11-17 May: Motoring Milestones

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

130 years ago this week, Emile Levassor married Louise Sarazin, the widow of Edouard Sarazin and the French distributor of Daimler engines [17 May 1890]. The marriage set the stage for Levassor’s business venture, Panhard et Levassor, which would use Daimler engines in its cars. Emile, France’s premier car racer before the turn of the century, set an early record by driving from Paris to Bordeaux and back at an average of 14.9 mph in 1895. His cutting-edge Panhard had a 2.4 liter engine that produced 4 hp. Just two years later, Levassor’s Daimler engine was capable of pushing the lightweight, wood-framed Panhard to over 70 mph. Imagine driving at that speed on bumpy, dusty roads, sitting on a wooden plank bolted to a frame with no suspension………120 years ago this week, the first competitive English sprint race held at Welbeck Park as part of the Thousands Miles Trial was won by Hon Charles S Rolls, driving a Panhard [11 May 1900]…….. Friz Held driving a Benz won the Mannheim-Pforzheim-Mannheim road race [13 May 1900]…….. New York City issued its first driver’s license; by 1918 all states required license plates [15 May 1900]. States were slower to require licenses for drivers. Only 39 states issued them by 1935 and few required a test, despite widespread concern about incompetent drivers. Early motorists were taught to drive by automobile salesmen, family and friends, or organizations like the YMCA. By the 1930s, many high schools offered driver education……..100 years ago his week, the 4,000,000th Ford Model T was produced [11 May 1920]…….90 years ago this week, rocket-powered automobile pioneer Max Valier (35) was killed in Berlin, Germany when an alcohol rocket exploded during testing [17 May 1930]. He had worked with Fritz von Opel on a number of rocket-

powered cars and aircraft. For von Opel, these were publicity stunts for the Opel company, and for Valier, a way of further raising interest in rocketry amongst the general population. It was Valier who enlisted the assistance of Friedrich Sander in these endeavours as the supplier of solid-fuel rocket motors. By the late 1920s, the VfR was focussing its efforts on liquid-fuelled rockets. Their first successful test firing with liquid fuel (five minutes) occurred in the Heylandt plant on January 25, 1930. On April 19, 1930, Valier performed the first test drive of a rocket car with liquid propulsion, the Valier-Heylandt Rak 7…….70 years ago this week, the very first round of the Formula One World Championship was held on the Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire, England [13 May 1950]. The event was graced by the presence of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth – the first and only time a reigning monarch has attended a motor race in Britain. Silverstone was originally a

