Camille Jenatzy - "I'm going faster than 100!"
During the belle époque, a time of unshakeable faith in scientific and technical progress, it was presumed that there would be an inexorable rise to a great apotheosis: a brave new world. It was against this competitive backdrop that Camille Jenatzy, a Belgian engineer and racing driver, set a road speed record of 105.88 km/h on 29 April 1899, in Achères. In so doing, he became the first person ever to go faster than 100 km per hour. He accomplished this feat in a car he designed himself, "La Jamais contente" (Never Satisfied). Environmentally-friendly 'avant la lettre', it was an electric car in the shape of a shell or torpedo, which allowed Jenatzy to achieve this speed, unheard of for the time. As such, he was fastest man of his era. The car is on display at the car museum in Compiègne (Oise). The car was powered by two electric motors producing a total of 50 kW. Fulmen batteries provided the power. The batteries accounted for almost half the total weight of the car, at around 750 kg. It wasn't until the 1920s and 1930s that petrol-engined cars began to usurp electric cars, before replacing them completely.
The story of this engineer, builder and racing driver, born in Schaerbeek on 4 November 1868, is one of a man who lived life on the edge. His father, who had Hungarian roots, had opened Belgium's first rubber factory, specifically for tyres. Following his studies at the Polytechnic Faculty, Jenatzy developed an interest in electric traction for cars. He went to Paris, where he learned how to build electric carriages. In his efforts to generate publicity, he built a car in the shape of a shell, "La Jamais contente". Not content with his record of 1899, he was also the first person to go faster than 200 km/h, in Ostend in 1909, on a Mercedes, having already won the 4th Gordon-Bennett Cup in England, in 1903. As he often said himself: nothing compares to the thrill of racing. In his account of his victory at the cup, he wrote: "The last round had started; it was no longer a race, it was a hunt; I was the hunter and de Knyff, who had set off fourteen minutes before me, was the quarry; I needed to finish thirteen minutes after him to win. Ah! The exhilaration of this 90 km/h chase!"
Fate decreed that Jenatzy's eventful life was cut short in a hunting accident in the Forest of Anlier, at Habay-la-Neuve, on 7 December 1913.