How an Electric Car Set the World’s Speed Record

On April 29, 1899, a motorist reached the first-ever 100-km speed barrier.

It was Belgian racer and constructor “Red Devil” Camille Zhenatzi who set a world speed record of 105.876 km/h (65.788 mph) driving an electric car.

Electricity-powered cars were rather popular at the beginning of the 20th century. Gasoline vehicles with greater power and driving range supplanted them then.

On January 7, 1899, Zhenatzi’s electric vehicle reached a speed of 66.657 km/h (41.419 mph). It was a world record. Alas, 5 days after a designer Charles Jeanteau broke it: he showed the result of 70.310 km/h (43.689 mph). Further, the struggle between those two was going on with varying degrees of success.

On April 1, Zhenatzi participated in racing near Paris with his new electric car La Jamais Contente (“Always dissatisfied”). That run was unsuccessful for Red Devil.

The artillery-shell-shaped car with an open driver’s seat looked unusual. The body was made of aluminum and tungsten light alloy and carefully polished.

In-vehicle Fulmen batteries – 100 cells of 2V each provided an operating voltage of 200V. They were heavy, therefore a 3800-mm long machine weighed 1450 kg (3197 pounds). Two electric motors from Postel Vinag with a total power of 50 kW were located near the rear drive wheels with Michelin pneumatic tires.

The re-run took place only on April 29. Zhenatzi set a new world record of 105.876 km/h (65.788 mph).

Next year, he set another record in his new high-speed electric vehicle called Bolid: he covered a distance of 100 km (62 mi) in 1 hour 11 minutes. Later, Camille lost interest in electric cars but took part in a number of competitions as a driver of gasoline-powered cars.

In 1913, Zhenatzi was killed by an accidental shot while hunting. His name forever remains in the history of motoring. Today his La Jamais Contente is kept in the automobile museum of Compiegne, France.

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