military airfield and the British Racing Drivers’ Club had organised the first post-war British Grand Prix there in 1948 after pre-war circuits such as Brooklands and Donington Park had fallen into disuse. The introduction of the ‘official’ World Championship in 1950 was the butt of much criticism from the ‘diehard’ purists in the sport and was virtually ignored by the media. Alfa Romeo went on to dominate the race and filled the first three places, with the top British driver Reg Parnell finishing third, despite hitting a hare. Italy’s Guiseppe Farina took pole position, set the fastest lap and won the 70-lap race by 2.6 seconds……..60 years ago this week, American driver Harry Schell (38) died in practice for the non-championship International Trophy event at Silverstone in 1960, when he crashed his Cooper at Abbey Curve [13 May 1960]. Schell was driving at approximately 100 mph when his car slid into the mud on the side of the track and lost a wheel. The Cooper somersaulted and penetrated a safety barrier, causing a brick wall to collapse. Prior to his death, Schell had been extremely vocal in the promotion of the roll-bar on European racing cars, a safety feature required in America. By the 1500cc formula of 1961, it had become standard in Formula One………. Mickey Thompson, aka “Mr. Speed,” broke Bernd Rosemeyer’s 22-year-old record for the standing mile and standing kilometre, when he drove his “Assault” car to record speeds of 149.93 and 132.94, respectively [14 May 1960]. Thompson’s illustrious career began when, as a boy of 11, he attempted to build a street rod out of collected Chevy parts. Ten years later he made his first trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Though Thompson raced in all kinds of events, including off-road racing, he is best known for his achievements in engineering and racing speed trial cars. He set 295 records at Bonneville alone, and he was the first man to drive a car faster than 400 mph. Thompson enjoyed mixed success at the Indy 500, where he first fielded cars in 1962. Teaming with British chassis designer John Crosthwaite, Thompson built the first Indy Car with a rear-mounted V-8 and fully independent suspension. Thompson’s car engines were bored and stroked to 255 cubic inches, but they had 70 hp less than the racing Offy’s that dominated the Indy field that year. Of Thompson’s three small cars, only one qualified for the race. His car ran much of the race not far from the lead until a mechanical failure forced it from the race. Thompson won the Mechanical Achievement Award for his original design. The next year, while the Lotus-Fords had integrated his innovations, Thompson gave the field even more to think about by widening his car bodies, tires, and wheels. The Lotus-Fords took the spotlight with their power, but one of Thompson’s cars finished an impressive ninth place. Nineteen sixty-four spelled tragedy for Thompson’s Indy Cars, and the outcome of the race forced him from the sport. After introducing radical new car bodies, Thompson’s team had problems from the start. In the end, only Dave MacDonald qualified a Thompson car. Early in the race, MacDonald lost control of his car, crashing into Eddie Sachs and killing both of them. Thompson’s designs came under heavy criticism after the accident, and he stayed away from Indy Cars. In the late 1960s, Mr. Speed made numerous assaults on speed records at Bonneville. In the 1970s, Mickey became interested in off-road racing after he watched the off-road Mint 400 race from his airplane. “It was the most exciting race I’d ever seen,” Thompson told a reporter. He went on to design an off-road vehicle before forming SCORE (Short Course Off-Road Events). Thompson, almost single-handedly, turned off-road racing into an indoor event. At the time of his tragic death in 1988, Thompson had led a full life of racing. He reportedly met his wife, Trudy, in a drag race; she won, so he married her. The couple was gunned down outside their home in California. In 2004, Thompson’s former business partner, Michael Goodwin, was convicted for the murders……. Walt Hansgen beat Gus Andrey when their Maserati Tipo 61s, better known as Birdcage Maseratis, finished first and second in the Modified Class in the SCCA National event at Cumberland, Maryland [15 May 1960]………50 years ago this week, Denny Hulme sustained second and third degree burns to his hands and feet during a cockpit fire in his McLaren during practice for the Indy 500 [12 May 1970]……. Bobby Isaac dominated, leading 271 of 300 laps to win the Beltsville 300, the final race for NASCAR’s top series on Beltsville (Maryland, US) Speedway’s half-mile asphalt track [15 May 1970]. Pole-starter James Hylton finished second, one lap down, with third-place Bobby Allison another lap back. The track, which hosted 10 NASCAR races in its lifespan, closed in 1978 and is now the site of a community college……… Stylist Alex Tremulis drove an aerodynamic Ramona Travoy motor home at El Mirage Dry Lake, California, US to a speed of 97.613 mph, a record for this type of vehicle [16 May 1970]……. Cadwallader Washburn ‘Carl’ Kelsey (89), a Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Company executive, who later built the 1911-14 three-wheeled Motorette and the 1920-21 Kelsey, died [17 May 1970]…….30 years ago this week, Italian driver Riccardo Patrese driving a Williams FW13B won the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola [13 May 1990]. It was Patrese’s third Grand Prix victory, his first since 1983 and his first for Williams. Patrese took a five second victory over Austrian driver Gerhard Berger driving a McLaren MP4/5B. Third was Italian driver Alessandro Nannini driving a Benetton B190…….20 years ago this week, Ford confirmed that car production at its Dagenham plant in Essex would end after more than 70 years, with the loss of around 3,000 jobs with car

