You can probably blame the French count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat for our global obsession with covering ground as quickly as possible. In 1898, he drove his rickety Jeantaud electric car on a stretch of road near Paris, and was thrilled when timekeepers confirmed that he had reached a speed of 39.24mph (63.15kph). As no one had been officially timed driving an automobile at quite such a gallop, he established the first "world land speed record." Records of course, are there to be broken, and throughout 1899, the count saw fierce rivalry from Camille Jenatzy. The engineer son of a Belgian fabric manufacturer, Jenatzy had experience in making electric taxicabs.
However, for his record car, which he christened "La Jamais Contente" (The Never Satisfied), he commissioned a special cigar-shaped body from the Rothschild coachwork company. The body was made of aluminum to cut swiftly through the airflow, and the car rode on Michelin pneumatic tires. The power came from two 25kw electric motors, whose 200-volt output gave the equivalent of about 68bhp. The land speed record was traded between the two adventurers. Finally, Jenatzy (nicknamed the Red Devil because of the color of his beard) defeated his rival for good. La Jamais Contente established a record of 65.79mph (105.88kph) on May1, 1899, at Acheres, Yvelines, just outside Paris. This record remained until 1902, when it was swiped by a steam-powered Serpollet car.