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17-23 June: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, the Automobile Company of America was formed in Bridgeport, Connecticut by John Brisben Walker, Editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, and asphalt paving magnate Amzi Lorenzo Barber [17 June 1899]. The company’s plan was to produce the Locomobile steam car based on designs purchased from F. E. and F. O. Stanley………Ettore Bugatti won the 110 mile (175 km) Padua-Vincenza-Thiene-Bassano-Treviso-Padua road race driving a twin-engined tricycle of his own design [19 June 1899]……..110 years ago this week, Louis Chevrolet won the Ira Cobe Trophy, which was possibly his only road course victory [19 June 1909]. Dubbed the “Vanderbilt of the West” by the press, the trophy was commissioned by Ira Cobe, president of Chicago Automobile Association. This event was more akin to an off-road contest by today’s standards. It was held on a 23.27-mile course of rugged terrain charted in and around the area of Crown Point, Illinois. America’s public roads were deplorable at the time, and what passed for roads were little more than pathways worn by trailblazers. The race was 17 circuits or nearly 396 miles. This rough, craggy terrain tortured the cars as attrition took a big toll. Louis Chevrolet’s, Buick stumbled across the finish line first with only three of four cylinders still functioning.……..The Cole Motor Car Company was founded in Indianapolis, Indiana, US by Joseph Jaret Cole [22 June 1909]……….A Ford Model T crossed the finish line in the New York City to Seattle Endurance Race

Winner of the New York to Seattle Transcontinental Endurance Race in a Model T, 1909

after 22 days and 55 minutes to claim the Guggenheim Cup and a $2,000 first prize [23 June 1909]. A Shawmut came in 17 hours later to win the second-place prize of $1,500, and an Acme car came in on 29 June to claim a $1,000 third prize. The Ford was later disqualified for having switched engines en route. The New York-to-Seattle or Ocean-to-Ocean Endurance Race was dreamed up by Robert Guggenheim to coincide with the start of the equally little-known Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held in Seattle in 1909. Seattle is better-known as sponsor of the 1962 World’s Fair which saw the debut of the Space Needle. The “A-Y-P”, as it is sometimes called, has been largely forgotten, though the 1962 event was in fact developed with the earlier A-Y-P in mind. It was meant to showcase Seattle as a gateway city to Alaska and western Canada as well as the Pacific Rim in general. This all occurred in the wake of the Klondike Gold Rush when thousands of people were headed northwest to seek their fortune in the Yukon and Seattle was a major stopover along the route.Guggenheim was, in part, motivated by his interest in the “better roads” campaign to create a better road system for the country and make roads more suitable for automobiles. Guggenheim had hoped to attract at least 30 participants for the race but, unfortunately, the affair had problems from the start. Deaths from automobile accidents were a public concern even then–324 people had been killed in 1907 alone–and the Manufacturers’ Contest Association refused to sanction the event. Organizers eventually promised that all speed limits would be obeyed and even dropped the word “race” from the event name and called it an “Endurance Contest,” which was probably more accurate anyway. The prize, ponied up by Guggenheim himself, was $2,000 and a trophy plus bragging rights. Unfortunately, only six contestants entered. The start of the race coincided with the start of the A-Y-P on June 1, 1909. President William Howard Taft pressed a golden telegraph key to open the fair and also as a signal to the mayor of New York, George B. McClellan (son of the Civil War General), to fire a golden revolver to start the race. The Stearns dropped out due to mechanical problems on the outskirts of New York City. The rest faced a daunting challenge of summer rains producing deep mud, streams and rivers with few bridges (they often crossed on railroad trestles), and snow in the mountains. The decreased weight of the Fords was an advantage; when stuck, they were light enough for a couple of men to lift up and put wooden planks under the wheels for traction. The race was followed nationally through newspaper accounts. This paragraph ran in the New York Times on June 16: “Hard luck befell the cars in the New York to Seattle automobile race during the past twenty-four hours, and their positions have changed. The Acme car stuck in the mud at Pierce, forty miles south of Cheyenne, early this morning and was nearly all day extricating itself.” Finally, 22 days later Ford No. 2 crossed the finish line at Drumheller Fountain on the University of Washington campus (the fountain is still there) and was declared the winner. The Shawmut crossed the finish line 17 hours later, closely followed by Ford No.1 and the Acme a week later. The Itala dropped out in Wyoming. Ford immediately began a massive advertising campaign touting the inexpensive, lightweight Model T as the best automobile in the race. Sales jumped from 239 in 1908 to over 12,000 in 1909 and kept climbing from there; by 1914 Ford was producing more cars than all other manufacturers combined and by 1916 more than half the cars in the world were Model Ts. Some have even argued that the race saved the company…….90 years ago this week, Ray Keech died in crash during AAA championship race at Altoona, Pennsylvania, USA [17 June 1929]. He is best remembered for winning the 1929 Indianapolis 500, and for setting a land speed record…… on the same day [17 June 1929], The Cord Corporation was organised in Chicago, US as a holding company for his many transportation interests, with E. L. Cord as President, Lucius B. Manning as Vice President, Raymond S. Pruitt as Secretary, and Hayden Hodges as Treasurer. The portfolio of the Cord Corporation included flashy Auburn automobiles, Lycoming engines, Stinson aircraft, Checker taxicabs, and even the mighty Duesenberg among its offerings……….The last MG 14/40 Mk IV was completed [21 June 1929]. Launched in 1927, the car was

