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1-7 April: Motoring Milestones

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Discover the momentous motoring events that took place this week in history ……

110 years ago this week, the Welch Motor Car Company of Pontiac, Michigan (US) registered ‘Welch’ as a trademark [1 April 1909]. Like many early American Automobile makers, brothers A. R. Welch and Fred Welch started out as bicycle manufacturers. The Chelsea Manufacturing Company was a bicycle shop in which the Welch brothers experimented with automobiles from 1901 to 1903. A few Welch Tourist were produced in Chelsea, Michigan before the Welch Brothers set up a new factory in Pontiac, Michigan. Both a Touring Car with Tonneau and a Runabout were produced. The 1903 Welch Tourist was equipped with a water cooled vertical double cylinder engine that had advanced features and developed 20 horsepower. The engines were designed to run at low compression and were constructed with both intake and exhaust valves opening directly into the cylinders. The Touring Car and Roadster had a 78 inch wheel base, standard 56 inch tread and weighed 1,600 pounds. Its principal features were a spiral gear transmission controlled by a single lever and a telescoping steering post. Welch began producing four cylinder automobiles with 36 horsepower in 1905. By 1907 a six cylinder automobile with 75 horsepower were produced. With wheelbases of up to 138 they were among the largest American Automobiles of their time. In 1908 and 1909 some of the most expensive of Welch automobiles rolled out of there factories at Pontiac and Detroit, Michigan. A model 4 Touring Car sold for $4,500 while a model 6 Limousine was selling for $7,000. The popular model 4 was produced between 1908 and 1911. It was available in a variety of body styles including Touring, Limousine, Landaulet, and a Town Car. In 1911 William C. Durant’s newly established General Motors Corporation, which had taken over The Welch Motor Car Co. in 1910 produced the last of the Welch automobiles……..100 years ago this week, the first Cleveland was produced by the Cleveland Automobile Company, a subsidiary of the Chandler Motor Car Company [1 April 1919]……90 years ago this week, Karl Friedrich Benz died aged 84 [4 April

