The Automobile Club

This heralded the beginning of a great motoring adventure. No sooner had he been elected, than Noghès tabled the proposal to stage a sporting event in the Principality, which – driven by his son Antony – ultimately materialised two years later with the organisation of the 1st Rallye Automobile Monaco on January 21-29, 1911.

Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Vienna and Geneva were the six starting-points for this event. Having set out from Paris behind the wheel of a 25hp Turcat-Méry, early aviator Henri Rougier triumphed ahead of 22 rivals, registering an average speed of 13.8kph.

Buoyed by this success, and to firmly instil in the hearts and minds of the club’s members that their association would henceforth be predominantly focused upon motor vehicles rather than bicycles, a directory was published, containing members’ names and addresses and itineraries for car excursions. The determination of those at the helm of the SAVM was already palpable: they were starting to write the future…

The consequences of the World War 1 would be devastating, however, temporarily putting a halt to all motorsport activity. In 1918, Monaco was left to mourn its losses from the battlefield, amongst whom were several dozen club members. For obvious reasons, during these four dreadful years of conflict, the SAVM did not organise a single sporting or even non-competitive event.

Through sheer perseverance, President Noghès pressed on and, in January, 1921, revealed that the 1st Automobile Week – which had originally been conceived back in June, 1914 – would take place two months later, from March 8-15. Boasting an impressive 35,000 Francs in prize money, this event was composed of various challenges for both cars and motorbikes, in addition to a display and a Concours d’Elegance. The fruit of a remarkable vision that had never wavered, this new success story confirmed – to everybody’s delight – that President Noghès and his committee were very much on the right track, both in terms of the club’s evolution and its association with the motor car.

On the morning of March 29, 1925, during an Extraordinary General Meeting attended by 55 SAVM members, its President Alexandre Noghès declared “that due to the ever-increasing size of the club, its name must be changed to Automobile Club de Monaco’, explaining that ‘cycling is becoming less common as a sport, whereas motorsport is on the rise.” The proposal was subsequently put to a secret ballot and adopted by 49 votes in favour, five against and one abstention. In becoming the ACM, the association joined a large and growing family of national auto clubs, each member of which embodied automobile adventure at national level. In order to assure its future, however, the ACM needed to be admitted to the Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) – International Association of Recognised Automobile Clubs – forerunner of the current Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

As the club’s General Commissioner, Antony Noghès, then 35, was tasked with taking the Automobile Club de Monaco’s application to the AIACR’s headquarters in Paris. He unfortunately returned empty-handed, since the gentlemen of the AIACR considered that although the club did indeed organise sporting competitions, these did not take place within the territory of Monaco. With wounded pride, but with youthful enthusiasm and determination, Antony Noghès decided to undertake the extraordinary challenge of staging a car race around the streets of Monaco.

The idea of holding a race in the city was certainly a daunting one – perhaps even unachievable.

Firstly, there were the steps between the Quai des Etats-Unis and Quai Albert 1er to overcome, plus more steps alongside the gasometers. There were also the cobblestones and tram tracks between La Condamine and the Casino to consider. Antony Noghès weighed up his options for two years, before finally deciding to entrust his ambitious project to the only men who could be counted upon to offer a fair and dispassionate opinion: on the sporting side, Louis Chiron and in terms of the technical aspect, Jacques Taffe.

Next, he needed to convince the Société des Bains de Mer to get on-board with the project and underwrite the financing of the event. Its administrator, René Léon, immediately appreciated the value of Noghès’ vision and released the necessary funds.

Nowhere else in the world will have a circuit like this! The official announcement of the organisation of the Grand Prix rang out triumphantly across Monaco. Indeed, it created such a stir in the Principality that, on October 18, 1928, the Gazette de Monaco newspaper proclaimed: “We are delighted to learn that the Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus has admitted the ACM as a national club, which takes the number of countries represented to 34.

Just six months later, on April 14, 1929, Prince Pierre inaugurated the circuit ahead of the 1st Monaco Grand Prix, performing a lap of honour in a Voisin Torpedo driven by Race Director Charles Faroux.

Louis Chiron was notable by his absence from the start-line that day, as the young Monegasque driver had entered the Indianapolis 500.

