The pioneer of motor racing, Camille du Gast lived his life at 100 per hour

The pioneer of motor racing, Camille du Gast lived his life at 100 per hour


“An intrepid sportsman. “So Life in the great outdoors described, in its edition of March 30, 1905, Camille du Gast, one of the first women to participate in motor racing. And it is short to say that his life, which we will restore here with his help RetroNews, off the beaten track. Racing car and boat driver, climber, pianist and SPA president, Camille du Gast has never stopped liberating herself from her status as a woman which at the beginning of the 20th century forced her. “Does one dare to blame the modern woman for pretending to be capable of anything but distinguishing a pipe from a top pipe? she wondered inwardly. Check it out of July 1, 1900.

And Camille du Gast, born on May 30, 1868 in Paris, is capable of many things. “She excels in pistol shooting, rifle shooting, skiing, mountain climbing, she also trains horses”, write about Clémentine Portier-Kaltenbach and her sister Lorraine Kaltenbach Champions: Won gold, silver, bronze. In 1890, she married Jules Crespin, heir to a large business family. But he died five years later, leaving daughter Diane and her estate to his widowed wife. “And since Camille is a woman of amazing vitality, apart from falling, she will face giving up her love of sports and competition,” add the two authors.

Driver’s license and bugs

In 1897, she obtained a “certificate of competence” that allowed her to drive, becoming the second woman to obtain it, right after the Duchess of Uzès. Then in 1901, he lined up at the start of the Paris-Berlin race in Panhard et Levassor with number 122 as listed in the newspaper. Car. He finished in 33rd place, a very respectable position. Two years later, he took part in the infamous Paris-Madrid race. To the journalist’s question Media who asks him about the reason for his participation, he answers, unbroken: “Because it makes me happy, I like the feeling, the speed. »

Aware that his car, a Dietrich, “makes 110, but it can’t compete with cars that make 140”, he hopes to “get to a good place with the first machine of the house that he gave me a car”. To deal with mechanical damage, the drivers drove him with their mechanic, and that of Camille du Gast “will be lying on the side of the car, next to the wheels, with his head on top of the tank”, a place that is certainly comfortable. This Paris-Madrid race was organized in two stages, in Bordeaux and Vitoria, which is very annoying for the driver. “It bothers me a bit, I’d rather do all the races at once. I don’t like to sleep in the car. […] In twenty-eight hours, we can go to Madrid. And for the action of Vitoria, he even had a “sling bed sent, because, apparently, in this country, there are bedbugs”.

Rejected women

Except that Camille du Gast will never reach Vitoria, the French Ministry of the Interior having taken the decision to stop the race on the evening of the first day because of the many deaths and injuries among pilots and spectators. Furthermore, the pilot will stop to help the injured Englishman Staude. But this stop marks the end of road racing, which is very dangerous. And on the pretext of the car’s danger, women, including Camille du Gast, will be excluded from the race. “When the manufacturer Benz offered her to race under its colors for the 1904 Gordon Bennett Cup, the Automobile Club not only opposed her participation, but now banned women from racing”, write the Kaltenbach sisters.

Obviously, this is not fun sports woman. He divides the letter, some of its passages are published Bicycle of March 20, 1904, where he claimed that “we do not judge people without listening to them” and dismissed the argument that “the measure that [l’]reached was taken for general safety purposes, to avoid the drivers themselves […] the dangers of female inexperience and fear”. In Check it out on July 1, 1900, he already confirmed: “Sports are the recovery of the eternally wounded, wounded above all by the chains of outdated, hypocritical, absurd and ordinary education. »

like a hurricane

Don’t worry, if Camille du Gast can no longer compete in cars, she will do so in motorboats. He participates in the Monaco rally within his race Turquoiseblessed by Canon Dumont in March 1905. Then in the Algiers-Toulon race in May 1905 on Camille. In a storm, he owes his salvation only to the intervention of a traveler Le Kleber. But in the rescue, he again shows great courage and complete selflessness as reported A small newspaper in its edition of May 28, 1905: “Mme du Gast wants to be the last; Lieutenant Menier must threaten to release the protesters to convince him to board. And once saved, “it must be trained to provide service, because it wants at any cost to see its fellows saved”. Despite the incident, Camille du Gast won the race, being the one who had reached the furthest, all the other competitors having been overturned.

“In 1910, a family tragedy ended Camille du Gast’s life,” say the two authors. The story is grim: Camille escapes an attack that we think may have been instigated by her own daughter Diane. “Nothing will be the same as before and the rich widow will turn to animal care by becoming president of the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA) from 1910 until her death in 1942. her deputies “low program” in Gazette of Biarritz-Bayonne and Saint-Jean-de-Luz of April 30, 1932 where he asks for “justice and compassion for animals, weak and defenseless creatures”.

A remarkable but gradually forgotten pioneer, Camille du Gast was discussed again on April 24, 2022, on the 80th anniversary of his death, from rue “Crespin du Gast” in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. called “Camille Crespin du Gast”. A tribute from the Paris city hall that is perhaps explained by this enigmatic sentence from the pilot in the newspaper. Media May 24, 1903: “The car is dirty, smells bad… makes noise… and is not elegant. »