Elliott Shepard

13/10/1876 - 10/4/1927

Record updated 10-Apr-20

Elliott Shepard was a rich amateur racer with connections to the famous Vanderbilt family. Wayward in his youth he took to racing competing in the French Grand Prix on two occasions and in the Vanderbilt Cup. He only finished one race in his brief career finishing 9th. in the 1907 French Grand Prix.

Elliott Shepard
Elliott Fitch Shepard was born on the 13th October 1876, in New York City, New York, USA. He was a rich amateur racer with connections to the famous Vanderbilt family, he was a cousin to William Kissam Vanderbilt II.

Apparently somewhat wayward in his youth Elliott got into a scrape at Yale in 1894, and withdrew from the college and finished his studies under a tutor at Harvard.

His father died in 1893 in a bizarre accident while being examined for kidney disease.

Elliott married Mrs. Esther Wiggins Potter, whose husband had died, when he was still only 20 years of age. They had met in 1896 after Elliott had just returned from a trip to Europe. They were married firstly in a civil ceremony and then, on the insistence of his mother a religious one on April 10th. 1987 and, after spending a few days at the Plaza Hotel, they sailed for Europe on April 15th.

They lived in Paris and London until 1901 and although Elliott tried to go into business but failed dismally. News of Shepard’s financial embarrassment reached New York in 1901 and his mother made a trip to Paris to help him. Elliott returned to the USA with his wife following him later however she stayed with relatives on Long Island. In August 1902 his wife applied for a divorce and though there were rumors of a reconciliation they eventually separated.

He returned to Paris and after losing a small fortune in the liquor business, the banking business and automobile manufacturing, his mother succeeded in persuading him that he was not cut out for a career in business.

Tragedy struck on April 27th, 1905, when he ran over a 12 year old girl, Madeline Marduel, as he was driving a 17-hp Hotchkiss along the Avenue Michelet in St. Ouen. He was tried in October 1905 at a time when there was much criticism of speeding motorists, especially Americans. Maître Poincare, counsel for the prosecution, declared that it was time to stop wealthy Americans from racing about the country and killing peasants. The Judge, in giving sentence on October 26th, echoed the same sentiments and sentenced Shepard to three months imprisonment, a fine of $120, and $4,000 damages to the parents of the girl on the grounds that the girl had been the breadwinner.

Shepard appealed but it was not until January 1907 that the case was settled. After the damages were paid the sentence was reduced to six weeks imprisonment. Shepard spent nine days in prison at Fresnes and subsequently the authorities agreed to pardon him on payment of further $2,000.

Meanwhile, after the decision about his appeal had been suspended in March 1906, Shepard took part in the 1906 French Grand Prix held at Le Mans driving a Hotchkiss HH.

At the end of the first day 17 cars were still in the race while 15 cars had retired. Shepard was lying in a fine fourth place just over 45 minutes behind Szisz, a good result considering that he had three tyre changes that had taken him in total at least thirty minutes longer than those with detachable rims ahead of him. He also had to stop and transfer some spokes to his teammate, le Blon, who had buckled a wheel. However on the second day of the race Shepard’s car lasted only one lap until a wheel broke and he was out.

He then traveled to America, arriving on the 8th September with his 125 hp Hotchkiss on board the French Line steamship La Lorraine, to compete in the Vanderbilt Cup race on October 6th. He brought with him his riding mechanic, Charles Lehman, popularly known as "Baby" in France.

In the race he was unfortunately involved in the death of one of the spectators who kept spilling on to the track to get a better view of the cars. Shepard who was traveling at about seventy mph at the point where the race course crossed the Long Island Railroad track at Krug's Corner, near Mineola. The crowd had surged forward and the unfortunate Mr. Gruner was unable to get out of the way in time. He was struck by the front left corner of Shepard's Hotchkiss and was thrown first against a woman and then a telegraph pole. He died instantly from massive head injuries. The woman ended up in a field ten yards away, fortunately relatively unhurt but hysterical.

Shepard continued unaware of the tragedy that had just befallen poor Mr. Gruner. However when he reached the garage at East Norwich where he found that the crank had been bent on his car. His riding mechanic then told Shepard that his car had hit someone. Shepard telephoned to the chairman of the Automobile Association's Racing Board and on hearing the news, promptly withdrew from the race. No action was taken against him as witnesses all agreed that he was not to blame for the accident.

In 1907 he was brought in at the last moment as one of the drivers of the French Clement-Bayard team in the Grand Prix de l'ACF (French Grand Prix) held in Dieppe. Shepard finished ninth, the last of the of the thirty-eight starters to finish the race.

Two months later Adolphe Clement entered Shepard in the Coppa Velocita di Brescia in Italy. Shepard led after the first lap in a time of 33 minutes 30 seconds for nearly 61 kilometer circuit, an average speed of 108 kph. He had dropped to second on the next lap and third on the one after that. On the fourth lap he re-took second but then started dropping back and was running in fifth place when, on the bridge over the Chiari River, he lost control and vaulted over the railings into the river below. He and his mechanic were rescued and taken to hospital in Monte Chiari, Shepard with a broken collarbone and other slight injuries and Ledmann, his mechanic, with cuts and bruises. The race was won by Cagno, driving an Itala car.

Shepard’s final race was the Coppa Florio on the 6th. September 1908 once again driving a Clement-Bayard and once again he retired due to axle failure.

He then married Eleanor Leigh Terradell and latterly turned his home in Chantilly, France, into a convalescence hospital for soldiers from World War I. In 1921 he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor for his relief work during WWI.

He died while on holiday in Miami, Florida, on 10 April 1927.

historicracing.com with thanks to Reinhard Windeler