The hero of the Route Nationale

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ER Classics Desktop 2022

July 26, 1936: in front of the building of the French automobile club at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, a muddy Citroën 11CV. A small, not very young, somewhat stocky Frenchman steps out, who has just driven 400.000 kilometers in one year. Francois Lecot thus set a record, which was only broken in 2003.

The bet

Lecot was a road restaurant owner in Rochetailée sur Saône, in central France. Of course a roadhouse is a meeting place for drivers and motorists, perhaps more in those days than now. Francois Lecot was a veteran of motorsport, having previously raced long-distance races such as the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1925 and the Warsaw-Paris rally in 1930. The record attempt was a bet made as far back as 1934, but there were preparations were necessary. The necessary car was made available by the Citroënfactory, 1934 was the debut of the Citroën Traction Avant and this would be a great publicity stunt. André Citroën also promised the cooperation of the garage owners en route for free maintenance and parts. The petrol was paid for by the Parisian newspaper Le Matin and the whole operation was placed under the supervision of the French Automobile Club for fairness.

To the Citroën some adjustments were made, such as a double gas pedal, so that Lecot could switch legs, extra spotlights, a larger petrol tank of 65 liters and a loading floor where the rear seat normally sat. And then, in 1935, André . died Citroën and the promise of free maintenance was revoked. However, Lecot found a number of mechanics in his own circle willing to service the car (at night!).

363 days driving

And so Francois Lecot set out on July 30, 1936. The trail was the busy and winding Route National. On even days he drove from his restaurant in Rochetailée to Monte Carlo and back, on odd days he drove to Paris. Every day he left at half past three in the morning after a fresh sandwich and a French cup of café au lait. Along the way he ate sandwiches, sausages and fruit from a basket, and coffee from a thermos. Around 11:00 he would arrive in Paris or Monte Carlo, rest for two hours and drive back. At about nine o'clock at night, he stopped in front of his restaurant, had dinner, had a hot shower and went to bed. He repeated this meticulously for 363 consecutive days.

As a bonus, he regularly took journalists with him and also letters and parcels, which he stamped as a souvenir. Every two days, Lecot distributed fresh flowers to the Parisian employees of Le Matin, which had been picked the day before on the Côte d'Azur.


De Citroën

On average, he drove about 1100 kilometers per day. The Citroën has never let him down, but he was thoroughly spoiled every week with fresh oil, a grease gun, a cleaning and a thorough inspection. In that year Lecot wore out a total of 116 new Michelin tires, five water pumps, two sets of water hoses, seven V-belts, three dynamos and some loose lights, rubbers and springs.

As a publicity stunt, it was a grandiose move. The Citroën had achieved an unparalleled mileage for those years without being stranded with bad luck. All garage work had consisted of normal maintenance and adjustment, nothing had broken. There were, however, three minor collisions of which the damage was repaired.

The end

Because nothing lasts forever, the record smashed nearly seventy years later. In 2003 Phillippe Couesnon drove 607 kilometers on the French autoroute toll roads in a Peugeot 500.000 in one year, which is of course incomparable with a modern car and on perfectly maintained, tight six-lane roads. Francois Lecot himself died in 1959, penniless and almost forgotten, in the upstairs apartment of his now closed restaurant.

While clearing out his belongings, the family discovered an old military passport. In it, an officer had written “Corporal Lecot is not considered capable of learning to drive a vehicle”.

In Rochetaillée-sur Saône, a recreated Citroën 11CV and a mural on Lecot's former roadhouse on the monster ramp.

For those who really want to know all the details, two (French) books have been written:
– Francois Lecot 1935-1936. 400.000km en un an (Thierry Dubois, publisher Drivers)
– François Lecot 400.000km and Traction 1935-1936 (Fabien Sabatès and Gilles Blanche, publisher SPE)

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Leave a Reply
  1. One day he drove just under 300 km, the next day just under 800, one way? (according to maps)
    Both in 5 or 6 hours?

    • To Niels, at that time there were no highways or asphalt. The roads were sometimes unpaved, the speeds barely 90 km/h maximum. You cannot compare this record with today's car. Greetings Lieven

  2. Then I will soon tell the stories of the Beijing-Paris race and also New York-Paris. And the race against the Train Bleu.

    • Yes! The TA 11bn that I had had in the 80s had also taken part in that ride. The stickers above the windscreen had since been removed, but it was still clearly visible that they had been there. My TA also appeared in a book about the TA that I have yet to have somewhere, just like it appeared in an issue of Het Automobiel.

      03D16B13 F83E 43F6 A390 7513345B89F9

  3. Nice advertising on the car too…. Where have they gone the brands Marchal SEV, Paris-Rhone, Ducellier, Eyquem, KLG…. Luckily we still have the pictures!

    • Oaky, luckily the Eyquem brand still exists, that's why my 2-cylinder boxer snores so beautifully.
      (Will it also do with a Bosch or NGK 😉)

  4. Good morning!
    This Jan also has similar stories to tell. We made plans with the Michelin maps. The goal was every Easter holiday a holiday home 1000+ kilometers from the town of Delft. The problem was of course who already had their own Citroën 2CV had or could borrow one. So on the road with 12 'friends/girlfriends'. Money and passport had to be available. At the Belgium-French border, we were pulled over by the customs officers to have a conversation in the beautiful French language. Two cars were allowed through, car 3 was completely stripped. After an hour we were allowed to continue, with payment of some fines. The two front runners had continued to the next gas station. Car 1 straight on to meeting point 3. Car 3 was waiting for AXNUMX.
    After a change of drivers and co-drivers, we continue in good spirits. After the Periferique continue to Senlis towards Gien.

    The way back went more smoothly: faster, cheaper and full of enthusiasm to tell the most beautiful stories to the eight of "floor 81D".

    Today it is different. We are now fifty years later.

    Greetings from Oldenzaal

    • Fantastic story. I am fond of anecdotes. Like the officer Corporal Lecot deems unfit to drive a car. Another tactical mistake by the French army.

  5. Great story! I recently read about this in the book 'Route National 7' by the same Thiery Dubois. Great book about the history of the N7 (and N6) from Paris to Menton. Beautiful photos and full of fantastic anecdotes.

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