Properly known as the Darracq 200 (for 200hp), here it is in its natural habitat, with owner Sir Algernon Lee Guinness (far left) at Saltburn sands in Yorkshire, sometime around 1908. Typically, the local Bluebottles have also got in on the act.
Built specifically for record-braking, it first saw the light of day in 1905. And, driven by the works principal racing driver Victor Hemery (Centre), it was soon to be seen taking the World Land Speed Record to new heights with a run of 109.65 mph. Straight after this, the car was shipped to the USA for the Ormond Beach Speed Tournament. The big Darracq quickly made an impact, as did its fiery French driver, Victor Hemery. Hemery had already been banned from racing in Italy, because of “offensive behaviour” towards officials, and it wasn’t long before he was indulging in more of the same with their American counterparts.
His first outburst came as the result of some gamesmanship with his principle rivals, Fred Marriot and the steam-driven Stanley team. This however had been generously overlooked, principally because nobody understood a word he was saying! The next time it happened though, they were better prepared and got the full benefit. So despite having set the best time so far, Victor would soon find himself booked on the next available liner back home. Darracq cast about for a replacement amongst the local talent and came up with a Swiss-born immigrant called Louis Chevrolet. Louis took the big V/8 up to 117.65 mph, and reckoned that there was more to come. But he refused to drive it again unless he was paid more. The Darracq management declined his kind offer and he too found himself out on his ear.
In the end, the job was entrusted to factory mechanic Victor Demogeot. Who had ridden with Hemery on the World Land Speed Record attempt, and would finally win the event outright for the French firm, with a best speed of 122.40 mph. Back in France, with their mission accomplished, Darracq put the V/8 up for sale. And it was purchased by the wealthy Anglo-Irish enthusiast Sir Algernon Lee Guinness. Baronet, and the heir to a stout fortune.
ALG, as he was known, used the car extensively in hillclimbs and sprints between 1907 and 1909. Taking in events as far apart as Blackpool and Skegness, and as exotic as Ostend in far-flung Belgium, with considerable success. But as time marched on, the V/8 monster would become outdated and outclassed. And in the end found itself lying, moribund and forgotten, in a corner of the vast Guinness estate.
The family connection with Darracq would continue though. ALG’s younger brother Kenelm Lee Guinness (known, inevitably, as KLG. In the centre, at the front of the picture) would become a Grand Prix driver for the Darracq-owned Sunbeam company in the 1920s. He’d also bring them the Land Speed Record (his Sunbeam is today, the oldest LSR car in the Beaulieu Motor Museum) and, as a side line, founded the highly successful KLG spark-plug company.
Eventually though, family pressure required the Guinness home to be cleared of some of its motor racing debris. And the Darracq V/8 was sent to the scrapyard. Luckily though, Sir Algernon had a change of heart at the last minute, and had what was left of the parts rescued before they were all finally broken up.
And there they remained on the Guinness premises. Dirty and disassembled, until their owner died in the late 1950s. Then in 1957, a Darracq enthusiast called Gerald Ferkins, who knew that some of the car had survived, managed to acquire the remaining bits and set about one of the most prolonged reconstruction projects ever undertaken. But after literally decades of work, it was eventually brought to a satisfactory conclusion. And on the 1st April 2006, the mighty V/8 was fired up again. And the great car ran under its own power, for the first time in 97 years!