending any word. “We spent several days in the arctic air, moving at leisure, with the average of 90 kilometres per hour, slower than a motorist who respects himself”, he said in The tightrope, the first volume of his Memoirs. This miserable 90 kilometres per hour, such as the author of the Zero and the Infinite the present, fell on July 1, 2018, the victim of a certain precautionary principle. On the French roads, it is now driving at 80 km/h, less fast as it has for nearly a century.

Speed, what follies have we not committed in thy name? As soon as the car has outgrown the car unstable, go as quickly as possible seems to have been the sole ambition of all those who were rolling on four wheels, racing driver or Mr. All-the-World. The invention of the internal combustion engine, at the end of the Nineteenth century, will, if we can say, speed things up. Paradox or destiny, yet it is an electric car, the Never Satisfied, driven by the Belgian Camille Jenatzy, who crosses the 100 km/h in 1899. It would take ten years to knock down the wall of 200 km/h, pulverized by the Frenchman Victor Hémery, that its american competitors nicknamed The surly catch One (“the man snarling”). He was driving a Blitzen-Benz powered, this time by a motor “heat”.

“Their madness is their guardian angel”

It will have to wait for march 9, 1927 to the 300 km/h are exceeded. The British Henry Segrave achieves this performance at the wheel of a monstrous Sunbeam powerful of a thousand horses. The center of gravity of the speed records then moves from Europe to America, Daytona Beach, Florida, and then at Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah. In 1932, Malcolm Campbell exceeded the 400 km/h 500 km/h are happy five years later by his fellow countryman George Eyston. The supremacy of English is going to hold out until at the beginning of the 1960s. It will bank for two decades before a line of american pilots doped to the turbojet.

The cars are then put to roll at speeds of fighter aircraft. The 1 000 km/h are reached in 1970 by the Blue Flame Gary Gabelich, who uses a rocket engine. The wall of sound is finally achieved in 1997 by Andy Green, a former fighter pilot with the british, with a speed of 1,227 km/h (mach 1.01 percent). Its Thrust (“thrust”) SSC is powered by two jet engines with afterburner developing the equivalent of more than 200 000 hp!

Indianapolis, Formula 1, 24 Hours of le Mans (where it will exceed 400 km/h, but in 1988), the circuit races will attract the crowds. But what are the events on the road that are the natural theatre of the rate for the general public. They multiply during the Twentieth century: Targa Florio, “Mexicana”, East African Safari, and the famous and terrible Mille Miglia through Italy from the North. As early as 1937, the participants will exceed cheerfully to 200 km/h on roads narrow, unpaved, and turned into a quagmire at the slightest rain. In 1955, two years before the removal of the Mille Miglia due to endangering the lives of others, Stirling Moss will roll to the average staggering 157,55 km/h at the wheel of a Mercedes 300 SLR on this evil loop Italian long 1 600 kilometres. Arthur Koestler, again, explains to her how “individuals apparently toqués” to win the challenges: “Their madness is their guardian angel.”

The argument of health is no longer

The women have had enough soon the urge to compete with men in the quest for speed. Camille du Gast becomes, in 1903, the first woman car racer. But their consecration will happen in the 1970’s with the liberation of women. The women pilots are back at le Mans after an eclipse of twenty years. The blonde Marie-Claude Beaumont participates with a very macho Chevrolet Corvette. But only five women will set their name in the tablets of the Formula 1. The best known is the Italian Lella Lombardi. It will ten times out of fourteen Grands Prix during the 1975 season. Annie Soisbault shines for its part in rally and on circuit. Marquise de Montaigu, she has adopted the motto of his family: “The danger, my pleasure!” After his victory at Monza in 1964, the Commendatore Enzo Ferrari grabs her and then kisses her violently in front of an audience mesmerised.

These records are fascinating Mr. All-the-World, which is to celebrate the cult of speed. But the cars of the Thirty Glorious years does not provide the same level of security as current models, just as the road infrastructure. Then, Mr. All-the-World accidents.

In may 1973, the population of Mazamet, a town of the Tarn, 16 610 inhabitants, a figure equivalent to the number of deaths on the roads of the previous year, lies symbolically on the ground in the streets of the city. In July 1972, an inter-ministerial committee of road safety (CISR) was created to stop the death on our roads. The culprit is the identified speed: at the beginning of December 1973, the limitations are widespread in France. To make pass the pill, the government would invoke the energy savings made necessary, they say, after the first oil shock.

– Radar installed on the D34, between Bruz and Chartres-de-Bretagne. Most of these devices have been vandalized in the wake of the movement of the “yellow vests”. Marc Ollivier/PHOTOPQR/OUEST FRANCE

Forty-five years later, the speed has never ceased to be in the sights of the authorities. On July 14, 2002, Jacques Chirac announces that he wants to make road safety one of the priority areas of its new five-year term. A network of thousands of radars will be deployed quickly, which will add mobile controls: the speed is going to be mercilessly hunted. Last July, after the privatization of the radars on board, here it is limited to 80 km/h on most roads.

This time, for the drivers of the France device, this is too much. They are furious from being forced to ride behind the trucks on roads that they know all the dangers. The ecological argument hammered by the government does not convince much. Because French drivers have lost confidence. They had been introduced to the diesel as an engine cleaner than gasoline for years, before that same voice to tell them otherwise, and increasing the prices of diesel in the name of the argument health!

The anger in the face of 80 km/h installs. She’s going to feed the revolt of the “yellow vests”. At the beginning of December 2018, they have made half the radar inoperative, covered, tagged, or simply destroyed. Defend the speed has taken on a symbolic dimension: that of an act of resistance that France device that feels misunderstood by the political power. Remains to be seen if the 90 km/h will be restored. Hard to imagine, when one knows the personal involvement of the prime minister Edward Philip for the limitation to 80 km/h. But if the cursor were to move in favour of the speed, it would be a beginning of a rehabilitation unexpected, after decades of demonization.

The speed of three numbers

15 km/h

The average speed achieved on the route Mannheim-Pforzheim (104 km) in 1888 by Bertha Benz on the tricycle, developed by Carl, her husband, three years ago, is 15 km/h.

405 km/h

In 1988, on the circuit of le Mans, Roger Dorchy driving a WM P88 motor Peugeot reached the speed of 405 km/h.

80 km/h

from 1 July 2018 on the roads two-way traffic without a central median, the maximum speed is 80 km/h.

1899. The Never Happy with the Belgian Camille Jenatzy crossed the 100 km/h. Rue des Archives/Tallandier


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