10-16 October: Motoring Milestones

Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include: Vanderbilt Trophy, Damon Hill, Jaguar, Jensen and Henry Ford.

115 years ago this week, in the early days of the automobile, it was not the practical uses of the new invention that attracted the most widespread attention, but rather the thrill of motor sports . The always entrepreneurial Henry Ford, who had been constructing automobiles since 1896, recognized the public’s enthusiasm for the new sport, and so sought to establish his name as a racing manufacturer and driver. On this day [10 October 1901], Henry Ford drove one of his automobiles for the first and last time in an automobile race. Sponsored by the Detroit Racing Club and held at the Grosse Point Race Track in Michigan, Ford puttered up to the starting line of the main 10-lap race in an automobile he had constructed earlier in the summer with engineer Oliver Barthel. Ford’s competitors were the famed Alexander Winston and another driver who withdrew just before the start of the race because of a mechanical problem. The experienced Winston was clearly the superior driver, but fortune proved to be in Ford’s favor as Winston’s machine began leaving a trail of smoke after three laps, and he had to withdraw. Although Ford won the race and the kind of public acclaim he had hoped for, he found the

Henry Ford and driver Barney Oldfield posing with the legendary 999 race car.
Henry Ford and driver Barney Oldfield posing with the legendary 999 race car.

