A century ago, on a gray June morning in 1907, five cars pulled out of the gates of Peking, their grilles pointed toward Inner Mongolia and the trackless wastes of the Gobi Desert beyond. It was the start of the longest, most grueling auto race to date, an incredible transcontinental journey that could have been plucked from the pages of a Jules Verne adventure. Answering a challenge posed by the French newspaper Le Matin— to drive from Peking to Paris and prove that “as long as a man has a car, he can do anything and go anywhere”—a handful of intrepid motorists made their way to China’s imperial capital for a test that would take them through some of Asia’s remotest corners. There were mishaps aplenty on the leg to Moscow: Frenchman Auguste Pons quit the race after his Contal cycle-car ran out of gas in the Gobi, where he would have died had Mongol nomads not come to the rescue; Italian aristocrat Prince Scipio Borghese’s seven-liter Itala—pictured here being towed through a muddy Chinese street —was almost wrecked when it broke through a bridge in Siberia. But on August 10, two months and some 14,000 kilometers after leaving Peking, the Itala entered Paris 20 days ahead of the competition, earning Borghese the prize: a magnum of Mumm champagne.