Instead he chose to write about a man who didn’t even finish the race, a con-man and a criminal who lied and cheated his way into the event before going on to prove that, despite it all, he possessed the heart and soul of a true hero.
His name was Charles Godard, a man with a fox-like face and the cunning to match. He was entered for the race with four other crews – Borghese in his Itala, two De Dions and one team almost unbelievably on a thing called a Contal – essential a 7hp motorcycle and sidecar where the passenger sat in a chair in front of the driver. Godard was to drive a Metallurgique, but when the manufacturer withdrew, he spent his winnings as a Wall of Death rider on a trip to Amsterdam where he persuaded Spyker to lend him a car, plus all the spares he could carry and the entry fee, repayable on arrival in Peking. In fact Godard had no intention of doing anything of the sort and flogged the spares to buy himself the boat ticket.
I could now recount the tale of his journey across China, Mongolia, Russia and into Europe but I rather fear I’d spoil the book for you. Suffice it to say that running out of fuel in the middle of the desert and having to drink the water in the car’s radiator to survive was one of the more minor problems he faced. Later in the race he had to travel 3,000 miles just to get back to where he had started. This in 1907. During he race he was arrested, escaped, sentenced to 18 months in prison in absentia and repaired the Spyker’s back axle using a wad of bacon.