The Royal Automobile Club has announced that this April’s British round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone on April 12-14 will be given the name RAC Tourist Trophy and the winners presented with the oldest active trophy in motor sport. It’s a title that has passed from sports to saloon and GT cars over the years, but remains one of the most evocative in the sport – so here’s a little taste of the TT’s first edition, back in 1905:
The RAC was not yet Royal – still being the humble Automobile Club – when it laid out its plans for the inaugural Tourist Trophy race. The event would comprise four laps of the fearsome 52-mile Highroad Course: an open road loop around the Isle of Man, used the previous year in selecting the British entry for the Gordon-Bennett Cup.
The course was daunting: climbing from near sea level in Douglas to 1,384 feet at Brandywell, with many sections on what were then rough tracks and featuring more than 420 corners. In addition to this challenge, the Club also decided that there was to be a fuel allowance of one gallon for every 22½ miles driven.
The prospect of achieving victory against such odds drew a total of 54 entrants, of which 42 would eventually line up to take the start on 14 September 1905.
Predictably there was heavy attrition, with the first run at the loop accounting for four cars – most notably the Rolls-Royce of C.S. Royce, which was the first retirement with a broken gear. Five more cars retired with mechanical problems on the second loop. On the third loop the calculations made regarding fuel consumption came in to play and the first car to run out of petrol – a 14-16hp Argyll – rolled to a halt after just 143 miles and 3 furlongs of running.
Five cars failed on the fourth and final loop of the course, of which all but one ran out of petrol. Meanwhile a three-way battle for victory featured the 14hp Vinot et Deguingand of Norman Littlejohn, the 20hp Rolls-Royce of Percy Northey and the 18hp Arrol-Johnston of John Napier.
Ultimately it would be Napier who triumphed and, in so doing, set a new lap record of 1 hour 31 minutes 9.6 seconds which stands to this day – an average of 34.2mph. In total he drive for 6 hours 9 minutes and 14 seconds, averaging 33.9mph and consuming his fuel at an optimum 25.4 MPG.
Two minutes and nine seconds behind Napier came Northey’s Rolls-Royce while Littlejohn was forced to slow in order to reach the finish, coming in three minutes behind Northey with just 2.6 pints of fuel left in the Vinot’s tank. It would be another 20 minutes before the next finisher – Cyril Roberts in another Arrol-Johnston – came by the line, with only 18 cars being classified as finishers.