I really love it when something genuinely unexpected comes into our tips email. And I can't think of anything more unexpected than a bunch of pictures from what appears to be a 1912 "Mudguard Contest" in France.
The link to these images was sent by reader Ted Wilmarth, who said
The link provided in the body of the email is something I stumbled upon recently. It seems as if these are pictures from what appears to be a "mudguard contest" in France. Thought you would enjoy the weirdness of these photos.
Ted, you're not wrong. I do enjoy the weirdness of these photos. A lot. From what I can gather, it looks like this was a sort of design competition to come up with more effective mudguards, or, as we call them here in Americaland, fenders.
Roads were generally pretty awful in the early 1900s, and I'm pretty sure that mud flung from wheels was a constant filthy reality of driving, and would get pretty annoying pretty quickly. Some of these designs are really clever, using weighted brushes and chains to clear mud off the wheel as it rotates by. Others are using a brute-force containment method for the mud, while others are just bizarre, like that full-wheel brush thing.
There's also a few pictures of what I think must have been a judging board to determine how much mud-throw each car produced. it's gradated into a grid with numbers and everything. This would be an interesting test to duplicate with modern cars.
It's really interesting to see so many different approaches to the same fundamental problem. I wonder which one was chosen the winner? Also, round radiators are really cool.
Here's some samples. Pick your favorite and tell me which one you think should win in the comments! If I can track down the actual results, we'll see who has the best turn-of-the-last-century mudguard judging skillz!