Back in Monaco, meanwhile, there were 16 cars on the grid (eight Bugattis, three Alfa Romeos, two Maseratis, a Licorne and a Mercedes SSK), with starting positions drawn at random. An Englishman by the name of ‘Williams’ – who had arrived too late to take part in the official practice sessions – got up at dawn on the Saturday and stunned all onlookers with an unofficial practice run. ‘Williams’ went on to win the Grand Prix in a green 35B Bugatti in a time of 3 hours, 56 minutes and 11 seconds, at an average speed over the 100 laps of 80.194kph.

The race through the tight-and-twisty streets of the Principality was such a phenomenal success that practically overnight, the ACM found itself transformed. Expansion was essential, with the number of members increasing rapidly, from 712 in 1929 to 841 in 1930 and 910 in 1931, including 41 women… It was already a far cry from the 21 friends who had established the Sport Vélocipédique de la Principauté four decades earlier!

On November 8, 1940 and with the Second World War in its infancy, Alexandre Noghès stepped down from the Presidency after 31 years, justifiably considering that he had accomplished his mission. Nine days later, on November 17, his son Antony was elected as his successor – and with cars having been requisitioned for the war effort, the bicycles reappeared! Alexandre Noghès died on February 25, 1944, at the age of 79.

After almost a decade of difficulties relating to the war and its aftermath, on May 16, 1948, the almost forgotten roar of single-seater engines was once more heard echoing through the streets of the Principality.

Life had returned to normal and two years later, in 1950, the Formula 1 World Championship was created. On May 21, Argentina’s Juan-Manuel Fangio prevailed in the Principality, winning the 11th Monaco Grand Prix.

On April 14, 1953, President Antony Noghès called time on his intensive work with the club. He was succeeded by Alexandre Auttier the following year.

Five years later, the ACM moved to a new home.

Since its foundation in 1890, the club’s headquarters had relocated first from the Café de la Méditerranée on Boulevard de la Condamine (now Boulevard Albert 1er) to the Café du Siècle on the corner of Place d’Armes and Avenue de la Gare (now Avenue Prince Pierre). In 1907, it switched to No. 5 on the same Avenue, before moving again in 1923 to the ground floor of No. 1, Rue Suffren-Reymond and then in 1931, it made its home at No. 45, Rue Grimaldi.

On April 15, 1958, their Royal Highnesses the Sovereign Prince and Princess Grace of Monaco honoured the inauguration of the club’s new headquarters with their presence and signed the guestbook. This took place at No. 23, Boulevard Albert 1er, which remains the ACM’s base to this day.

Since March 7, 1972, the current ACM team has been re-writing history on a daily basis, whilst at the same time preparing for the future. One of its first key actions was to create a Marshals Corps for road and track events. These voluntary members must demonstrate an exemplary level of professionalism in order to carry out supervisory and safety functions during both the Rallye Monte-Carlo and the Monaco Grand Prix. This requires specific training that culminates in an internationally recognised licence which is re-evaluated on an annual basis. This small, 700-strong army benefits from a very clear hierarchy and organisation and is universally praised for its efficiency.

In 1984, the ACM headquarters extended firstly with the acquisition of the former Rambaldi garage on Boulevard Albert 1er, followed by the rental of premises belonging to the Rosso printing works.

On Rue Grimaldi, meanwhile, the club purchased the Galerie Park Palace and rented its three adjoining boutiques, before adding the SAMIPA building to its set of occupied premises.

This meant that between 1972 and 2015, the ACM’s owned and occupied premises increased five-fold.

That allowed for the introduction of a restaurant, a bar, private members’ rooms, a McGregor collections boutique, the ‘ACM Sport & Marketing’ agency, a ticket office for events and several technical areas rented out to Maison de France.

All of this expansion has been necessary to ensure the ACM’s efficient everyday functioning and effective communication at all times between the association’s premises on Boulevard Albert 1er and those on Rue Grimaldi. This is to the immediate benefit of the organisation and management of Monaco’s motorsport events and the club’s members-only services.

The club’s long and illustrious history owes much to its volunteers and permanent members who have all exhibited common human values down the years. This is in addition to an unswerving loyalty to the Principality’s institutions and a burning desire to be – on both a sporting and technical level – the very best in the world in a global field where amateurism no longer has a place.

Today, events run by the Automobile Club de Monaco continue to be organised with the utmost respect for tradition and innovation, whilst retaining the same bold vision that characterised the association’s founders and pioneers so many years ago…