18-24 December: Motoring Milestones

Renault 4CV

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

100 years ago this week, the Detroiter Motor Car Company was declared bankrupt [18 December 1917]…… 75 years ago this week, the first prototype of the Renault 4CV was unveiled. CV is the abbreviation of cheval-vapeur, the French equivalent to ‘horsepower’ as a unit of power [22 December 1942]. The name 4CV refers to the car’s tax horsepower. The Renault 4CV was the first French car to sell over a million units, and was superseded by the Dauphine. The 4CV was originally conceived and designed covertly by Renault engineers during the World War II German occupation of France, when the manufacturer was under strict orders to design and produce only commercial and military vehicles. Between 1941 and 1944 Renault was placed under the Technical Directorship of a francophile

6a41707b6c040367a9162b14cb383428engineer, Wilhelm von Urach; between 1927 and 1940 employed by Daimler Benz) who failed to notice the small car project emerging on his watch. A design team led by the company’s Technical Director Fernand Picard, recently returned from Renault’s aero-engine division to the auto business and Charles-Edmond Serre, who had been with Renault for longer than virtually anyone else, envisioned a small, economical car suitable for the period of austerity expected after the war. This was in contrast to Louis Renault himself who in 1940 believed that after the war Renault would need to concentrate on its traditional mid-range cars. Jean-Auguste Riolfo, head of the test department, was made aware of the project from an early stage as were several other heads of department. In May 1941 Louis Renault himself burst into an office to find Serre and Picard studying a mock-up for the car’s engine. By the end of an uncomfortable ad hoc meeting Renault’s approval for the project, now accorded the code “106E”, was provided. However, because the Germans had forbidden work on any new passenger car models, the 4CV development was defined, if at all, as a low priority spin-off from a project to develop a new engine for a post-war return of the company’s 1930s small car, the Juvaquatre: departmental bosses installed by the Germans were definitely not to be trusted in respect of “Project 106E”, while von Urach, their overlord, always managed to turn a blind eye to the whole business……. 80 years ago this week, the Lincoln Tunnel in New York opened to traffic, passing 1.5 miles under the Hudson River

Opening of the Lincoln Tunnel - 1937

Opening of the Lincoln Tunnel – 1937

and connecting Weehawken, New Jersey, and Manhattan in New York City [21 December 1947]. The tunnel was originally to be named Midtown Vehicular Tunnel, but the planners eventually decided that the new tunnel deserved a name that was of similar importance to that of the George Washington Bridge, and named it after Abraham Lincoln. Designed by Ole Singstad, the tunnel was funded by the New Deal’s Public Works Administration. Construction began on the first tube in March 1934. Toll charges were initially set at $0.50 per passenger care. The cost of construction of the Lincoln Tunnel, which carries a daily average of 108,000 motor vehicles, was $85 million, equal to $1.48 billion today. The original design called for two tubes. Work on the second was halted in 1938 but resumed in 1941. Due to war material shortages of metal, completion was delayed for two years. A third tube was proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey due to increased traffic demand but initially opposed by the City of New York, which was trying to get the Port Authority to help pay for the road improvements that the City would need to handle the additional traffic. Eventually, a compromise was worked out, and the third tube opened on May 25, 1957 to the south of the original two tunnels. Although the three portals are side by side in New Jersey, in New York City the north tube portal is one block west of the other two, which emerge side by side at Tenth Avenue between 38th & 39th Streets….. 70 years ago this week, Horace T Thomas (73), the Chief Executive of the Olds Motor Works who helped design the Oldsmobile Curved Dash, and Vice President of the Reo Motor Car Company 1914-17 who designed the first Reo automobile and Reo Speed Wagon truck, died [20 December 1947]……. The Lambretta ‘A’ went on sale [22 December 1947]. At a time when gas was severely rationed, the scooter was a more efficient way to travel. And much more stylish. It had a top speed of 45 mph from a 123cc, fan-cooled engine. 9,000 of them were sold the first year. The tubular frame was made of 2 sections; the front end was made of pressed steel connected to the steering and front forks. It came with a tool box, gear indicator, foot pedal gears and an oil measuring jug integrated into the petrol tank cap. The 123cc engine was shaft driven and direct air cooled. The Model A also came with a 3-Speed Gear Box, the front forks consisted of 2 bushes only and there was no rear suspension. It came with drum brakes and 7 inch chrome wheel rims…….60 years ago this week, the first 1958 Ford Thunderbird (2nd generation), the first car completely designed by the styling team headed by George W. Walker and the first of the submarque to have four seats, was produced [20 December 1957]. It was offered in both hardtop

