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1-7 May: Motoring Milestones

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Momentous motoring events that took place during this week in history …..

170 years ago this week, Robert W. Thomson of Adelphi, Middlesex, England was issued the first US patent for “Rubber Tyres” (No. 5104) [7 May 1847]. His “improvement in carriage wheels” was the application of elastic bearings around the rims of carriage wheels. This was based on his British patent, issued 10 Jun 1846 (No. 10,990).……110 years ago this week, the first Nelson automobile was completed in Detroit by the E.A. Nelson Motor Car Company [1 May 1917]. The Nelson was manufactured from 1917-21, and was designed by Emil A. Nelson, who formerly worked for Oldsmobile, Packard, and Hupmobile. It was designed along European lines and was equipped with a 2.4 litre four-cylinder aero-type engine with overhead cams. The vehicle was built as roadsters and a handful of closed models although the bulk of the company’s production was touring cars. Approximately 350 vehicles were built through the end of 1920, but vehicles continued to be sold until 1921……. 90 years ago this week, the record for the fastest single lap driven on a board track (championship car) was set by Frank Lockhart on the Atlantic City track in a Miller 91 rear drive with an average speed of 147.229 mph [7 May 1927]. This record was finally exceeded in 1960 at Indianapolis with a qualifying speed of 149.056 mph set by Jim Hurtubise…….Dr. Havranek and F Skopal both died during practice for Zbraslav to Jíloviste hillclimb just outside Prague. Havranek lost control on a curve and upturned his Bugatti [3 May 1927]. His mechanic Frantisek Skopal was dead on the spot Dr. Havranek died few days after in hospital….. The LaSalle was introduced as a companion 1927 LaSalle Ad-04marque of Cadillac [5 May 1927]. Using the same platform as the Cadillac, the LaSalle was designed by Harley Earl who saw the new vehicle not as a junior Cadillac, but rather as an agile and stylish vehicle. According to one writer:“Harley J. Earl was an unparalleled automobile designer. He was a dreamer, an artisan, an artist and a genius all tied up in one. He personified the brand’s soul.” The new LaSalle quickly became a trend-setting automobile. It used the Cadillac Ninety Degree V-8 which, coupled with the LaSalle’s smaller size, made it fast. The LaSalle was introduced to the automobile-buying public just prior to the beginning of the Great Depression. During the Great Depression, car sales slowed and a number of manufacturers went out of business. General Motors eliminated its Viking and Marquette brands. Cadillac sales fell, but many loyal Cadillac buyers switched to the LaSalle to save money. By 1935, the LaSalle was more closely related to the Oldsmobile than to the Cadillac. It sold for about $1,000 less than the Cadillac and its primary business mission was to keep the GM luxury car division profitable. However, the LaSalle faced stiff competition from the Packard One-Twenty (introduced in 1935) and from the Lincoln-Zephyr (introduced in 1936). In the Fall of 1939, the 1940 LaSalle was introduced with a full array of body styles, including a convertible. This was to be the last model year for the LaSalle…… 80 years ago this week, the Campbell Circuit at Brooklands for road racing was officially opened [1 May 1937]. The lap distance was 2.267 miles and the width of the concrete track was 32 ft increasing to 40 ft at the corners. It was an anticlockwise circuit. The first corner was a sharp right hander called the Test Hill hairpin, so called because it was at the bottom end of the Test Hill, followed by a fairly steep rise. This section of the track is now the museum entrance road, the gate being about where the bridge used to be. At the end of this straight the track turned left onto the Member’s Banking, under the Member’s Bridge, over the Bump of the Hennebique Bridge and on to the Railway Straight. Half way down they took a 90 degree left turn on to the infield section.

Campbell Circuit at Brooklands
Campbell Circuit at Brooklands

This was followed by a left on to Solomon’s Straight, the sweeping right 170 Aerodrome Curve and then on to Sahara Straight straight running parallel with the old Finishing Straight. At the end of Sahara Straight was the sharp left hand bend called Vickers Bridge Corner followed by a bridge over the River Wey. After this the cars turned the Fork Bend which was a left handed sweep across the Fork end of the Finishing Straight. The track then ran back towards the clubhouse parallel with the Finishing Straight. New pits were constucted on the left hand side after Fork Bend and spectators could get up to a viewing gallery over the pits where they could see a good view of the action. The inaugural race was won by Bira in a Maserati…….. C. N. Teetor, founder of the Teetor-Hartley Motor Company who designed the first enbloc 4-cylinder engine in 1909 and later founded the Perfect Circle Company, manufacturers of piston rings, died in Hagerstown, Illinois, US aged 66 [2 May 1937]……. In an effort to induce manufacturers to develop new cars that would be competitive with the dominant Germans, in 1937 the French government announced the Prix du Millioní, or the Million Franc Race in Monthléry [6 May 1937]. The prize money was a million francs to beat the existing average speed record of 146.508 km/h over the 200 km distance. René Dreyfus won the race with Delahaye 145 V12 with an average of 146.654 km/h taking the prize for the marque and becoming a hero in France……. 50 years ago this week, Lorenzo Bandini running second to Denny Hulme on the 82nd lap, when he lost control of his car at the harbour chicane at the

