16-22 November: Motoring Milestones

Discover the most momentous motor events that took place this week in history ……..

120 years ago this week, the first car to be produced under the Mercedes name was taken for its inaugural drive in Cannstatt, Germany [22 November 1900]. The car was specially built for its buyer, Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur with a passion for fast, flashy cars. Jellinek had commissioned the Mercedes car from the German company Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft: it was lighter and sleeker than any car the company had made before, and Jellinek was confident that it would win races so handily that besotted buyers would snap it up. (He was so confident that he bought 36 of them.) In exchange for this extraordinary patronage, the company agreed to name its new machine after Jellinek’s 11-year-old daughter, Mercedes………80 years ago this week, the Richardson Pan-American Highway Expedition (cove image) began as a white 1941 Plymouth P11 Deluxe four-door sedan, with special equipment including 18-inch “high-clearance” wheels driven by Sullivan Richardson, Arnold Whitaker and Kenneth C Van Hee departed Detroit on the first automobile trip from North America to Punta Arenas, Magallanes, Chile at the southern tip of South America [18 November 1940]. In scope and magnitude the epic adventure surpassed those pioneer automobilists that first crossed the United States at the turn of the century. The Richardson Expedition crossed not only the US but encompassed the area spanning two continents-crossing trackless wilderness, endless mud, un-chartered territory and obstacles of every sort that Mother Nature could throw against them. The distance of more than 15,000 miles that was covered in eight months; the car survived the trip down and back, but was sadly scrapped long ago. The only piece of this P11 that remains is the passenger rear door, which is on display at a bar in Miami, Arizona…….on the same day [18 November 1940], Buick built its 4,000,000th automobile……. The first 6-cylinder Ford car was produced since the unsuccessful Model K of 1906-08 [20 November 1940]……..70 years ago this week, Cadillac achieved six figure model year production for the first time – the 100,000th 1950 Cadillac was a Fleetwood Sixty Special Sedan [16 November 1950]…….. The Kaiser Golden Dragon, a trim option and later a model of car

Kaiser Golden Dragon

produced by the American Kaiser Motors Corporation, was introduced [17 November 1950]. The name, Dragon, came from the vinyl upholstery claimed to resemble dragon skin. The cars also had thick carpet. Then came the second series cars, named for their color (i.e. Mariner Gray was called “Silver Dragon”) and vinyl on the roof, which had a different pattern to it than the interior, and so was called Dinosaur. The last series came only in Tropical Green and were called “Jade Dragons”…….60 years ago this week, just two weeks after the 1961 DeSoto was introduced to an uninterested market, Chrysler announced the termination of the DeSoto marque [18 November 1960]. The Chrysler DeSoto was a hit even before the first model was built in the summer of 1928. When Walter P. Chrysler announced that his Chrysler Corporation intended to build a mid-priced vehicle boasting six-cylinders, dealerships signed on immediately, and in the first 12 months of production the DeSoto set a sales record that stood for 30 years. The automobile, named after Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, was a large and powerful vehicle marketed to the average American car buyer. The innovative designs of the DeSotos of the 1930s were as daring as their namesake. In 1958, DeSoto’s designers introduced their most flamboyant cars ever, the Firesweeps, Firedomes, and Fireflites, but the public failed to embrace these new models, and all but the Fireflite was dropped in 1959. In 1960, William C. Newberg, the new president at Chrysler, decided to limit the DeSoto program, and the uninspired 1961 DeSoto was doomed for failure…….. Stirling Moss won the season-ending United States Grand Prix at the Riverside International Raceway in California from Lotus team-mate Innes Ireland. But the event failed to capture the imagination of the US public despite local Dan Gurney’s involvement and only attracted a crowd of 25,000 people [20 November 1960]. A PR blunder by organiser Alec Ullmann did not help as he alienated all the local media who consequently ignored the event. Ullmann lost substantial sums on the event but paid Moss’s winnings of $7500 and all other creditors out of his own pocket. Gurney endured a miserable race and retired on lap 18 with an overheated engine. Bruce McLaren finished third ahead of newly-crowned world champion Jack Brabham. With nothing at stake, Ferrari opted to stay away but allowed drivers Taffy von Trips and Phil Hill to race with other teams……..50 years ago this week, an unmanned Soviet lunar probe, Luna 17, soft-landed in the Sea of Rains on the surface of the moon [17 November 1970]. Hours later, Lunokhod 1, a self-propelled vehicle controlled by Soviet mission control on earth, rolled out of the Luna landing probe, and became the first wheeled vehicle to travel on the