assembly at the plant ceasing within two years [13 May 2000]. On the 17, May 1929, Henry Ford’s son Edsel cut the first sod on the reclaimed marshland. Construction of the site took two years with the first vehicle, a Model AA truck, rolling off the production line in October 1931. Vehicle assembly ended in 2002, but the site continued with an expanded engine facility making it a global centre of excellence for diesel engineering. As Henry Ford’s son Edsel cut the first sod on 17, May 1929, it was perhaps prophetic that he hit a large stone and bent the spade, not for the last time would Ford find itself facing hard times.But then, as now, Ford quickly rose to the challenge and some nifty work with a hammer and railway track soon remedied the problem and digging continued. The site, reclaimed marshland previously used for London’s waste, presented its own problems. Around 22,000 concrete piles were driven 80 feet into the ground to form the base of the building. Construction took two years and over a single weekend in September 1931 special trains carried 2,000 employees, their families and possessions, from the Ford plant at Trafford Park, Manchester to their new life in Dagenham. A hospital, foundry, jetty and power station completed the site. At 1.16 pm on 1, October 1931, the first vehicle to be built at Dagenham left the production line. It was a Model AA truck driven off the line by A R (later Sir Rowland) Smith, Ford’s General Manager. Built at a cost of £5 million, the Dagenham factory opened in the depths of the depression and, although business was slow at first, the press referred to Dagenham as a “magnificent gesture of faith in Britain’s commercial future… a lighthouse of hope in a storm-tossed sea of industry.” Before the war Dagenham built the unimaginatively named 8hp, 10hp, 22hp and 30hp ranges. It also built the Model Y (Popular), the first and only full size car to be offered at just £100. From 1939 war production took over with 360,000 light vans, army trucks, balloon winches, mobile canteens and Ford V8-powered Bren Gun carriers rolling off the lines. Dagenham was also responsible for 34,000 Merlin aero engines and 95% of Britain’s vitally important tractor production. And all this took place as over 200 German bombs landed on the Dagenham estate. In the post war years Dagenham turned its interests to the revolutionary Consul and Zephyr range of cars. Major expansion in the 1950s increased floor space by 50% and doubled production. By 1953 the site occupied four million square feet and employed 40,000. In 71 years Dagenham built 10,980,368 cars, trucks and tractors. As the swinging 60s took hold, Dagenham moved on to a car destined to become one of the country’s favourites: the Ford Cortina. By the time the last Cortina left the line in 1982, the plant had built over three million. By this time, Dagenham was already producing the Ford Fiesta, introduced in 1976. In 1982 it was joined by the Ford Sierra, which replaced the Cortina. In May 2000 came the shocking announcement that vehicle assembly at Dagenham would cease and on the 20, February 2002, the vehicle assembly lines stopped for the last time. In 71 years Dagenham had built 10,980,368 cars, trucks and tractors. Placed end to end they would stretch over 400,000km – enough vehicles to circle the world 10 times over. But Dagenham was not finished. A thriving press shop and transport operation were joined by expanded engine facilities, making Dagenham Ford’s global centre of excellence for diesel engineering. The Ford Fiesta was introduced in 1976, it was joined by the Sierra On 6, November 2003, Prime Minister Tony Blair, MP officially opened the Dagenham Diesel Centre (DDC). Covering an area equivalent to seven football pitches the DDC provides state-of-the-art facilities allowing design and production teams to work together under one roof. Designed to address environmental concerns the DDC building makes maximum use of daylight and is powered by two 85 metre high wind turbines. In 2008, the plant produced around 1,050,000 engines and was the largest producer of Ford diesel engines globally. It was announced in October 2012 that the stamping plant at Dagenham would close in summer 2013 with the loss of 1,000 jobs……… Adam Petty (19), the fourth-generation driver of NASCAR’s most famous family, died in a crash during practice for the Busch 200 at New Hampshire International Speedway, US [12 May 2000]………. The former Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder’s Volkswagen Corrado was found abandoned after being stolen and used as the getaway car in an armed robbery on a Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip restaurant in Manchester [13 May 2000]. £7,000 cash was taken in the robbery……… PSA Peugeot Citröen rolled out the 5000th electric car, a white Citroën Saxo, produced at the Heuliez assembly plant in Cerizay, France [17 May 2000].

 

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