Denny Hulme, Monaco GP 1967
Denny Hulme, Monaco GP 1967

Monaco Grand Prix [7 May 1967]. He had just entered an S-turn when his Ferrari’s left rear wheel hit the guard rail, sending him into an erratic skid. It impacted a light pole and overturned. The car hit straw bales which lined the harbour side, rupturing the fuel tank, and sparks ignited the fuel as the car rolled over, with Bandini trapped beneath it. Marshals flipped his car upright and pulled Bandini, unconscious, out from the flaming Ferrari. It is thought that, during the effort to right the overturned car, gasoline leaked on the hot brake line or the exhaust pipe and exploded. A second fire occurred when the gas tank exploded after Bandini had been pulled away from the Ferrari. Bandini’s burns were extensive, with third degree burns covering more than 70% of his body. He also sustained a chest wound and ten chest fractures. Sadly he died three days later aged 31…… on the same day [7 May 1967] Don Prudhomme, driving a modified Ford, became the first dragster to run the quarter mile in less than seven seconds when he reached 226 mph at the National Hot Rod Association World Series in Carlsbad, California. Prudhomme first appeared on the national hot rod scene by dominating the March Meet at Baker

Riverside Hot Rod Drag Race, Riverside, CA, 1967
Riverside Hot Rod Drag Race, Riverside, CA, 1967

sfield, in his home state of California. So quick was he off the starting line that he earned the nickname “The Snake.” Don started his career as a custom car painter, a trade that he gave up because of the success of his hot-rodding hobby. However, he never lost the touch for marketing and flair that he cultivated as a car painter, and he has long since been credited with infusing drag racing with entrepreneurial genius. His friendly rivalry with Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen drew widespread media attention and attracted new sponsorship for his sport. Winning his first NHRA title at the 1965 Winter Nationals, Prudhomme started a run of six Top Fuel titles. He switched to Funny Car racing in 1973 and went on to win four consecutive NHRA titles in that class. Prudhomme returned to Top Fuel racing at the end of his career and weathered a series of terrifying accidents before he regained his customary position at the top of the table of NHRA rankings. Don “The Snake” Prudhomme may not be a household name, but to anyone who’s ever imagined going from 0 to 250 mph in a few seconds, he’s legendary…… 60 years ago this week, a fully-synchronized four-speed transmission was first made available on the 1957 model Corvette, as a US$188.30 option [1 May 1957]…….. 50 years ago this week, the seventy-millionth U.S.-built Ford vehicle was produced [3 May 1967]…… The first motorway tunnel in the UK, the 370 metre long M4 twin-bored Crindau (or Brynglas) Tunnel near Newport opened [5 May 1967]……40 years ago this week, Edward Nicholas Cole (67), a General Motors executive died when a small plane his was piloting crashed during a storm [2 May 1977]. He coordinated the development of the Corvair, was chief engineer of the Chevrolet Vega and directed the GM design staff in developing their first subcompact, four passenger vehicle……. A merger between Volvo and Saab was proposed, but failed to materialise [6 May 1977]….. On the same day [6 May 1987] Mario Andretti set the one-lap speed record at Indianapolis 500 at 218.204 mph…… 30 years ago this week, Nigel Mansell driving a Williams FW11B won the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola [3 May 1987]. It was Mansell’s eighth Grand Prix victory, his first (of two) at the Imola circuit. Mansell finished 27 seconds ahead of Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna driving a Lotus 99T. Third was Italian driver Michele Alboreto driving a Ferrari F1/87. The win gave Mansell a one point lead in the championship over French McLaren driver Alain Prost….. On the same day [3 May 1987] An infamous day in NASCAR history. Bill Elliott earlier in the week had qualified his #9 Coors-Melling Ford Thunderbird at a record 212.809 mph (a record which still stands today) for the Winston 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway. Davey Allison qualified third, while father Bobby started second alongside Elliott in the #22 Miller Buick. Bobby Allison on lap 22 hit a piece of debris, cutting his right-rear tyre, turning the car sideways, lifting it into the air, and crashing vertically into the spectator fence near the start finish line. The car landed back on the track and collided with a number of other competitors. Davey was ahead of his father at the time. Bobby Allison was not injured, but the crash slightly injured several spectators and the race was red-flagged for two hours and thirty-eight minutes. This incident led to the requirement of smaller carburettors, and later, carburetor restrictor plates on engines at Daytona and Talladega to reduce the top speeds……..10 years ago this week, a fully automated road-charging system called a Controlled Vehicular Access (CVA) was launched in Malta’s capital city of Valletta, reducing the number of vehicles entering the city each day from 10,000 to 7,900 [1 May 2007]. A number of innovations were introduced, including variable payments according to the duration of stay and flexible exemption rules, including exemptions for residents within the charging zone and monthly billing options for vehicle owners…… The record for the largest parade of Ferrari cars is 128 and was achieved by el Ayuntamiento de Alcázar de San Juan with the support of Ferrari Club Spain, in Ciudad Real, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain [5 May 2007].

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