experience so terrifying that he retired as a competitive driver, reportedly explaining that “once is enough.” Nevertheless, Ford continued to construct automobiles for motor racing, and a year later Barney Oldfield drove into motor racing history in Ford’s 999 racer, kicking off a legendary driving career and winning Ford his first major racing victory. With the prestige of racing under his belt, Ford went on to establish the Ford Motor Company in the following year, making a fortune as he pioneered the modern assembly-line manufacturing that put the automobile within the average American’s reach. But motor racing still remained important to the Ford Motor Company, and today Ford is the only automaker that can lay claim to victory in the Indy 500, Daytona 500, 24-Hours of LeMans and Daytona, 12 hours of Sebring, the Monte Carlo Rally, and the Baja 1000…… A White steamer driven by Robin H White won the 5 and 10 mile races in Detroit, Michigan, often cited as the first ‘serious’ track races in the US [11 October 1901]…… 105 years this week, Sir William Crossley, cofounder of Crossley Brothers Ltd (later Crossley Motors Ltd), died [12 October 1911]…… 90 years ago this week, Wunibald Kamm was issued a German patent for his automobile body design, the only patent ever held personally by an aerodynamic pioneer [11 October 1926]…… The Wilys-Overland Company acquired rights to the independent front wheel suspension system developed by Sizaire Freres of France [14 October 1926]…… 80 years ago this week, the first Vanderbilt Trophy race was staged at the Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury, New York and won by Tazio Nuvolari in an Alfa Romeo [12 October 1936]. George Vanderbilt, a cousin of William K. Vanderbilt Jr., was the patron of the reborn classic race, and a ceremonial first lap is driven by track manager Colonel George Robertson in the Locomobile Old 16 – the winning driver and car of the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup…… The MG SA 2-litre made its debut at the 30th International Motor Exhibition at Olympia in London [15 October 1936]. Olympia’s story began in May 1884 when John Whitley created the National Agricultural Hall Company with the aim of building and operating the country’s largest covered show centre. The National Agricultural Hall soon changed its name to Olympia in keeping with its ideals and objectives. Opened in 1886, it covered an area of 4 acres. The Grand Hall, 450 feet by 250. The hall was said to be the largest building in the kingdom covered by one span of iron and glass…… 70 years ago this week, Unimog, multi-purpose auto four-wheel drive medium trucks produced by Mercedes-Benz, were introduced [10 October 1946]…… 60 years ago this week, Jaguar Cars Ltd announced its withdrawal from motor racing [13 October 1956] …… on the same day Edward R Dye (59), the inventor of the ‘cloverleaf’ highway interchange and an advocate of seat belts died in Orchard Park, New York…… 50 years ago this week, Jensen presented its latest models, the FF and Interceptor [11 October 1966]. The FF was the first non all-terrain production car equipped with 4WD and an anti-locking braking system. The Jensen Interceptorletters FF stood for Ferguson Formula, after Ferguson Research Ltd, who invented the car’s four-wheel-drive system. The rear-wheel-drive Interceptor looked similar to the FF, and both were powered by a 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 engine…… Jaguar announced the 420 and 420G models [13 October 1966]. The 420G was a revised Mk X, while the 420 was a restyled S-type with the quad headlamp look…… In McKinney, Texas, it was reported that a 75-year-old male driver received 10 traffic tickets, drove on the wrong side of the road four times, committed four hit-and-run offences, and caused six accidents, all within 20 minutes [15 October 1966]. It is ironic that the record book’s worst driver is a native Texan, because Texans, especially residents of Houston, are consistently ranked as the best drivers in the US. On another record-breaking bad driver note, Mrs. Fannie Turner of Little Rock, Arkansas, finally overcame her driving demons this month in 1978 when she finally passed the written test for drivers -it was her 104th attempt….on the same day [15 October 1966] John Hogg, Britain’s most banned driver was sentenced in the High Court, Edinburgh to 5 ½ years in prison and his 3rd, 4th and 5th life bans for drunk driving in a stolen car whilst disqualified…… 40 years ago this week, The US Congress passed legislation establishing the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requiring all new automobiles manufactured to have an average fuel consumption of at least 18 mpg [15 October 1976]…… 30 years ago this week, Benneton recorded its first Formula 1 win, with Gerhard Berger at the Mexican Grand Prix [12 October 1986]…… 20 years ago this week, Ford bought rights to name Detroit’s domed indoor American football stadium for $40 million [11 October 1996]. Ford Field hosted Super Bowl XL on February 5, 2006, as the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 21–10 to win their fifth Super Bowl championship in front of 68,206 spectators…… Damon Hill won the World Championship in Suzuka, Japan and became the first son of a World Champion to grab the title himself [13 October 1996]. That season Hill equalled the record for starting all 16 races of the season from the front row, matching Ayrton Senna in 1989 and Alain Prost in 1993. Despite winning the title, Hill learned before the season’s close that he was to be dropped by Williams in favour of Frentzen for the following season. Hill left Williams as the team’s second most successful driver in terms of race victories, with 21, second only to Mansell. Hill’s 1996 world championship earned him his second BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, making him one of only three people to receive the award twice – the others being boxer Henry Cooper and Mansell. He was also awarded the Segrave Trophy by the Royal Automobile Club. The trophy is awarded to the British national who accomplishes the most outstanding demonstration of the possibilities of transport by land, sea, air, or water…… 15 years ago this week, Jean Daninos (94) constructor of luxury cars Facel Vega, died from cancer [13 October 2001].

Facel Vega - 1954
Facel Vega – 1954

The first Facel Vega model, designed by Daninos himself, debuted in 1954, equipped with a Chrysler engine. Daninos counted among his clients celebrities (eg Tony Curtis, Ava Gardner) and racing drivers (eg Stirling Moss, Maurice Trintignant). Several sports car models followed until the company’s demise in the mid-1960s. During ten years of production, Facel manufactured 3,000 automobile…… 10 years ago this week, General Motors began producing the Hummer H3 (with a 3.5-litre, straight-5-cylinder L52 engine that produced 220 bhp) at its Port Elizabeth plant in South Africa for international markets [10 October 2010]…… 5 years ago this week, Joel “Taz” DiGregorio (67), keyboardist for the Charles Daniel Band, was killed in a car accident [12 October 2011]. He co-wrote the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”….. Race car driver and 2-time Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon (33) died in a fiery crash during the IndyCar world Championships at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway [16 October 2011]. He was driving one of 15 cards involved in massive crash between turns 1 and 2 or lap 11. His car flew high into the fence before landing upside down on the edge of the wall. Wheldon’s helmet hit the wall, causing an unsurvivable head injury.

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