Karl Friedrich Benz

1929]. Benz was a German automobile engineer, one of the inventors (with contemporary Gottlieb Daimler) of the petrol-powered automobile, but also credited to have invented among other things, the clutch, the carburettor and the spark plug. Karl Benz was also a great merchant and industrialist, founding the Benz Co., precursor of the Daimler-Benz and later Mercedes-Benz. And before dying he could witness the blooming of automobiles and trucks in the World, used massively in the 1920s decade…….80 years ago this week, the Mercedes-Benz W165 Grand Prix racing car was given its first test runs by Rudolf Caracciola and Hermann Lang at Hockenheim, Germany [6 April 1939]. It competed in just one race, the 1939 Tripoli Grand Prix, where it was driven to victory by Hermann Lang with his team-mate Rudolf Caracciola finishing second. Following an invitation by Tony Hulman, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Caracciola entered a W165 for the Indianapolis 500 in 1946, the first post-war 500, and the first under Hulman’s ownership of the track. The car was not allowed out of Switzerland by Swiss customs and so it did not compete…….70 years ago this week, the  San Remo Grand Prix held at San Remo, run over two heats, was won by Juan Manuel Fangio in a Maserati 4CLT/48 [3 April 1949]……..60 years ago this week, AMC and Sonotone Corporation announced a joint research effort to produce an electric car that was to be powered by a “self-charging” battery [1 April 1959]. Sonotone had the technology for making sintered plate nickel-cadmium batteries that could be recharged very rapidly and were lighter than a typical automobile lead-acid battery…….The two-door 2.5 litre V8 140hp Daimler Dart sports car was launched at the 1959 New York Motor Show, where it was unofficially voted as the ugliest car at the show [4 April 1959]. Daimler were soon forced to drop the Dart name when threatened with legal action by Chrysler’s Dodge division, and the car was then renamed the Daimler SP250. Shortly after being appointed Managing Director (Chief Executive) of BSA’s Automotive Division in 1956, Edward Turner was asked to design a saloon car powered by a V8 engine. The engine drawings were finalised by March 1958, but the saloon prototype, project number DN250, was not available for examination by the committee formed in 1958 to report on the feasibility of the V8 cars. The committee’s evaluation centred on the prototypes being tested at the time, which were for the SP250 sports car project. According to the feasibility study conducted by the committee, the SP250 would generate a profit of more than £700,000 based on a projection of 1,500 cars being sold in the first year of production and 3,000 cars per year for the second and third years of production. Two-thirds of the sales of the car were expected to be in the United States.The study also determined that the body should be made from fibreglass, with shorter time to the beginning of production, tooling costs of £16,000 as opposed to £120,000 for steel bodies, and lower cost to change the styling. The original version, later called the A-spec, could reach a speed of 120 mph (193 km/h), but the chassis, a “14-gauge ladder frame with cruciform bracing” based on the Triumph TR3, flexed so much that doors occasionally came open, marring its reputation. Bumpers were originally an optional extra. With the basic specification not including full bumpers, the A-spec. cars have two short, chromium-plated ‘whiskers’ on the body on either side of the front grille and two short, vertical bumpers, or “overriders” at the rear, which were not included if the rear bumper was optioned. Early A-spec. cars had recesses behind the door handles, but these were phased out. Between twenty-six and thirty black SP250s were used by the British Metropolitan Police in London. These were used by the Traffic Department to catch up with speeders, especially café racers. The police cars used the Borg-Warner Model 8 3-speed automatic, which the Metropolitan Police found to be better for town work and high speed chases, and was also found to be more economical, avoiding the clutch wear that a manual car would develop with usage between 18 and 24 hours a day. Traffic police in Bristol, Cambridge, Liverpool, Manchester, Southend and Surrey also used the SP250 for speed enforcement, as did police forces in Australia and New Zealand. After the opening of the first section of the M1 in 1959, the Bedfordshire police used the SP250 for motorway patrol……. On the same day [4 April 1959], Buddy Baker finished 14th in his NASCAR Grand National debut, at Columbus, South Carolina, US and the only Champ Car race to be held in Daytona was won by Jim Rathmann on 4/4/59. The average speed of the race was 170.261 mph, setting a record that would stand for 14 years……..50 years ago this week, the Mercedes-Benz C111 made its first test run at the Daimler-Benz AG test track in Unterurkheim, Germany [1 April 1969]……..Bobby Isaac piloted his Nord Krauskopf-owned No. 71 Dodge to victory at Columbia (South Carolina, US) Speedway’s half-mile dirt track [3 April 1969]. Isaac started from the pole and led 96 of the 200 laps to top David Pearson by 12 seconds at the finish. Richard Petty took third, one lap back…….40 years ago this week, the final Cannonball Run began at Darien, Connecticut. US [1 April 1979]. The only rule was to reach the Portofino Restaurant in Redondo Beach, Californian in the shortest time possible. Speeding citations received along the way were the driver’s responsibility and did not disqualify the vehicle (although having to stop to receive a ticket increased the vehicle’s overall time). David Heinz of Tampa, Florida and David Yarborough of Charleston, South Carolina completed the 3,000 miles driving a black XJS Jaguar in just 32 hours and 51 minutes…….Dr Hans Nibol, driving the Mercedes-Benz C111/IV with a 4.8-litre V8 petrol engine (368 kW/500 hp) at the Nardo track in Italy, set several speed records, including the closed track record of 250.918 mph [4 April 1979]……..20 years ago this week, a decade of speculation over the future of Silverstone was to follow, but the first shots came from Bernie Ecclestone who warned there was no guarantee the race would stay there when the existing deal ended in 2001 [3 April 1999]. “They can do all the restructuring it likes but I might not sign another contract. Shares in nothing are worth nothing.” He added Silverstone were no longer in discussions with him. “They said they’ll see what happens,” he said. “They don’t know what they are doing at the moment. They are not in any position to sign anything with anyone. Brands Hatch has put forward a proposal to host the Grand Prix and I am considering it.” Its long-term future was not secured until 2010…….In Libya, Moammar Khadafy unveiled plans for a new, safe, 5-passenger “Rocket of the Jamahiriya” automobile [5 April 1999]. The car had the aerodynamic lines of conventional models but the front and rear ends are rocket-shaped.The interior was replete with air bags, an inbuilt electronic defence system, and a collapsible bumper to protect passengers in head-on collisions…….Cars used for a driving test in Britain from this day onwards had to have a front passenger seat belt, head restraints and a rear-view mirror [6 April 1999]…….10 years ago this week, “Fast & Furious” – the fourth film in an action-movie franchise centred around the world of illegal street racing debuted, kicking off a record-breaking $72.5 million opening weekend at the box office in the US [3 April 2009]. “Fast & Furious,” starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez, recorded the all-time highest-grossing opening of any car-themed film, besting the 2006 animated feature “Cars,” which raked in more than $60 million in its opening weekend and went on to earn more than $244 million at the box office. The road leading to “Fast & Furious” began with the sleeper hit “The Fast and the Furious,” which opened in theatres across America on June 18, 2001, and was followed by 2003’s “2 Fast 2 Furious” and 2006’s “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” The “Fast and the Furious” films, which feature dramatic car scenes, pulsating music and good-looking actors and actresses, received mixed reviews from critics but were popular with audiences and spawned a line of video games. So far six films in this franchise have been released, and “Fast & Furious 7″ has resumed shooting in Abu Dhabi after halting production in December following star Paul Walker’s tragic death…….GM and Segway announced that they were working together to develop a two-wheeled, two-seat electric vehicle designed to be a fast, safe, inexpensive and clean alternative to traditional cars and trucks for cities across the world [7 April 2009]. The project was called P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility). It operates on two wheels placed side by side, a layout that differs in placement from motorcycles which instead have their two wheels placed at the front and rear. The PUMA design transfers the two-wheeled self-balancing characteristics of a Segway PT into a vehicle that can carry two passengers side by side at up to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h) for a distance of up to 35 miles (56 km). In addition to the main driving wheels at each side of the vehicle, there are small stabilizing wheels at both front and rear to support the vehicle whilst parked and to limit the maximum leaning angle. The first public prototype weighed approximately 300 pounds (140 kg). One idea proposed was that the vehicle could make use of its Global Positioning System (GPS) determined position to avoid crashes with other vehicles; the position would be transmitted to other vehicles using a communications technology. With all of the vehicles knowing their whereabouts, it would allow each car to drive itself to avoid obstacles including other vehicles and pedestrians. The developers claimed that crash-avoidance systems would eliminate the need for airbags and would include seat belts exclusively for “comfort purposes”.The limited top speed would prevent the use of the vehicle on highways and other roadways.

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