MG 14/40 Mk IV

based on the contemporary Morris Oxford flatnose and was a development of the MG 14/28 and was built at Edmund Road, Cowley, Oxford where MG had moved in September 1927. During production it became the first model to carry an MG Octagon badge on its radiator, the previous cars had retained a Morris Oxford badge. The change of name from 14/28 to 14/40 seems mainly to have been a marketing exercise and the reason for the Mark IV is unclear although it has been suggested that it represented the fourth year of production. Externally the cars are very difficult to tell apart. There were some changes to the 14/28 chassis and suspension and the brake servo was deleted.Production ended in 1929, after approximately 700 cars had been built………70 years ago this week, NASCAR staged its first Grand National event at the Charlotte Fairgrounds; the event marked the birth of NASCAR racing as we know it today [19 June 1949]. In 1946, race promoter Bill France began promoting an event in Charlotte. As he explained it, “I

Bill France

wanted to run a 100-mile national championship race at the fairgrounds, but [local sports editor] Wilton Garrison said I couldn’t call it a national championship race.” Garrison argued that France “might call it a North Carolina championship race, but you have to get some kind of a national organization to sanction it in order to call it a national championship race.” So began Bill France’s dream of creating a national sanctioning body for stock-car racing, which would govern a points standing as well as organize races in states across the country. During the 1946 stock-car season, France formed the National Championship Stock-Car Circuit. France withheld a purse for the point fund, kept track of standings, attempted to enforce uniform rules, and paid the drivers on time. That year, France expanded stock-car racing’s range, arranging races all over the South. The 1947 season began with a 160-mile race at Daytona Beach. By the middle of the season, France had incorporated more than a dozen tracks into his circuit; he offered a guaranteed purse of $2,000 at each event; and he had a slogan, “Where the fastest that run, run the fastest.” But at that point most of the race cars were modified stock pre-war Fords, and France and his governing body had a nearly impossible time enforcing regulations placed on modification of the car engines. The combination of his success with the NCSCC and his failure to enforce strict rules led him to call a meeting in December of 1947 at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona to

