New York to Paris 1908 – Once Again in 2011

In 1908 Teddy Roosevelt was president, the Olympic Games would be held in London, and in October the Cubs would win the Baseball World Series.  But in February a crowd of 250,000 people stood in the chilly weather to watch what would be the start of what some would remember as the Great Auto Race.  Six cars would start out on a continent to continent automobile race from New York City to Paris, France.  

1908 route

A shot from a gold plated starting pistol and they set off toward California.  Forty-one days, eight hours, and 15 minutes later the American Thomas Flyer arrived in San Francisco and in the lead.  Plans had been to cross through Alaska, but conditions that winter made that route impossible and the cars were shipped to Japan where they drove west to the Sea of Japan and took another boat to Vladivostok, Siberia and from there eventually to Paris.  The race covered over 22,000 miles and 169 days later the car to earn the honor of first place went to the same American Thomas Flyer, which today resides in Reno, Nevada, at the National Automobile Museum

American Flyer

Thomas Flyer

This race has never been repeated, until this year when, in April, at least 14 cars will start out from NYC with the same goal in mind. 

A few days ago I had the good fortune to meet up with a local couple that will be participants in this historic event.  Janet and Ed Howle will ply the roads in a 1967 VW Beetle that they dubbed “Stewball”.  This couple has never let the grass grow under their feet.  They raised three children and adopted three more, moved to Paris for five years and later sailed the Caribbean while home-schooling the youngest children.  They had scheduled to participate in the 2008 World Race that had to be postponed because of political unrest in China.  Since they couldn’t run the race in 2008 they wrote a suspense thriller called “The Long Road to Paris” which is published and for sale at

The World Race 2011, is more of a rally to commemorate the original race and goes from April 14, to July 21 of this year.  The route will take the cars from NYC to Detroit to Indianapolis, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Reno, and finally San Francisco.  After about a month of having the cars shipped to Beijing, the teams will rejoin their cars and cross China to Kazakhstan, on to Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, and Switzerland, before they make their final stop in Paris. 

 To prepare for this arduous adventure Ed and Janet have participated in several rallies including taking the southerly route to the west coast in their Beetle.   Since Volkswagens of this vintage don’t have radiators and coolant it gave them a chance to find out just how rugged their car and their selves were.  With no major problems they are making certain that they have the appropriate spares and have had the car and its engine gone over by a local shop that specializes in vintage VW’s.  Not that Ed is a slouch mechanically either.  He and his wife invented and developed the Kaye posture-control walker, using Janet’s expertise in physical therapy and Ed’s mechanical talents.  The walker is designed to allow children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities to have mobility.  It is used around the world.

The VW is not the only car that the couple has competed in rallies with.  They also own a 1932 Desoto drop top and a 1957 Mercedes 190 SL.  The Desoto looks absolutely beautiful but can be a chore to drive because it has neither power steering nor synchronizers to aid in smooth shifting.  Double clutching is the rule.


190 SL

For those of you that would like to follow this great adventure there is a web site for the World Race 2011.  If you would like to know more about the original race in 1908 you can go to that web site where there is also information on obtaining the documentary DVD.  If you are interested in the Howle’s book they have a web site just for that.  I picked up a copy myself.

As a side note, in the spring of 1903 there was another race, or rather a fifty dollar wager that turned into a race.  Horatio Nelson Jackson of Vermont was in San Francisco when he bet that he could drive across country in a time when there were only 150 miles of paved roads, few maps, and no gasoline stations.  Ken Burns has put together a fascinating documentary on the transcontinental journey with Tom Hanks narrating.

It was a delight to meet with the Howles and see their VW that will soon conquer the world.

1967 VW to be a World traveler


1967 Type 1


Janet and Ed Howle



This entry was posted in Automobiles, Car Movies, Car Stuff, Care and Feeding, Cars, Great Roads, Life and Cars, Rally Cars, Road Trips. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to New York to Paris 1908 – Once Again in 2011

  1. Janet Howle says:

    Thanks Jim. This is great. You are not only a “car guy” but a great writer as well. Look forward to seeing you again.

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