What the 1908 Mors Grand Prix lacks in competition success it more than makes up for in outright size and mechanical intrigue. That’s probably an unfair indictment on the pioneering French car-maker. Borne out of an electrical component maker, Mors sold its early cars to some very discerning buyers – including one Charles Rolls (before he met Henry Royce). But such was the pace of development back then, by 1908 Mors had been left behind.
A hasty decision to enter three cars in the French Grand Prix resulted in a poor result: one car failed to start, one came 17th and this one, driven by Belgian Camille Jenatzy, finished 16th – an hour-and-a-half behind the winning Mercedes-Benz. Grands prix in those days were gruelling events, run on public roads that were often still open. Laps were typically 50 miles long and it was usual to have a ride-along mechanic.
In the Mors, the mechanic’s job would be to prime the fuel pressure and repair the many punctures. It carried four spare tyres and had removable rims, making repairs very speedy. The 12.5-litre four-cyclinder engine also had a drip-feed oil system, and the mechanic had to keep a watchful on the sight glass to ensure enough oil was being fed to the engine.
One of the areas in which the Mors’ technology was lacking behind that of its rivals was in its ‘striker’ ignition. Common prior to 1908, but rapidly becoming less so, this system did without spark plugs, instead relying on a lever to make contact with an electric lead on every revolution of the engine. As spark plugs improved, this method of ignition died out.
That huge engine revs only to about 1200rpm, and produces something around 100bhp. But it’s the big slug of torque that resulted in its respectable (for the time) top speed of 100mph. The four-speed gearbox is sequential and the engine spins anti-clockwise – both Mors trademarks. This one has been brought to FoS by the Florida based Revs Institute, which carried out its restoration.
A word on Camille Jenatzy. Nicknamed Le Diable Rouge after his red beard, he was a typically gung-ho racing driver of the era. He was the first man to top 100km/h and held three land speed records and once predicted that he would die in a Mercedes-Benz racing car. In fact, he survived all his dangerous motorsport activities and met his demise on a hunting trip. He thought it would be funny to hide in a bush and make animal noises to trick his friend. His friend was rather too convinced by the sound effects – and shot him. He died from his injuries on the way to hospital. In a Mercedes-Benz.
Photography by Tom Shaxson