discuss a more substantial governing body for stock-car racing. What emerged from the meetings was the National Association for Stock-Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR. The 1948 season was a more tightly governed version of the previous year; the sport’s final breakthrough came in 1949. France decided that product identification would greatly add to fan interest in stock-car racing. As all of the major car companies had released postwar models, France created rules in the off-season that would allow for a Grand National division of NASCAR racing. Only late-model, strictly stock cars would be allowed in the Grand National class. A crowd of 13,000 watched as Jim Roper won the inaugural event on the three-quarter-mile dirt track at the Charlotte Fairgrounds. The Grand Nationals later became Winston Cup Series events…….. Louis Rosier, driving a Talbot-Lago T26C won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps [19 June 1949]………..60 years ago this week, Santa Ana Drags dragstrip, the first drag strip in the United States, closed [21 June 1959]. Many pioneers in drag racing began at Santa Ana. Art Chrisman, Don Yates, Calvin Rice, Joaquin Arnett, George “Ollie” Morris and others participated regularly. The strip was founded by C.J. “Pappy” Hart, Creighton Hunter and Frank Stillwell at the Orange County Airport auxiliary runway in southern California. The strip was created with $1000 start up money, and charged both spectators and participants 50 cents, of which 10% went directly to the owner of the airport.The strip installed timing clocks, so racers could actually get accurate times for each run. There was also a pit area, restrooms, a concession stand and primitive grandstands for spectators and plenty of parking. It was closed due to pressure from C.J Hart, whose wife had hired a private investigator to determine if Frank Stillwell was stealing money from the gate receipts in 1957………50 years ago this week, the 2,000,000th Mini was delivered. Over 1,250,000 of the cars delivered since 1959 were standard Austin and Morris types [19 June 1969]. Vans were the next most popular variant with 339,985 and the various Cooper models amounted to nearly 115,000 units………Pole-sitter Bobby Isaac dominated at Greenville (South Carolina, US)-Pickens Speedway, leading all but three laps of the Pickens 200 [21 June 1969]. David Pearson, the race’s only other lap leader, took second place, nine seconds back at the finish. Richard Petty claimed third as the final driver on the lead lap………40 years ago this week, Louis Chiron (79), the oldest driver who has ever taken part in a Formula One Grand Prix, aged 58 years, died [22 June 1979]. The son of the maitre díhotel at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco,  Chiron was born in the Principality in 1899 and received a ride in a Type 35 Bugatti funded by Alfred Hoffmann. He promptly beat the works teams at the Grand Prix du Comminges, before joining the Bugatti works-team for a few successful years, most notably winning his home Grand Prix in Monaco in 1931. He continued winning for the works Alfa Romeo team, then Mercedes before focusing on sports car racing with Lago-Talbot. After the war Chiron returned to Grands Prix with Lago-Talbot, winning the French Grand Prix in 1947 and 1949. He continued racing when the new Formula 1 World Championship was created and in 1955 he finished sixth in a Lancia D50 at the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix. It would be his last point scoring result as he failed to qualify for his home Grand Prix in 1956 and 1958. After retiring from the cockpit he became the Clerk of the Course for the Monaco Grand Prix up until the late 1960s………30 years ago today, Belgian driver Thierry Boutsen won his first Formula One race, the Canadian Grand Prix [18 June 1989]. It was the first win for the Williams-Renault partnership, which lasted until the end of the 1997 season and went on to win four Drivers’ and five Constructors’ World Championships in that time……….. German entrepreneur and vehicle manufacturer, Otto Kässbohrer (85), who in 1951 designed and constructed one of the first chassisless buses, manufactured under the name Setra, died [20 June 1989]. The first Setra bus, the Type S 8, so called because it contained eight rows of seats, was introduced in April 1951 at the German Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung. It featured a self-supporting body designed by Otto Kässbohrer, a concept now featured in most modern buses. Equally unusual at the time was the decision to locate the engine behind the rear axle; though the rear mounted engine configuration is another Kässbohrer-Setra innovation which subsequently became mainstream, simplifying the production process and creating a range of passenger focused possibilities both as to the level of the floor area in the passenger and driver/crew sections, and, where high floor layouts are specified, of the uses available for the underfloor area……..20 years ago this week, fears about the future of the Rover Group’s Longbridge plant in Birmingham were calmed by the news that owner BMW would invest £2.5 billion in the plant [23 June 1999].

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