A vintage car enthusiast’s passion has sparked a French celebration finally giving a historic car maker his time in the spotlight.
Tucked away in his Durham study Jim Merrington has orchestrated a centenary festival more than 500 miles away in Le Pecq, Paris, all in honour of the unsung hero who built his rare car.
What started out as a wonder about who built his newly purchased 1926 Delage Car turned into eight years of investigation for the 70-year-old from Brancepeth near Durham.
Having delved into the fascinating life of Parisian inventor and aviator Louis Janior, Jim, a retired brewery director, felt it only right his work was properly recognised this weekend on the 100th anniversary of the famous air race Janior flew in.
A pilot in the 1913 Paris to Deauville Air Race, staged to find the best hydro-plane for world naval use, Janior used an aluminium frame to build a special car body in the style of his favoured aeroplane. Over the years it’s thought many of his cars were melted down with only two known to still exist, one renovated by and living with Jim and his wife Jean near Durham City. With an archive of information and contacts at his fingertips after nearly a decade researching the car builder, Jim set the wheels in motion for the celebrations currently being staged in France.
He said: “From my little study I’ve made to organise this event over in Le Pecq. I started by contacting the town hall and the mayor and then got in touch with relatives of Janior and early flight enthusiasts in France I know asking them to contact the town hall as well. When I contacted the mayor of Le Pecq where the race started on the River Seine and suggested there should be a commemorative celebration of the race everyone was very enthusiastic.
The race followed the Seine for 200 miles to the se. Janior finished fourth out of nine - two crashed and died on the way. The planes were fitted with floats so that they could land on water. Janior hid his light under a bushel but now he is revealed as a hero of aviation and an engineering genius.”
Through his research Jim has discovered Janior went on to become a founder of the Russian air force. This weekend Jim and Jean will be guests of honour at the centenary celebrations where there will be exhibitions and a stone laying ceremony on the banks of the Seine. Jim, who is taking his 1926 Delage car to Europe’s leading car event in February, said: “I never thought for a minute when I bought the car it would lead to this. I just bought it because I liked the look of it.”