Lunokhod 1,

surface of the moon. The vehicle formed of a tub-like compartment with a large convex lid on eight independently powered wheels, was equipped with a cone-shaped antenna, a highly directional helical antenna, four television cameras, and special extendable devices to impact the lunar soil for soil density and mechanical property tests. An x-ray spectrometer, an x-ray telescope, cosmic-ray detectors, and a laser device were also included. The vehicle was powered by a solar cell array mounted on the underside of the lid. Lunokhod was intended to operate through three lunar days but actually operated for eleven lunar days (eleven earth months). The operations of Lunokhod officially ceased on 4 October 1971, the anniversary of Sputnik 1, after having travelled over 10.5 kilometers while taking pictures and performing numerous tests. Luna 17 continued the spate of successes in Soviet lunar exploration begun by Luna 16 and Zond 8. Luna 17 carried Lunokhod 1, the first in a series of robot lunar roving vehicles whose conception had begun in the early 1960s, originally as part of the piloted lunar landing operations…….. The rarest of Ford Mustangs, the Boss 351, debuted at the Detroit Auto Show in Michigan [21 November 1970]. The car, with eye-catching looks aided by a 60-degree sloping fastback, was powered by a fierce 5.4 litre, 330-bhp, 8-cylinder engine built on Ford’s new ‘Cleveland’ block. The Boss 351 was manufactured for just a single production year, 1971, and only 1,806 units were made, compared with the 500,000 Mustangs manufactured and sold by Ford in 1965 alone……… Ronnie Sox became the first person to run 140 mph (225.3 km/h) at the end of the 1/4-mile in an NHRA Pro Stock car when he ran 140.18 mph at Ontario, California, US [22 November 1970]…….40 years ago this week, Ken Langley and Garry Sowerby crashed their Volvo DL wagon through a red-and-yellow paper finish line and into the record books for the fastest-ever drive around the world [19 November 1980]. With Sowerby at the wheel and Langley navigating, the ‘Odyssey 77’ team drove through 24 countries across North America, Australia, Europe and Asia. They had to drive the equivalent length of the Earth’s equator — 24,901.55 miles. The two Canadians arrived at the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada at 2:11 p.m. EST — 74 days and 51 minutes after their September 6 departure, three days ahead of schedule. They drove 26.893.75 miles (43,030 kilometres) to eclipse the previous mark of 102 days set by American Johnnie Parsons in 1976. They conquered Australia’s desolate outback, India’s tropical jungles and the arid semi-deserts of Pakistan. They drove through five communist nations, bathed on the sunny beaches of Monaco and southern Spain, and stood on the Arctic Circle in swirling snow at Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland. The Volvo had only minor mechanical problems. In the rugged outback, dust penetrated the voltage regulator, a flying rock cracked the windshield and a rangy kangaroo dented the fender in a losing, fatal game of chance. A sharp rock pierced a front tire when they slipped off a flooded road in India and a front shock collapsed on a washboard secondary road in Sweden…….. The 157.192 mpg at 55 mph petrol record was set [20 November 1980]. Inventor, Doug Malewicki drove his lightweight streamlined California Commuter from Los Angeles to San Francisco where the machine was featured at the San Francisco International Auto Show. Only 2.87 gallons were consumed in the 451.3 mile trip!……. Henri Toivonen and Paul White won the RAC Rally with a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus [21 November 1980]……..30 years ago this week, Dale Earnhardt led all but the first 50 laps as he dominated the 312-mile Checker 500 at Phoenix, Arizona (US) [18 November 1990]. Earnhardt took the points lead as leading contender Mark Martin ­struggled, finishing 10th……… Layne Hall of Silver Creek, New York, died at the age of 105, according to his death certificate [20 November 1990]. However, Halls’s active driver’s license, issued to the youthful centenarian in 1988, stated that Halls was in fact one month shy of 110 years old. Whether he was actually 110 years old, or only 105, Hall had the distinction of being the oldest licensed driver in the United States at the time. If he was 110, he likely beat the previous record holder, Mrs. Maude Tull of Inglewood, California, who was issued a license renewal in 1976 at the age of 104. Tull first took up driving at the age of ninety-one after her husband died……. Stan Fox won the last race ever held at the legendary Ascot Park dirt track, located near Gardena in Los Angeles, California [22 November 1990]. The track opened in 1957, as Los Angeles Speedway, on the site of a former city dump. With seating for only 7,500, Ascot Park was smaller than the other tracks of the area including the Ontario Motor Speedway (closed in 1980), and the Riverside International Raceway (closed in 1989). However, the park was equally well-known, due to: its location, surrounded, by freeways for easy access; its regularly scheduled races; and, its heavy radio advertising. The half-mile course featured tight semi-banked turns, long straight-ways, and a tacky surface that was conducive to dramatic sprint car racing. Other motorsport events, such as Figure 8 racing and motorcycle flat track and TT racing, were also held at Ascot. The dirt racetrack hosted the United States Auto Club (USAC) championship series, the AMA Grand National Championship motorcycle series and was used in movies like the original Gone in 60 Seconds, A Very Brady Christmas, and CHiPs. Ascot was also the site of the annual USAC Turkey Night Grand Prix midget race on Thanksgiving. Though he began doing stunt jumps in 1966 at small venues such as fairs and carnivals, Evel Knievel (Robert Craig Knievel) gained international attention with his first televised jump on ABC’s Wide World of Sports at Ascot Park Raceway on March 25, 1967, successfully clearing 15 cars. The 50th annual Turkey Night Grand Prix for United States Auto Club midget cars became the last of more than 5,000 main events held since the track opened. Ascot Park was closed in November 1990. It remained unused after a failed development project occupied the former site for a number of years. The track site was later replaced by an auto auction building and storageyard……..20 years ago this week, Jerry Nadeau held off Dale Earnhardt to post his first career victory in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway (US) [20 November 2000]. Bobby Labonte finished fifth to take the NASCAR Winston Cup championship by 261 points over Jeff Burton. Darrell Waltrip used a champion’s provisional to enter the race and finished 34th, seven laps off the pace. It was the final race of Waltrip’s illustrious career.

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