1958 Ford Thunderbird convertible

1958 Ford Thunderbird convertible

and convertible body styles, although the latter was not introduced until June 1958, five months after the release of the hardtop. The new Thunderbird was considerably larger than the previous generation, with a longer 113.0 inches (2,870 mm) wheelbase to accommodate the new back seat. The increased size also increased the car’s weight significantly by close to 1,000 pounds (454 kg). Along with a new, more rigid unibody construction was new styling, including dual headlights (for a total of four), more prominent tailfins, a bolder chrome grille, and a larger, though non-functional, hood scoop. Powering the Thunderbird was a new, 300 horsepower (220 kW) 352 cu in (5.8 L) FE V8, available with a 3-speed manual or automatic transmissions. In the part of model year 1958 that the car was available, sales were 37,892 units, outselling the previous model year 16,000 units. For 1959, the car received a new grille and a newly optional, 350 horsepower (260 kW) 430 cu in (7.0 L) MEL V8 for 1959, sales climbed even higher to 67,456. For 1960, the Thunderbird was given another new grille and other minor stylistic changes along with a newly optional manually operated sunroof for hardtop models. Dual-unit round taillights from 1958 to 1959 were changed to triple-units after the fashion of the Chevrolet Impala. Customers continued to approve of the car as it broke sales records yet again with 92,843 sold for 1960. Ford went ahead with a redesign for the Thunderbird to debut in 1961……50 years ago this week, the first Matra 3-litre V12 engine came to life on a test-bench [19 December 1967]…… The film “The Graduate” opened at two theatres in New York: the Coronet on Third Avenue and the Lincoln Art Theater on Broadway [21 December 1967]. The film, based on a 1963 novel by Charles Webb, “The Graduate” made the-graduate-561971d7d56e8household names out of many of its stars. Though the young stage actor Dustin Hoffman had never been in a movie before, he rocketed to stardom thanks to his brilliant portrayal of the film’s protagonist, the aimless Benjamin Braddock. At the same time, a marginally famous folk-pop duo called Simon & Garfunkel sold millions of records as a result of the film, which made their songs a part of its narrative in complex and sophisticated ways. The movie also made a star out of Benjamin Braddock’s graduation present: a bright-red Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider. Alfa Romeo had been making racecars for decades—even Enzo Ferrari drove an Alfa before he began building his own racers—but had never sold very many in the United States. (American customers preferred larger cars, and when they did buy smaller sports cars they tended to buy them from British manufacturers like MG and Triumph.) But the 1967 Duetto Spider, a two-seat convertible roadster, was a real beauty: It had a sharp nose and a rounded, tapered rear end, glass-covered headlights, and what designers called a “classic scallop” running down the side. It handled well, could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 10 seconds, and got 23 miles per gallon of gas……. Robin Roberts (27), American singer best known for his performances in the early 1960s with The Wailers, a rock and roll band, was killed in a head-on automobile accident early in the morning after leaving a party [22 December 1967]. He was the passenger in a car traveling the wrong way on a divided freeway south of San Francisco and was killed on impact……. 40 years ago this week, British automobile executive Sir Reginald Rootes (81) died in London [20 December 1977]. His father had run a cycle shop and in 1919. Sir Reginald and his more flamboyant elder brother William began running a small car distributing business southeast of London. During the 1920’s the Rootes brothers built up their firm into the biggest car distributing company in Britain. By the 1930s they had expanded their operations. taking under their wing the Humber, Hillman and Commer companies and making those names synonymous with that of Rootes. During this era they produced their first Hillman Minx, Sir Reginald gained his knighthood for his work in World War II, when the Rootes brothers converted their plants to aircraft production.

Sir Reginald Rootes

Sir Reginald Rootes

His brother become a peer in 1959. In 1945‐46 Sir Reginald was president of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and, after his brother’s death in 1964, he succeeded as chairman of the Rootes Group. His three yens as chairman saw Rootes become firmly enmeshed with Chrysler. Over the next six years, the Rootes family connection with what is now Chrysler U.K. was ended…… 20 years ago this week, a unique bridge-and-tunnel expressway across Tokyo Bay opened to traffic [18 December 1997]. The Trans-Tokyo Bay Motorway was named the Tokyo Bay Aqualine, a toll highway that spans the narrowest gap of Tokyo Bay. The 9.3 mile (15 kilometre) expressway, connects Kisarazu City of Chiba Prefecture with Kawasaki City of Kanagawa Prefecture, making it possible to make a round-trip of the bay by car. Of the total length, 2.7 miles (4.4 kilometres) from the Kisarazu side is a bridge and 5.9 miles (9.5 kilometres) from the Kawasaki side is an undersea tunnel, which is the world’s longest undersea tunnel, running 60 metres 197 feet (60 metres) deep under the surface of the water……. A miffed David Coulthard found out that a new £55 Nintendo F1 game showed him as being English [22 December 1997]. Coulthard was listed alongside Damon Hill and Martin Brundle as being among England’s best drivers. A spokesman for Coulthard said: “He has a saltire on his car and his helmet. If they can’t spot that, what hope is there? David will really take exception to this. He’s proud to be Scottish and will be infuriated.”…… Rover Group produced the final Rover 100 after 17 years [23 December 1997]. The end was quickened by Euro NCAP (The European New Car Assessment Programme) who reported in their crash test of the car that it fell a long way behind what was considered a minimum standard in passive safety. In fact, it was given a one-star front and side impact rating, which was, essentially, a disastrous showing. Unfortunately for Rover, this story became a lot more widespread than the specialist press and it transcended the usual car magazine into the daily newspapers. Worse, the Rover 100’s performance made it to the early evening news on the BBC…Needless to say, this was disastrous for Rover and within days, orders for the car dried up. Rover was given no choice other than to withdraw the 100 from sale…….10 years ago this week, Lewis Hamilton was suspended from driving in France for a month after being caught speeding at 196 km/h (122 mph) on a French motorway [18 December 2007]. His Mercedes-Benz CLK was also impounded……. India’s Tata Motors offered £1.03bn for Ford’s Jaguar and Land Rover brands, according to a Press Trust of India report carried in local newspapers [19 December 2007].

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